Many nature-derived products have multiple health benefits, and shea is no different. The extract from this West Africa-originated fruit is most commonly associated with soaps and body butters. But, as peanut oil is to peanut butter, shea nut oil has some uses that may not be as widely known.
A more concentrated byproduct than shea butter, shea nut oil is just as rich in vitamins A and E and essential fatty acids (EFAs). It is moisturizing and fast-absorbing, serves as an emollient and acts to repair, regenerate and revitalize skin. Shea nut oil is also gentle, exceptionally healing and safe for all skin types. Like other natural items, not all shea nut oil is equal, with prices ranging based on quality-level certification. Whether full strength or combined with other ingredients, the natural properties of shea nut oil make it relevant as the cosmetics industry trends toward natural ingredients.
Although shea nut oil has been a familiar ingredient in body and hair care products, its benefits in makeup are a newer frontier. Its gentleness and conditioning properties have made it increasingly popular in mascaras and lip products for some brands. Similarly, it is used in skin serums and night creams to combat skin damage and fight wrinkles and other visible signs of aging.
Of the many ingredients in cosmetics, few contain the benefits of natural sunblock; shea nut oil does. Cosmetics makers find shea nut oil beneficial as a primer or base to moisturize and prep skin before applying makeup. It's also infused in foundations, eye shadows and cream blushes, as well as in some mineral makeups for sun protection. Shea nut oil contains allantoin, an anti-inflammatory unsaturated fat, so it also could be helpful in bronzers and other products formulated to extend the life of suntans.
Shea nut oil is used in diluted form in cosmetics to reduce the potential for eye irritation, which is always a possibility with makeup. Also, cosmetics containing shea nut oil tend to have a fairly long shelf life, as the oil can remain effective for up to 18 months before its quality begins to significantly diminish, according to the American Shea Butter Institute (ASBI). The ASBI, which classifies shea in four categories ranging from premium to poor quality, recommends not using shea nut oil that hasn't been tested and certified, as it may contain irritants or contaminants such as mercury, lead, mold and coliform bacteria.