By Hannah Wardle
Shea Butter is an uber-versatile ingredient for the skin that can be used on its own or as an ingredient in a range of different skincare products. It is naturally unfragranced, highly moisturising and full of fatty acids. So how exactly does it work to benefit your skin?
What is Shea Butter?
Shea butter is a natural fat extracted from the nuts of the African Shea Tree. It is extracted by harvesting ripe shea nuts, then crushing and boiling them to produce the buttery substance. Shea trees grow in the dry African savannah, and its production is an indigenous practice of many African tribes.
Thanks to its ability to moisturise and protect the skin, it has become a popular ingredient globally that is now commonly used in modern beauty products.
How Does Shea Butter Benefit The Skin?
Shea butter’s skin-protecting capabilities come from chemical compound structures called triterpenes. These are found in Shea Butter and can be produced by animals, plants and fungi.
One of the main triterpenes found in Shea Butter is Lupeol, which has incredible anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. This triterpene is most often found in fruits and vegetables.
Studies have found the Lupeol found in Shea butter to be effective in promoting collagen production in the skin, as well as thickening and strengthening the skin’s natural protective barrier.
Collagen is a protein which helps the skin to retain moisture and maintain its fullness; by producing more of this protein in the skin, Shea butter can protect the skin from premature breakdown of cells and signs of ageing, as well as helping to combat dryness. And by increasing epidermal thickness, it has been shown to improve skin’s ability to protect itself against environmental stressors like air pollution and UV rays.
Preventing Sun Damage
Yes, that right - Shea butter can help protect the skin against UV damage! It can strengthen the skin’s protective layer against sun damage, and when applied topically to the skin, Shea Butter is effective at absorbing UVB rays.
This means that it is capable of absorbing the rays which cause sunburn and skin damage before they reach the skin. UVB rays can create reactive chemical species in skin cells such as free radicals, which have the potential to damage the affected cells. In protecting against UVB rays, shea butter can limit the release of free radicals, protecting skin cells from potential damage or death.
Protecting the skin against UV/sun damage is highly important to reduce the risk of skin cancer and other skin conditions.
Moisturising the Skin
Not only does it aid the skin in producing more moisture-retaining collagen, but Shea butter also contains Vitamins A, E D & F which help to moisturise the skin. It is a natural emollient, and has been shown to reduce transepidermal water loss - this means that Shea butter can help the skin hold on to moisture and prevent water loss.
Dry skin can easily become broken and damaged, so the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using products containing shea butter to soothe and heal dry skin. Studies have observed shea butter’s efficacy in treating the symptoms of dry skin conditions like dermatitis and eczema, thanks to its moisturising ability as well as its anti-inflammatory properties.