Is Shea Butter Comedogenic or Non-Comedogenic?

  • Elle 
Is Shea Butter Comedogenic or Non-Comedogenic?

Shea butter is a favorite for many due to the amazing benefits it can provide. It also feels great when you’re applying it and typically has very few side effects. But is shea butter comedogenic and can it cause you to break out?

In this article we’ll touch on comedogenicity, the benefits of shea butter, the shea butter comedogenic rating, and more!

Comedogenic vs. Non-Comedogenic

In the most simple terms, comedogenic means that an ingredient has a tendency to block or clog the pores of your skin. Scientifically, the word comedogenic is derived from ‘comedone’ or ‘comedo’, which in essence are little bumps on the skin and the earliest form of acne. Obviously, if you’re someone that’s acne-prone or has sensitive skin, you’d want to avoid these types of ingredients.

Thus, inversely, you’d be more interested in finding non-comedogenic products, meaning cosmetics and skin-care products designed specifically to help avoid blocking and clogging skin pores.

So how does shea butter fare on the comedogenic scale?

Is Shea Butter Comedogenic?

Based on the many different sites we scoured, it’s very likely shea butter is on the lower end of being comedogenic, falling somewhere in the 0-3 range.

What Makes Shea Butter Comedogenic or Non-Comedogenic?

Shea Butter Texture

The answer here is not as straightforward as it can be for other ingredients and products. As we’ve described in detail in our Comedogenic article, the scale for measuring comedogenicity is not defined. Likewise, no formal scientific studies have produced support to indicate whether shea butter is comedogenic or non-comedogenic. The best thing we can do is take a look at shea butter properties to arrive at a conclusion. 

Shea butter is derived from the shea nuts that grow on shea trees, primarily in West Africa. Shea butter is very rich in vitamins (A, E, & F) and fatty oils, including:

  • Oleic acid – can be found naturally in the outer layer of our skin, this fatty acid is ideal for hydration and those with dry skin
  • Stearic acid – used in cosmetics to thicken the product and helps to smooth and soften the skin
  • Linoleic acid – popular in cosmetics and serves as an emollient and moisturizer
  • Palmitic acid – found naturally in the skin and serves as a cleanser and moisturizer when combined other ingredients

It’s the thick texture and fatty oils, especially the high concentration of oleic and stearic acids, that are likely to result in shea butter being on the lower end of the comedogenic scale. While these fatty oils can be great for dry skin, mixing with oily skin could result in blocked pores and acne.  

The American Academy of Dermatology Association notes that, “like hair oil, your skin-care products could be causing your breakouts. If you apply a product that contains oil such as cocoa butter or shea butter to your face, back, or chest, it can clog your pores. Clogged pores can lead to acne.”

Oppositely, Healthline mentions that one of the benefits of shea butter is that it “doesn’t contain chemical irritants known to dry out skin, and it doesn’t clog pores. It’s appropriate for nearly any skin type”. Again, it’s hard to place an emphatic designation on the comedogenicity of shea butter and very likely will be more pore-clogging for those with oily and acne-prone skin.

Shea Butter Comedogenic Rating

Comedogenic Rating Scale

As we mentioned before, without reliable empirical research regarding the comedogenicity of shea butter, coupled with the lack of standardization of the comedogenic rating scale, it’s hard to say with certainty what shea butter’s comedogenic rating would be. 

The comedogenic rating is typically on a scale from 0-5 with the following designations:

  • 0 – won’t clog pores at all
  • 1 – very low likelihood of clogging pores
  • 2 – moderately low likelihood of clogging pores
  • 3 – moderate likelihood of clogging pores
  • 4 – fairly high likelihood of clogging pores
  • 5 – high likelihood of clogging pores

Based on the many different sites we scoured, it’s very likely shea butter is on the lower end of being comedogenic, falling somewhere in the 0-3 range.

Benefits of Shea Butter   

While shea butter may be a lower-end comedogenic ingredient those with oily and acne-prone skin might want to avoid, the overall benefits of shea butter are undeniable. It’s quite versatile and can be used for a multitude of reasons, including:

  • Excellent moisturizer – the oils from the fatty acids (oleic, stearic, linoleic, and palmitic) will absorb quickly into the skin
  • Antioxidant – loaded with vitamins A & E, this helps fight against free radicals and aging
  • Anti-Inflammatory – anti-inflammatory properties help reduce irritation and can even be effective in treating psoriasis and eczema
  • Antibacterial – while research is ongoing, it’s been used for generations by West Africans to treat bacterial ailments
  • Boosts collagen production – helps to reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and even smaller scaring
  • UV Protectant – certain acids in shea butter can absorb UV rays, so shea butter acts as an SPF 3 or 4 equivalent

Our Most Recommended Shea Butter

Final Word

With a lack of scientific research around shea butter’s comedogenicity, it’s impossible to say with 100% certainty if it is comedogenic or non-comedogenic. Some articles will note that due to its thick texture and fatty oils, shea butter is likely to be on the low end of the comedogenic scale.

Others will say that it’s great for all skin types and may even help prevent acne. What we can say is that it’s probably worth trying due to all of its vast benefits.

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