Is Shea Butter Good for Sunburn? How to Use

woman with sunburn

If you've ever had a sunburn, you know how agonizing it can be: the heat, the peeling, the redness – it's all a painful memory. The worst thing about sunburn isn't just the immediate pain but the long-term damage it has on the skin. 

Thankfully, shea butter steals the spotlight as a natural remedy, free from unwanted chemicals, that's a handy tool in combating the pain and damage of sunburns. This miracle substance, derived from the nuts of the Shea tree, could be your secret weapon against sunburns and other skin burns. 

In this article, we dive into the benefits of shea butter for sunburns, explore the potential downsides, and offer some handy methods of using shea butter for your healing process.

Key Takeaways

  • Shea butter, with its inflammation-reducing properties, can provide comfort and speed up healing for sunburns and other skin burns.
  • While shea butter offers plenty of benefits, potential downsides, such as the possibility of allergic reactions and the lack of sun protection, should not be overlooked.
  • Raw shea butter may have advantages over refined products thanks to a higher concentration of fatty acids and vitamins.

What Causes Sunburns?

Sunburns are primarily caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. UV radiation is energy produced by the sun and other artificial sources like tanning beds. Two types of UV radiation reach the earth's surface: UVA and UVB. Both can damage the skin and lead to sunburns.

UVB rays are the leading cause of sunburn, directly damaging the DNA in the skin cells, causing them to die or mutate, leading to sunburn and potentially skin cancer. The intensity of UVB rays varies depending on the time of day and year, with the highest levels occurring during the summer months and between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

On the other hand, UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and contribute to premature aging and skin cancer. While they don't cause sunburn directly, they can exacerbate the damage caused by UVB rays.

woman holding cream jar


What is Shea Butter?

Shea butter is a type of fat derived from the nuts of the shea tree, which is native to Africa. It is solid at room temperature but melts upon contact with the skin. Shea butter is rich in vitamins A, E, and F and has been used since ancient times for its moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties. It also provides a low level of UV protection, approximately SPF 6, and is often used in skincare products for its soothing and hydrating effects.

Unrefined shea butter is typically beige or ivory and retains most of its natural components, including its vitamins and minerals. On the other hand, refined shea butter is processed further to remove its natural color and odor, but this process also removes some of its beneficial properties. 

Shea butter is widely used in cosmetics, lotions, and other skin care products due to its high concentration of fatty acids and natural vitamins. It is known to help moisturize the skin, reduce inflammation, and aid in the skin's natural collagen production.

Benefits of Shea Butter for Sunburns


When applied to sunburns, shea butter can help to rehydrate the skin, reducing the dryness and peeling that often accompany sun damage.

Skin healing

Shea butter is rich in vitamins A and E, which have been shown to support skin health. Vitamin A promotes healing and regeneration of the skin, while vitamin E protects the skin from further damage by neutralizing free radicals.

Reduces inflammation

Another benefit of shea butter is its anti-inflammatory properties. Sunburns often cause skin inflammation, and applying shea butter can help reduce this inflammation and soothe the skin. Rosacea and eczema are two other inflammatory skin conditions whose symptoms can be dramatically reduced and prevented with shea butter.

Shea butter is also known for its wound-healing properties. It can help to speed up the healing process of sunburns, reducing the duration of discomfort and the risk of long-term skin damage.


Shea butter also has a mild SPF (Sun Protection Factor), which can provide some protection against the sun's harmful UV rays. While it's not a substitute for a high-SPF sunscreen, its small level of 6 SPF can be a moisturizing and helpful addition to your sun protection routine.

Gentle on sensitive skin

Those with sensitive skin can also benefit from using shea butter as a sunburn remedy, thanks to its low melting point and quick absorption into the skin. Its soft, moisturizing cream doesn't clog pores and is gentle enough even to be used sparingly on babies – just be sure to do a patch test first.

Potential Risks

Shea butter is generally considered safe, with no reported adverse reactions. However, if you experience an unusual response such as an allergic reaction, seeking medical help is essential. Always confer with your healthcare provider, as they can accurately diagnose and treat any issues that may arise.  

Although no adverse interactions between shea butter and other medications have been recorded, we cannot conclusively state there's no possibility for potential interactions due to limited research. 

Shea butter is also not a preventative for sunburn. While it has a mild SPF, using high-SPF sunscreen and limiting sun exposure to prevent sunburn is essential. Shea butter's low SPF may actually attract the sun's rays when it's worn solo, increasing your risk of developing a bur. As such, it's best to save shea butter for post-outdoor use.

How to Use Shea Butter for Sunburns

To use shea butter for sunburns, clean the area in question with mild soap and cool water, then pat dry with a soft towel.

Shea butter is best applied to sunburns in its raw, unrefined form. This is because unrefined shea butter retains all its natural vitamins and nutrients, including vitamins A, E, and F, which are beneficial for skin healing. Rub a small amount of shea butter between your hands to warm it up to make it easier to apply.

Once the shea butter is warm, gently apply it to the sunburned area. Be sure to use a light touch, as the skin may be sensitive and tender. The shea butter should be applied in a thin layer, covering the entire sunburned area. Allow the shea butter to absorb into the skin, and avoid covering the area with clothing until the shea butter has fully settled.

Reapply the shea butter as needed throughout the day. Applying shea butter before bed is particularly beneficial, as this allows it to work its healing magic overnight. 

The Bottom Line

Shea butter is a restorative, soothing, and natural treatment for painful sunburns. While it has its potential downsides, shea butter's skin-healing, anti-inflammatory, and moisturizing properties make it a natural choice in soothing the unpleasantness of a sunburn.  

Find cooling, relieving shea butter in our CBD Cooling Cream for fast-acting sunburn relief.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it okay to put shea butter on a sunburn?

Yes, shea butter can be a helpful, natural tool to relieve the after-effects of a sunburn. Shea butter moisturizes and has healing properties for the skin, thanks to vitamins A, E, and F. 

Can shea butter help burns?

Shea butter has burn and wound-healing properties when used as a topical treatment. It can also help speed up the healing process compared to regular moisturizing lotions. 

Does raw shea butter heal skin?

Raw shea butter has higher concentrations of fatty acids and vitamins, making it potentially more effective at healing skin than its refined counterpart.

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