Does Shea Butter Darken Skin

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If you’ve ever searched for a body butter to hydrate dry skin or reduce the look of scars, you probably came across a skincare ingredient named shea butter. 

Due to its numerous skin benefits, the vitamin-rich shea butter is commonly used by skincare and beauty brands today. While most apply shea butter for its moisturizing effects, others swear by its healing properties. 

One curious effect some find from shea butter is darker skin. Does Shea butter darken skin? Since shea butter is typically used to lighten hyperpigmentation and heal stretch marks, its darkening effect on the skin can be surprising. And for some, it will lead to the question: can you use shea butter for tanning?

So why exactly does shea butter darken skin for some people but lighten it for others? The answer lies in the application and the natural skin tone.

Depending on when you apply shea butter, it could enhance your tan or natural skin color.


How Does Shea Butter Benefit The Skin? 

Shea Butter

Rich in antioxidants and fatty acids, shea butter’s popularity as a cosmetic ingredient is well-deserved.

While it’s not usually known for darkening the skin, here are a few of its more common skin benefits.


Studies show that shea butter displays an anti-inflammatory effect when applied to the skin. It regulates the ceramides in your epidermis while inhibiting chemokines and cytokines which produce redness.


Shea butter contains fatty acids such as stearic, oleic, palmitic, linoleic, and arachidic acids. These essential fatty acids accelerate the healing process of scar tissue by stimulating the production of healthy skin cells. 

In addition to healing scars, shea butter softens its appearance and prevents future ones from forming. 


Antioxidants such as vitamins A and E found in shea butter profect your body from free radicals. Free radicals damage your DNA and speed up your skin’s aging process. 

In addition to helping fight free radicals, shea butter minimizes the appearance of existing fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots. 


Since shea butter is a type of plant lipid harvested from shea tree nuts, it is intensely hydrating. The triglycerides in shea butter hydrate and soften the skin, while the cetyl esters repair and reinforce your moisture barrier. 

Does Shea Butter Darken Skin?

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Although shea butter promotes an even skin tone and a brighter complexion, it doesn’t exactly make your skin lighter.

Shea butter only returns the skin back to its natural color. 

Therefore, if your skin was a lighter shade prior to redness, scarring, or hyperpigmentation, shea butter will likely lighten your skin tone.

On the other hand, if your natural complexion was darker beforehand, shea butter can seemingly darken your skin color. 

If your natural complexion was darker beforehand, shea butter can seemingly darken your skin color. 

Another reason why your skin might appear darker after using shea butter is exposure to the sun.

While shea butter is not known to darken skin on its own, it could make your skin more susceptible to UV rays. 

Can Shea Butter Be Used For Tanning? 

Applying Shea Butter

Shea butter can actually help you get a deeper tan if you massage it into your skin prior to sun exposure. Similar to baby oil, cocoa butter, and coconut oil, shea butter preserves your moisture barrier while helping you achieve a gorgeous darker glow. 

Shea butter can be used for tanning and will help you get darker.

Due to its intensely hydrating effect on the skin, applying shea butter regularly after tanning might help your skin to retain its tan longer (just note that it can potentially clog pores).

In addition to enhancing and prolonging tanned skin, shea butter boosts your skin’s protection against harmful UV rays. This versatile butter contains an SPF of about 3 to 4

Since dermatologists recommend an SPF of at least 30, shea butter is not an effective sunscreen on its own. However, it can certainly add a layer of natural sun protection on top of your sunscreen. 

If you spend a little too much time under the sun and catch a sunburn instead of a tan, applying shea butter to the area will soothe the burn. 

Shea butter is anti-inflammatory which means it could relieve redness and discomfort stemming from the affected area. Depending on your skin type, shea butter might even transform your painful sunburn into a nice tan.

Does Shea Butter Lighten Skin? 

Unrefined Shea Butter

Shea butter contains high levels of vitamin E, an ingredient that is often used in skin brightening products.

Vitamin E promotes skin cell regeneration and circulation. 

As a result, shea butter can be effective at treating dark patches on your skin known as melasma and minimizing the appearance of scar tissue. 

As an antioxidant, vitamin E possesses anti-inflammatory properties. This ability to combat redness combined with its ability to fade dark spots is likely why shea butter is such a popular topical solution to hyperpigmentation. 

In addition to vitamin E, vitamins A and F brighten skin complexion by improving blood circulation and balancing sebum.

So does shea butter lighten skin? It can!

These antioxidants are likely why many shea butter enthusiasts appear to have lighter skin after regular use of this vitamin-rich butter.

How To Stop Shea Butter From Darkening The Skin

Those who apply shea butter in the hopes of brightening certain areas of their skin might be frustrated to find it becoming darker instead. 

Depending on your natural skin tone and amount of sun exposure, using shea butter may result in a darker or lighter complexion. 

While there is no clear explanation as to why does shea butter darkens skin for some and not for others, here are a few ways you could avoid shea butter’s darkening effect if it’s not your intended result. 

1. Apply Shea Butter At Night 

Using shea butter before spending time outdoors might increase the likelihood of getting a tan because of all the fatty acids in it.

To avoid unplanned tanning, try massaging shea butter into your skin at night instead — or limit your skin’s exposure to sunlight.

2. Incorporate Vitamin C In Your Skincare Routine 

For those who use shea butter to brighten their complexion, applying it along with vitamin C might yield better results. Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, is capable of inhibiting melanin production and combating hyperpigmentation. 

3. Try Niacinamide 

Another great antioxidant and brightening ingredient in skincare products is niacinamide or vitamin B3. Similar to vitamin C, niacinamide is a good topical treatment for hyperpigmentation. 

4. Use Products With Licorice Extract 

Licorice extract is another cosmetic ingredient with anti-pigmentation properties commonly used in skincare products. It suppresses melanin and protects your skin from UVB-generated sunspots. 

5. Wear Sunscreen 

Sunscreen will not prevent tanning completely, but it might protect your skin from premature aging and cancer. Moreover, wearing sunscreen is one of the best ways to stop new dark spots on your skin from forming. 

Regardless of whether or not you use shea butter, it is highly recommended that you wear either a chemical or physical sunscreen daily

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).