Shea Butter For Lips: Benefits, Tips & Other Favorite Ingredients
Shea butter is widely known for its ability to deeply hydrate even the driest of skin. You'll typically see it used in lotions and creams for the body, but have you ever thought to look for shea butter in your lip balm? This plant extract works wonders for dry lips, helping to create a soft, touchable surface.
Whether you're looking to achieve a smooth canvas for lip color application or simply want some quality day-to-day hydration, shea butter may be the answer. We're going to give you the ultimate guide to shea butter for lip care including why it's beneficial, how to use it, and a few other ingredients to keep your eye out for. Let's dive in.
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. Historically, it's been used by the people of the region for ages—both topically and as a cooking butter (food-grade shea butter is still used for cooking today). And currently, it's most famous for its use in beauty, be it homemade options, hair care items, or skin care products.
Wondering why it's so popular in the beauty space? Well, shea butter is rich in triglycerides, fatty acids, and vitamins—all components of effective skin care items. Used topically, shea butter is an excellent emollient and skin soother and can help skin reduce moisture loss (you can read our full shea butter breakdown here if you're curious).
Now, you may be thinking: OK, so look for shea butter in my face moisturizer—got it. But here's the thing: Shea butter is a standout ingredient when it comes to lip balms as well. And this isn't just because it's extremely hydrating (although that is a major perk). Shea butter has many more benefits for the lips—we'll cover a few below.
Benefits for lips.
Here, a rundown of all the things we love most about the ingredient—and why it's a stellar ingredient for a lip balm:
- Softens the skin: Because shea butter is an emollient, it hydrates your lips short term and helps soften them over time. If you struggle to put lip color on peeling lips, then shea butter may be just what you need to create a smooth, soft canvas.
- Creates a protective barrier: This ingredient has also been shown to seal moisture into the skin and protect the skin barrier1. (Yes, your lips have a moisture barrier, too.) One study even suggests it has similar topical effects as ceramides2—or the polar lipids naturally found in your epidermis that are responsible for sealing your skin barrier. Derms like board-certified dermatologist and mbg Collective member Whitney Bowe, M.D., recommends it as an ingredient to help support your microbiome.
- Adds antioxidants: Shea butter is notably high in vitamin E—a potent and oil-soluble antioxidant that helps to fight free radical damage and oxidative stress (both can lead to physical skin aging). Antioxidants are important components of a high-quality lip moisturizer, as the lip skin develops wrinkles and loses color too. Not to mention, vitamin E as a stand-alone antioxidant is great for the lips too, which we covered in this guide.
- Aids in cracks and flakes: There are many reasons for dry lips, but nevertheless having peeling or cracked lip skin can be extremely uncomfortable. For this reason, you want to find products that actually help your lips heal, not just soothe them temporarily. Luckily, shea butter can do just that. In one study researchers found that topical shea butter can improve skin's appearance, immune response, and healing time.
- Can help soothe irritation and sunburn. Yes, your lips get sunburned too. Shea butter can help hydrate and soothe them post damage. (And next time you're out all day, be sure to apply an SPF infused balm!)
How to use shea butter for lips.
If you're amazed by all of the benefits shea butter has for lips, you're not alone. This ingredient is impressive, to say the least, so let's chat about how you can use shea butter in your lip care regimen.
- Find a daily lip balm with shea butter as an ingredient.
- Use whipped shea butter (here's a DIY recipe should you be curious) on its own as a powerful overnight lip mask.
- Lather on a shea butter product before applying lip color to ensure your surface is smooth.
Other ingredients to look for.
Shea butter on its own at room temperature can be on the stiffer side, so it's often blended with softening oils and other ingredients to make it a bit more pillowy. If you're in the market for a new lip product, here are some of our favorites to keep an eye out for too.
Many lip balms are made out of beeswax, which is great to help give them a thick texture. But if you shy away from products that leave a sticky residue or are vegan, then plant-based waxes may be a better alternative.
Moringa seed oil
This super botanical oil works wonders for dry lips. Moringa seed oil is packed with fatty acids and antioxidants, which work together to keep lips hydrated, ease irritated skin, and create a protective barrier.
We said earlier that shea butter is extremely high in vitamin E, but this ingredient alone is a winner when it comes to lip balm inky lists. Not only is it super hydrating, but it also acts as a stabilizer for oil- and wax-based formulations. If the lip balm you're looking at doesn't have shea butter, be sure it's packed with this ingredient if you want hydrated and protected lips.
Though it looks very similar, squalane is not the same thing as squalene. Both forms are great for skin care, but the previous is more suitable for use on the face (lips included). Squalane helps maintain a healthy moisture barrier but is formulated to be more gentle. This makes it perfect for delicate areas like the lips. You can read more about squalane here.
You probably know that hyaluronic acid is a super hydrator when it comes to skin care. This is true for HA and its salt form, sodium hyaluronate. This form actually has a lower molecular weight, meaning it can get even deeper into the skin. This is a great ingredient to have in lip products because it helps to pull moisture deep into the skin and offers a plumping effect.
It's not easy to find a lip balm you love, but making natural, hydrating ingredients like shea butter a nonnegotiable is a good place to start. This natural butter works wonders for dry lips by creating a protective barrier and speeding up wound healing. There are tons of other natural ingredients that are great for lip care as well, but we only had time to name a few. If you want to take the guesswork out of finding your next go-to lip balm, check out our top picks for clean and natural lip moisturizers.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including skin care, women’s health, mental health, sustainability, social media trends, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends and innovations, women’s health research, brain health news, and plenty more.