If you’re a fan of deeply nourishing, natural hair and body care, Shea butter is probably an ingredient you’re already familiar with. But have you thought about trying Shea nut oil too? It may not be as well-known as the butter variety, but this rich-natural oil has just as many hair and skin-softening benefits.
What is shea oil?
Being naturally high in fatty acids, Shea nut oil is widely used for moisturising and softening skin and hair. The oil is extracted from the nuts of the shea tree. When the nuts are cold pressed to create shea butter, the oil is produced as a by-product.
Shea butter vs Shea nut oil
During the cold-pressing process, shea butter retains the fat, whereas the oil retains more of the fatty acids. Here’s a comparison of the composition of the two:
|Fatty acid||Shea oil||Unrefined Shea butter||Role|
|Stearic acid||27%||43%||Creates a waxy, solid consistency|
|Oleic acid||59%||46%||This fatty acid is highly moisturising and easily absorbed into the skin|
|Linoleic acid||9%||7%||Produces ceramides (lipids that help reinforce your skin’s barrier and increase hydration)|
|Palmitic acid||5%||4%||Forms an oily layer that slows the loss of water through the skin|
All percentage contents are approximate.
Shea nut oil benefits
- Consistency. Due to its fatty acid composition, Shea oil is a lighter weight than Shea butter. This makes it easier to apply and it also absorbs into skin faster.
- Highly moisturising. The higher oleic acid content means that despite its lighter consistency and softer texture, shea oil is just as (arguably even more) rich in moisturising power as the heavier butter version.
- Usability. Shea butter is solid at warm temperatures, which can make it challenging to use. In contrast, Shea oil stays in liquid form up to 20° C.
- Fragrance. The nutty aroma of Shea butter isn’t to everyone’s taste. Shea oil has a lighter fragrance. Due to the cold-pressing process, this more subtle scent is created without the addition of chemicals.
- Shea nut oil comedogenic rating. It’s impossible to give you 100% certainty about how your skin will react to any oil, but the fact that the shea nut oil comedogenic rating is two or less suggests it’s unlikely to clog pores.
Shea nut oil uses
Here we outline four common uses of shea oil.
- Shea nut oil for skin
This super-hydrating oil can be applied directly to your skin as a moisturiser. As pure shea oil is non-comedogenic, you can use it as a face or body oil moisturiser. It’s also an effective emollient, so it can be particularly good for very dry skin on elbows, feet, and knees.
- Shea nut oil for hair
If your locks are looking a little parched, a treatment including shea oil could help rejuvenate your distressed mane. Consider using shea nut oil as a pre-shampoo (often referred to as a pre-poo.) Shampooing can strip moisture from your hair, so a dose of the oil before you wash adds a protective layer to your tresses. This is a technique often used by people with curly hair types.
Simply apply the oil to dry hair and leave it for as long as you can before shampooing. Aim for 30 minutes but consider using as an overnight treatment too. This locks in moisture, which will help to restore the suppleness of dry and damaged hair. One proviso though – if you have fine hair avoid applying it to your roots as it can cause an oily appearance. Apply oil to the ends only.
- Nail conditioning treatment
Look out for shea oil in the ingredients list for your cuticle and nail treatments. It can be an effective way to soften dry and brittle cuticles. Or maybe make your own shea-infused nail oil.
- A carrier oil for essential oil blends
Olive oil is commonly used to dilute essential oils before use. But shea nut oil could be a great alternative, particularly as it doesn’t have a strong scent. You could try using Shea nut oil when making a simple lavender oil.
Summary: Shea nut oil benefits for skin and hair
Shea nut oil is a pure lightweight oil that is naturally high in fatty acids. This makes it an ideal cosmetic ingredient for softening dry hair and as an all-over moisturiser for the skin. Overall, if you feel that shea butter is too heavy for you, the lighter texture of the oil version makes it definitely worth a try.
Last updated: 7 October 2020