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All About Shea Butter

An ingredient with multiple beneficial properties, shea butter is used in many skin and hair care formulas. Known for its moisturizing and repairing properties, it smoothes the skin, fights against the signs of aging and nourishes the hair. Here is everything you need to know about this plant-based active ingredient.

What Is Shea Butter?

Shea butter is made from the fat extracted from the nuts of the shea tree, a plant native to West Africa (almost all of the shea butter used today still comes from this region). Historically, it has been used by indigenous people for centuries, both as a topical application and as a cooking butter (food grade shea butter is still used for cooking today). Currently, it is best known for its use in the beauty industry. Shea butter is used in a plethora of lotions, creams and other products... It is found under the name I.N.C.I. 'Butyrospermum Parkii Butter (Extract)'.

On the physicochemical level, shea butter is a fat with a solid consistency, liquefying around 37°C. White to beige in color, shea butter has a pronounced odor of almond.

What Compounds Are Present in Shea Butter?

Its composition contains mainly fatty acids, namely:

  • 40 to 50% oleic acid or omega-9.

    This monounsaturated fatty acid is a lipid that enters the composition of sebum, a substance naturally secreted by the body to alleviate the dryness of the skin and hair. It stimulates the production of sebum by the sebaceous glands. The vegetable oil of sweet almonds is therefore revitalizing. It is recommended to treat dry and dehydrated skin and hair.

  • 36 to 50% stearic acid.

    In skin care, stearic acid is known for its emollient, nourishing and protective (film-forming) properties.

  • 4 à 8% d'acide linoléique ou oméga-6.

  • 3 à 8% d'acide palmitique.

The shea butter also contains an important proportion of unsaponifiable ingredients, at least 4%. This remarkable content of unsaponifiable matter (tocopherols, phytosterols, triterpenes, karitens...) gives it great penetrating properties. These components also provide UV protection properties, which makes shea butter a good ingredient to reinforce the SPF of sun products.

What Are the Benefits of Shea Butter for Skin?

The most obvious benefit, of course, is its moisturizing and nourishing properties. Shea butter is suitable for all skin types thanks to its moisturizing and repairing properties. Acting in depth, it brings the necessary nutritive elements to the dry skin with the help of fatty acids. Moreover, it reinforces the action of the lipidic barrier of the skin, allowing it to protect the user from external aggressions and dehydration. Hydrated and nourished, the skin becomes supple and soft.

It has been shown that this vegetable butter seals in moisture to the skin and protects the skin barrier. One study even suggests that it has topical effects similar to those of ceramides, the polar lipids naturally present in the epidermis and responsible for sealing the skin barrier. Shea butter and its components are also known as phytoceramides.

What Are the Benefits of Shea Butter for Hair?

In hair application, shea butter is also appreciated for its moisturizing and protective virtues. The hydration of the scalp and hair fibers is necessary to give them softness and shine. The hair is thus easy to style, and defining in the case of curly hair.

Moreover, shea butter is also an excellent choice for colored hair. By protecting the hair from the sun's rays, it maintains the color and prevents breakage. This protective action is also useful to prevent hair aging, which causes dull and grayish color.

Precautions To Take When Using Shea Butter

For topical use, shea butter has no particular negative side effects. It is suitable for all skin and hair types, and is even suitable for infants and pregnant women.

Knowing that it contains latex, it is not recommended for people allergic to this substance. In this case, it can cause irritation, inflammation and even respiratory distress.

To find out if you are tolerant to shea butter, apply a small amount of the product to the inner elbow for 48 hours beforehand. If you notice irritation, tingling or itching, it means that you do not tolerate the treatment well. Otherwise, it is always necessary to follow the instructions mentioned by the producer to avoid adverse reactions.

In Which Care Products Can I Find Shea Butter?

Shea butter is mainly found in skin care products with moisturizing and nourishing properties (balm, cream, etc.). It can also be incorporated into formulas designed to fight stretch marks and signs of aging. For hair use, it is often used as a mask. Its concentration in a care product can vary between 1 and 60% depending on the benefits and the desired texture.

Typology has developed several care products with this vegetable butter.

  • The 9-ingredient nourishing lip balm was designed using only the ingredients essential to its function. Shea butter helps protect the lips from dryness.

  • Our nourishing face cream with hyaluronic acid also contains shea butter. Thanks to its hydrating effects, this care brings flexibility to the skin. Moreover, it decreases the feelings of tightness. It is adapted to the normal, mixed and dry skins.

  • You can also find this plant butter in the firming night mask made with prickly pear oil, an enveloping balm to nourish and regenerate weakened skin and firm tissues.

  • The nourishing body cream also contains shea butter alongside squalane and plum oil to restore the skin's lipid barrier, reduce feelings of tightness and protect the skin from external aggressions.

  • Shea butter is also present in the stretch mark oil-gel with baobab oil to prevent and visibly reduce the appearance of stretch marks, while providing suppleness and elasticity to the skin.

    Finally, our two 100% natural cold saponified solid cleansing products are enriched with shea butter.

Sources :

  • LEUNG T. F. & al. Patient acceptability, efficacy, and skin biophysiology of a cream and cleanser containing lipid complex with shea butter extract versus a ceramide product for eczema. Hong Kong Medical Journal (2015).

  • SANTIAGO J. L. & al. Anti-inflammatory and skin barrier repair effects of topical application of some plant oils. International Journal of Molecular Sciences (2018).

  • ABDULAI A. & al. Shea butter extraction technologies: current status and future perspective. African Journal of Biochemistry (2019).

  • DANTHINE S. & al., African shea butter properties related to common extraction technologies: a review. Food and Bioprocess Technology (2022).

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