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Dry skin is no match for the creamy and moisturizing properties that both shea butter and cocoa butter deliver.
Although both types of butter can soften and heal dry or damaged skin, each one has unique features and benefits.
Let’s look at the differences between shea butter and cocoa butter, how to use them, and which one may be better for your skin.
Many skin care products contain shea butter, cocoa butter, or both. Although both butters are good ingredients to add to your beauty routine, it’s worth noting the different properties of each and how to identify them.
According to Cynthia Bailey, MD, a board certified dermatologist, both butters are excellent skin moisturizers, but there are differences in the plant oils.
Cocoa butter origins and properties
Cocoa butter comes from Theobroma cacao L tree, which is found in the tropical regions of Central and South America.
Bailey explains that cocoa butter is what you get from the whole cocoa bean after the part that’s made into a cocoa powder has been removed.
Cocoa butter consists primarily of saturated fats, including:
- oleic acid
- palmitic acid
- stearic acid
Unlike shea butter, cocoa butter has a distinct smell, similar to chocolate. It’s also firm in texture and doesn’t melt at room temperature.
Shea butter origins and properties
Shea butter, on the other hand, comes from the African shea tree, Vitellaria paradoxa. The kernels of the shea tree’s fruit contain fats that are extracted and made into shea butter.
The texture of shea butter is soft with a spreadable consistency. According to Bailey, shea butter is high in several saturated fatty acids, mostly oleic and stearic. It also has:
- linoleic acid
- arachidic acid
- palmitic acid
Shea butter has significant levels of vitamins E and A, which add to the antioxidant properties of this butter.
When it comes to fragrance, shea butter has a mild scent, often described as nutty. However, you can add essential oils to shea butter to enhance the smell.
Choosing one butter over the other really depends on your skin care needs. Both shea and cocoa butter contain fatty acids that allow your skin to retain moisture. They also provide immediate relief for dry and irritated skin.
But each butter does offer unique benefits worth considering.
The benefits of cocoa butter
The fats in cocoa butter can provide an excellent source of moisture to your skin. These same fats can also help replenish your skin stratum corneum lipids, many of which are similar to palmitic acid, stearic acid, and oleic acid.
“Skin stratum corneum is our skin’s barrier. It’s made of a brick (protein) and mortar (lipid) structure,” explains Bailey. “The lipids are essential for skin barrier health.”
Additionally, cocoa butter contains cocoa mass polyphenol (CMP), which, according to
The benefits of shea butter
“Shea butter contains linoleic acid, which has benefits when applied topically, especially since skin cells can’t make this acid on their own,” says Bailey.
Shea butter also contains potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, which Bailey explains are responsible for this butter’s medicinal properties.
In addition to the moisturizing benefits of the fatty acids, shea butter also contains vitamins that may help repair damaged skin. Among its many benefits, Bailey says shea butter may help:
- reduce skin redness from sunburn
- boost collagen production in skin
- reduce collagen loss
That said, Bailey does point out that shea butter composition varies considerably depending on where the tree was grown. And unfortunately, there’s no way to know that without chemical analysis.
Overall, Bailey says shea butter makes an excellent moisturizer for your skin, scalp, and hair.
“It’s rapidly absorbed into your skin, is superior to mineral oil in reducing trans-epidermal water loss. It helps dry skin to recover and works to calm atopic dermatitis,” she explains.
Both cocoa butter and shea butter blend nicely into skin care products, but Bailey’s preference is shea butter.
You can find shea butter and cocoa butter in a variety of products, including:
- skin care products
- body creams
- massage creams
- lip balms
- body wash
- hair products
Here are five shea or cocoa butter products you may want to try.
Tree Hut Shea Body Butter With Almond Extract & Honey
Made with organic shea butter, Tree Hut Body Butter is an affordable hydrating moisturizer that also contains safflower seed oil, almond oil, and honey to help soften and smooth skin.
Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula with Vitamin E
Palmer’s Cocoa Butter is ideal for all-over deep hydration. Made with key ingredients like cocoa butter and vitamin E, this product absorbs quickly but lasts all day long.
Burt’s Bees Mama Bee Belly Butter
A top pick for moms-to-be, this fragrance-free belly butter gently moisturizes your growing belly with a combination of shea, cocoa, jojoba butters, and vitamin E.
Designed to be used during and after pregnancy, this body butter is free of phthalates, parabens, petrolatum, and sodium lauryl sulfates (SLS).
Weleda Skin Food Body Butter
If you’re looking for an all-over moisturizing cream with both cocoa and shea butter, give this body butter a try.
Certified as a natural cosmetic product, this cream is free of synthetic preservatives, colorants, fragrances, or raw materials derived from mineral oils.
The thick consistency means a little goes a long way.
Pure Cocoa & Shea with Coconut Oil
This versatile cream is made with an equal blend of shea butter, cocoa butter, and coconut oil. It can be used to repair and restore dry skin or hair, eliminate stretch marks, strengthen nails, and moisturize chapped lips.
Using products that contain shea butter, cocoa butter, or both may help reduce skin dryness, seal in moisture, boost skin health, and possibly even protect against aging.
If you have questions about which type of butter is best for you, talk to a dermatologist or skin care specialist who can help match a product to your needs.