Ingredient Decoder: Shea Butter

In Africa, shea butter has been used for centuries to treat everything from diaper rash to arthritis. In recent years, it's been adopted by the western world—so much so that the ingredient has become practically synonymous with moisturizer.

Where it comes from

Shea butter is the creamy-hued extract of the African shea tree nut. The nuts are crushed, roasted, and ground into a paste. The butter oils are then separated and boiled to remove excess water.

Where you find it

This West African export can be used as a standalone salve, but it’s also a key ingredient in skincare and hair products. You’ll find it in everything from lip balms and moisturizers to soaps and conditioners.

How it works

Five essential fatty acids, primarily oleic and stearic acid, restore moisture and elasticity to parched, brittle skin. They can also help clear up acne or skin irritation, which may be caused when dry skin kicks into oil production mode. Vitamin A reduces fine lines and wrinkles, while vitamins E and K repair existing skin damage. The allantoin in shea butter causes the keratin in the skin to soften, allowing wounds, burns and other skin irritations to heal more quickly.

What it’s good for

This super salve is best known for its hydrating and healing properties. In über-moisturizing lotions like Guythority by Jock Soap Tall Drink Body Hydrator, shea butter softens dry, chapped skin and boosts cell regeneration. It can also be used to treat more extreme skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis, as well as to prevent sun damage and wrinkle formation, fade existing fine lines and dark spots, and minimize scarring. In Africa, the cure-all has been used to treat nasal congestion and sinusitis, joint pain and sprains, headaches and stomachaches.

Need to know

Refined shea butter, the colorless, odorless product often found outside of West Africa, has significantly reduced healing properties. You want to look for unrefined shea butter, which is chock full of vitamins, anti-oxidants, and essential fatty acids.

For Birchbox Man’s full list of ingredient decoders, go here.

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