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Does Shea Butter Lighten Skin?

by Gabbi

It’s no secret that shea butter has a lot of benefits for the skin. It is widely used in skincare, haircare, and other beauty products because of its high vitamin content and moisturizing properties.

Some people even believe that shea butter can lighten their skin. While lightening your skin tone is a controversial topic, it’s a legitimate beauty goal for certain people, so it’s important to explore this topic and set the record straight on shea butter’s ability to help.

So does shea butter lighten skin? Not quite. Shea butter can help lighten your skin to its natural tone by fading dark spots, sun damage, and blemishes. But don’t expect it to work as bleach! 

If you’re looking for ways to even out your skin tone and lighten some of the spots and discoloration you’ve acquired over the years, shea butter can definitely help with that. Keep reading for the scoop on how it works and how you can use it to make your skin glow.

What’s In Shea Butter?

Shea butter is an oil made from the seeds of the shea tree, which grows in Africa. Shea butter has been used for thousands of years in that region to address various issues of the skin, scalp, and hair.

Shea butter is known for its moisturizing properties and rich vitamin profile. Because of the high fatty acid content, shea butter tends to penetrate the skin deeply and nourish it from within.

The main active components within shea butter are:

  • Phytosterols – These compounds soothe, plump, and hydrate the skin.
  • Terpenes – This ingredient helps penetrate the skin to the deepest layers.
  • Vitamin A – This is an important vitamin that prevents premature aging, improves blood flow to the skin, and exfoliates the upper layer of the skin.
  • Vitamin E – This is a vitamin that increases the rate of skin regeneration.
  • Saturated fats – These are fats like omega-6 and omega-3 which help manage inflammatory conditions of the skin like psoriasis, rosacea, and acne.
  • Linoleic acid – This helps rebuild the skin moisture barrier.
  • Oleic acid – This helps soothe inflammation and speed up the healing of wounds, cuts, and scars.

As you can see, shea butter is chock full of skin-friendly ingredients that have multiple uses. Together, they all work towards moisturizing, softening, and healing the skin.

Some of these compounds also help exfoliate the skin and increase skin cell turnover rates, which is the mechanism behind lightning and fading dark spots.

If you’re considering adding shea butter to your skincare routine but aren’t sure how to incorporate it, take a look at this helpful video from Beauty by Sweet Angel.

Benefits Of Shea Butter

Will all of the incredible nutrients that are naturally found in shea butter, it’s no surprise that this natural beauty ingredient has so many uses.

Here are some of the most well-researched benefits of shea butter for the skin:

  • Anti-aging Benefits: Shea butter can target common signs of aging due to its vitamin and fatty acid content. Shea butter can help plump up the skin to reduce the appearance of fine lines. The exfoliating properties of shea butter help reduce dark spots and other discoloration that is associated with aging. The antioxidant benefits of shea butter help prevent premature aging and keep your skin healthy. Lastly, shea butter moisturizes dry skin, which is a common concern with aging and helps increase collagen production to prevent sagging. 
  • Sun Protection Benefits: Although you should always wear SPF when exposing your skin to daylight, adding shea butter into the mix can help provide additional protection. Shea butter prevents UV damage by fighting free radicals and helps keep your skin moisturized.
  • Blemish Healing Benefits: Any blemishes, pimples, or wounds on the face can be treated with shea butter. The moisturizing, healing and exfoliating properties of shea butter help these blemishes heal quicker and leave behind no scars. This is why shea butter is a great treatment for people with uneven skin tones. Shea butter can also be used to fade scarring, including acne scars and stretch marks.
  • Moisturizing Benefits: It goes without saying but the 85%-90% fatty acid content of shea butter helps penetrate the skin and infuse it with moisture. Increased moisture adds a beautiful glow to the skin, plumps up fine lines, increases collagen production, and enhances the elasticity of the skin. If you’re after a certain “glow” – shea butter can help you get there.
  • Lightening Benefits: As we mentioned, shea butter isn’t going to lighten your skin like bleach. But thanks to its exfoliating properties, shea butter can get rid of dark spots and discoloration that your skin develops over time. This leads to a lighter and brighter complexion. Think of it this way: shea butter can help bring your skin tone back to what it was when you were a baby – smooth, bright, and even!

Lightening The Skin With Shea Butter

For those who are looking to fade their dark spots and blemishes to achieve a brighter, more even skin tone, shea butter can be a wonderful tool.

That being said, you shouldn’t expect changes to happen overnight. Shea butter’s exfoliating properties are pretty mild, which makes it so safe to use on the skin. 

That also means that results are going to take a while – weeks or even months.

Shea Butter Night Cream

One way you can start fading your dark spots with shea butter is by applying shea butter on your face before bed. Spread a thin amount of butter over your face and go to sleep.

This allows the shea butter to work its magic for 7-8 hours without interruption. In the morning, you will want to wash it off and wear strong sunscreen. 

Any product that exfoliates your face, including shea butter, can cause your skin to be more sensitive to sunlight. It makes sense – exfoliation removes the top layer of your skin and reveals fresh baby skin which is more sensitive to UV damage. So make sure to always wear that sunscreen!

Shea Butter Spot Treatment

If you don’t feel like you need to slather shea butter all over your face, an alternative would be to use shea butter as a spot treatment, focusing on areas of your face that have dark spots or acne scars.

You could mix your shea butter with lemon juice, turmeric, or another exfoliating product (a bit more on that below) to enhance its color-fading powers, and dab it over your areas of concern.

We recommend doing this at night and washing it off in the morning because if you do this during the day, you’ll likely end up looking like an oil slick. 

Other Tips For Reducing The Appearance Of Dark Spots

Shea butter is great for moisturizing and nourishing your skin, and it does work at lightening your dark spots. 

However, shea butter is by far not the strongest exfoliator out there. So, if you have significant dark spots or acne scars, you might need to use a stronger product. You could also combine your stronger product with shea butter to create a super-hydrating exfoliator for your skin.


Retinoids are derived from vitamin A and carry a more potent punch when it comes to exfoliating the skin and fading dark spots than shea butter. Retinoids contain retinoic acid which is responsible for its powerful exfoliating properties.

There are many studies on retinoids that show that they are super effective at reducing signs of photoaging in people of all skin tones.

Some retinoids, like tretinoin, are only available with a prescription in the US. This is because they can be very strong and should be administered under a dermatologist’s guidance.

There are also different types of retinoids available over the counter, such as retinol and adapalene, which are not as strong but are still incredibly effective.


You may have heard of AHAs and BHAs before. If not, it stands for alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids, respectively. 

These acids are gentler than retinoids but very effective at breaking up dead skin cells at the surface of the skin and revealing fresh skin growth. With frequent use over the course of several months, these acids have been shown to reduce the appearance of sunspots and acne scars, as well as even out the texture of the skin.

AHAs and BHAs can be found in many skincare products and as individual treatments that you can buy over the counter.

AHAs and BHAs are often derived from natural ingredients. For example, citric acid, which is naturally found in citrus fruits, is a type of AHA. So mixing a little bit of lemon juice into your skincare routine can act as an exfoliant. 


The spice turmeric has been used in health and beauty preparations for thousands of years. When it comes to skin, turmeric has powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that help it fight acne, heal scars and lighten blemishes.

Turmeric helps fade hyperpigmentation, treat breakouts, and add a natural glow to the skin.

If your dark spots are due to acne, rather than aging, turmeric is a great ingredient to incorporate into your skincare routine. It will specifically target dark spots caused by blemishes and scarring.

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