If you’re someone who uses beauty care products made of natural ingredients then you’re definitely familiar with shea butter and cocoa butter.
Even if you’ve never used either of these body butters before, you’ve most likely at least heard of them. If you really want to give your skin and hair a treat, then it may be time to add one or both of these to your beauty routine.
Many products that you find on the shelves in the beauty aisle contain shea butter or cocoa butter, or a combination of both.
They are often used as ingredients in body lotions, moisturizers, hair products, even make up like lip balms, and many other things.
Because shea butter and cocoa butter are so similar, you might be confused about which of the two you should be using. Is one more effective than the other?
Which one is the best choice for your skin type? Is there one better for specific skin conditions like dark spots or stretch marks?
If you’re unsure of the answers to these questions, read on to learn the differences between shea butter vs. cocoa butter so you can find the one that’s most suitable for your personal needs.
The Difference Between Shea Butter And Cocoa Butter
Knowing the differences between these two plant butters can help you determine which is the best choice for you.
But first, its important to have a basic understanding of each one.
Let’s gain some insight into where each one comes from, what it’s made of, and what it looks and smells like.
All You Need To Know About Shea Butter
Shea butter comes from the West African shea tree, Vitellaria paradoxa.
The kernels of the fruit from the shea tree contain fats that are extracted and made into the butter.
In its natural state (called unrefined) shea butter is an off-white or ivory color and has a creamy consistency. It also has a mild, nutty scent1.
What’s in it? Shea butter is high in many saturated fatty acids, mostly oleic and stearic acid, but also has linoleic acid, arachidic acid, and palmitic acids.
It also contains high levels of vitamin E and A, which are antioxidants that boost anti inflammatory properties and support a healthy skin barrier2.
Another component of shea butter is cinnamic acid, which gives it antimicrobial properties that help fight bacteria and acne.
All You Need To Know About Cocoa Butter
Cocoa butter comes from the Theobroma cacao L tree, which is found in the tropical regions of Central and South America.
It’s made from the fat that’s taken from roasted cocoa beans from the cocoa tree. Unrefined cocoa butter has a yellow color and a chocolatey scent. It is firm in texture so it does not melt at room temperature.
What’s in it? Cocoa butter is made up mostly of saturated fats like oleic, palmitic, and stearic acid.
It is also high in antioxidants. Vitamin E fights off damage done to the skin, vitamin K helps with wound healing, and choline helps maintain skin elasticity3.
Cocoa butter also contains the anti-inflammatory component called cocoa mass polyphenol (CMP) which helps against dermatitis and skin allergens4.
Shea Butter Vs. Cocoa Butter – Main Differences
While shea and cocoa butter do share many similarities, they are not the same.
First, they come from two totally different sources – shea from kernels of the fruit from the shea tree and cocoa from roasted cocoa beans.
2. How They Look & Smell
They look very different as shea butter is an off-white color and cocoa butter is more yellow. Shea butter also has a mild nutty smell while cocoa butter smells like chocolate.
3. Melting Temperature
Shea butter is more soft and creamy and melts at room temperature while cocoa butter is firmer (hard as a rock) and does not melt at room temperature.
This causes shea butter to be more easily absorbable into the body than cocoa butter.
4. Shelf Live
They also have different shelf-lives with shea butter lasting 1-2 years while cocoa butter lasts 2-3 years or sometimes more.
5. How They Work
Shea and cocoa butters also work differently in general. Shea butter is classified as emollient, but also has occlusive properties, while cocoa butter is classified as occlusive but also has emollient properties (I know it’s SO CONFUSING!).
Shea butter helps to heal damaged skin by filling in any spaces and cracks with droplets of oil, like typical emollient.
6. Recommended For Different Skin Types
This way it makes the skin smoother.
Shea butter is better for oily skin (while cocoa butter is not recommended for oily skin)5.
On the other hand, cocoa butter blocks water loss by creating a barrier on top of the outer skin layer to lock in moisture and prevent water loss (as an occlusive)6.
It’s heavier which makes it better for drier skin7.
Moreover, because cocoa butter is thicker and may clog pores, it’s not recommended for acne-prone skin.
Shea butter doesn’t cause blackheads, it balances sebum production and this way it helps to prevent the oil build-up in the skin.
Is Cocoa Butter Or Shea Butter Better?
So, is cocoa butter or shea butter better you ask? The truth is that each one has its own unique benefits and will appeal to different personal care needs.
Read on to understand the benefits of cocoa butter and shea butter, as well as any negative side effects that can make you choose one over the other.
Cocoa Butter Benefits
- Moisturizes dry skin
Cocoa butter contains many moisturizing properties. The body butter has lots of fatty acids which are made up of similar components as the fats in our actual skin so it replenishes them.
Also, the different vitamins add moisture to nourish, hydrate, and smooth out the skin.
- Helps ease skin allergies and inflammations
The anti-inflammatory substance called CMP stops production of IgE, which are antibodies that cause the body to react to certain skin allergens or dermatitis8.
- Reduces premature signs of aging
It has a high antioxidant content so that helps fight off free radical damage which contributes to premature signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles.
The phytochemicals like CMP increase blood flow to the area which can also help with skin damage, improve skin elasticity and tone.
What Can You Use Cocoa Butter For?
- Dry skin
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Skin discoloration
Side Effects Of Cocoa Butter
- Clogs pores causing acne breakouts or blemishes, so it’s not a great choice for the face, especially if you have acne-prone skin.
- May actually exacerbate eczema or atopic dermatitis in some cases due to the CMP.
Shea Butter Benefits
- Moisturizes dry and damaged skin
The high concentration of fatty acids help moisturize and hydrate your skin by forming a protective barrier on the surface.
It’s lighter consistency also helps it to absorb more readily into the skin.
The best part is that it’s non-comod0genic, which means it won’t clog your pores. So, its great moisturizer for all skin types, even acne prone skin and sensitive skin9.
- Helps alleviate skin inflammation and conditions
Slows down the production of inflammatory cells that cause irritated skin.
This will soothe symptoms associated with skin conditions like eczema and rosacea.
It also penetrates the skin quickly so it can be used as a quick fix to relieve skin irritations like dryness, itching, peeling, redness, or sunburn.
- Helps heal acne and prevent scarring
The cinnamic acid contains microbial properties that fight bacteria, like those that cause acne. And also works to heal scars left by acne.
- Reduces premature signs of aging
Helps repair damaged skin cells to promote healing. The antioxidant properties of the vitamins A and E help skin cell regeneration and also boost collagen production.
This helps increase skin elasticity and minimize fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation.
- Conditions your hair
It lubricates the hair shafts to prevent split ends and damage. It also nourishes the hair follicles at the root to build strong and healthy hair.
Finally, it hydrates and soothes a dry itchy scalp so it’s great for people with scalp psoriasis or dandruff10.
- Protects from harmful sun exposure
It contains caffeic acid which provides slight UV protection (about SPF 6).
So, if you choose a moisturizer with shea butter you will be getting the added benefit of protection from environmental damage.
What Can You Use Shea Butter For?
- Dry skin
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Stretch marks
- Dark spots
Side Effects Of Shea Butter
If you have nut allergies then take caution. Since shea butter does come from nuts, you could potentially have an adverse reaction.
Shea Butter Vs. Cocoa Butter For Dark Spots
The benefits of shea butter outweigh cocoa butter when it comes to reducing dark marks and discoloration.
Not only does shea butter have obvious benefits for the skin, but it’s even been clinically proven to effectively treat scars and acne marks.
Studies have shown that cocoa butter does not prove to provide the same effectiveness.
Actually, using cocoa butter on scars can make them even worse! Why?
Because it’s rich in vitamin K which has collagen-retaining properties that can potentially make a scar more plump and noticeable11.
Cocoa Butter Vs. Shea Butter For Hair
Again, shea butter is the better choice here for hair because of its lighter consistency and non-comedogenic formula.
Since we know that cocoa butter can clog pores, it can also do that on your scalp. It can prevent your scalp from releasing its natural oils and cause irritation.
Shea butter is also more easily absorbed than cocoa butter so it can be applied quickly in the shower and rinsed to soften your hair without making it greasy.
Just apply the cream to your hair like you would any other conditioner.
Leave it in for a few hours (or all day) then wash and style your hair as usual and it should be even more glossy and healthy-looking.
Is Shea Butter Or Cocoa Butter Better For Stretch Marks?
While cocoa butter is more popularly known for stretch marks, some research has shown that it doesn’t actually make that much of a difference on the appearance of already existing stretch marks12 or can make it even worse!
Since both cocoa butter and shea butter are beneficial to softening the skin in general, I’d personally use the shea butter on my stretch marks as that one offers better results without clogging your pores.
When we compare shea butter vs cocoa butter, they seem to be very similar in terms of benefits that they provide for your body and skincare.
They both moisturize and hydrate to make your hair and skin softer and smoother.
However, shea butter is the better choice overall. It is absorbed more readily, offers better sun protection, and is suitable for all types of skin – dry or oily skin, combination skin, or the most sensitive skin.
Ultimately, that definitely doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be using cocoa butter at all. It still offers tons of skin health benefits, as well.
You can maximize the benefits to your skin by choosing products with a combination of both ingredients.
Also, don’t forget you should stick with unrefined shea butter (or cocoa butter) when possible to make sure you retain all of those important vitamins and nutrients, as some of them are lost in the refining process.
The purpose of this article is informative and entertaining. It’s not a substitute for medical consultation or medical care. The author of this article does not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Safety should be your priority.