There are several potential uses for shea butter, most of which involve protecting and healing the skin. Similar in nature to cocoa butter, shea butter is thought to be an excellent moisturizer and is frequently used to treat dry or chapped skin. This ingredient is often used in medicated creams to treat skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. Additional uses include the prevention of stretch marks during pregnancy and the soothing of sore muscles. Some cultures also use shea butter as a cooking oil.
One of the primary uses for shea butter is skin moisturization. Used alone or as an ingredient in commercial creams or lotions, shea butter provides necessary moisture to the skin and is thought to slow the aging process. Those with dry skin who have had difficulty finding a product that provides sufficient relief from dry or cracked skin may benefit from the use of shea butter. Due to the moisturizing effects and pleasant odor, shea butter is often applied directly to the skin in the place of commercial lotions or skin creams.
Shea butter contains natural anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, making it a popular choice for healing the skin. Medicinal uses for shea butter include prevention and treatment for skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, or diaper rash. Some studies have indicated that shea butter may help to heal fungal infections such as athlete's foot or ringworm. The pain and inflammation associated with sunburn can often be eased by using shea butter.
Stretch marks are a common occurrence among pregnant women, and the use of shea butter is thought to prevent the development of these stretch marks when used daily during pregnancy. Preexisting stretch marks, scars, and blemishes may begin to fade with consistent use of shea butter. The appearance of wrinkles may be diminished when using skin-care products that contain shea butter.
One of the most frequently overlooked uses for shea butter is the management of muscle or joint pain. When used as a massage oil, shea butter may help to relieve tired or sore muscles. Those with inflammatory joint conditions such as arthritis may also notice a reduction in pain.
Some cultures believe that the benefits of shea butter extend to the inside of the body and use it as a cooking oil. This oil can be used to fry foods or as a base for soups or stews. Desserts such as chocolate may also incorporate the use of shea butter.