No matter what kind of skin you have, everyone needs a reliable moisturizer for daily use (and particularly in the winter months). And particularly if you have sensitive skin, you’ll want one without all the artificial fragrances, petroleum, and parabens.
The problem, of course, is that moisturizers fitting those requirements are few, far between, and generally pretty expensive.
But there is a way to have it all – and that’s to use shea butter or coconut oil, each of which have just one ingredient. (Shea tree seeds or coconuts, respectively.)
But when considering shea butter vs coconut oil, which is better for your skin? Let’s dive in and compare.
Comparing shea butter and coconut oil
|Moisturizes and hydrates skin?
|Skin type compatibility
|Dry, normal, combination, sensitive
|Dry, normal, combination, sensitive
|Can block pores, so be careful with oily skin
|Same potential issues
|Cleaning and moisturizing skin, helping repair chapped skin, minimizing the signs of aging, nourishing skin, evening out skin tone
|Softening, soothing, calming, and nourishing skin, evening out skin tone
|Easy to make from scratch at home?
As you can see, in a lot of ways, coconut oil and shea butter are pretty similar. Both have a little bit of SPF (one of the many reasons that I LOVE this all-natural homemade coconut oil sunscreen recipe…), and both are soothing and calming to skin.
Plus, coconut oil and shea butter are both great moisturizers (in my experience, coconut oil is just a little bit better, but it’s close!), and both can do wonders for chapped and dry skin. Very important in winter!
Plus, both shea butter and coconut oil have antimicrobial properties. This is obviously important for skin health! In fact, studies have shown that the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil can help break down cell membranes for viruses, bacteria, and fungi and help wipe them away.
However, if you have acne, beware! Although both shea butter and coconut oil can be antimicrobial which may help treat acne, they are also both thick and can clog pores. So it’s possible that shea butter and coconut oil can both also lead to greater acne breakouts. This varies greatly from individual to individual.
Can I use shea butter and coconut oil on my face?
Yes, you can absolutely use shea butter and coconut oil on your face to moisturize, clean, and generally brighten your face. Again, if you’re acne-prone, both could cause clogged ducts, so it’s important to wash your skin carefully and ensure they haven’t caused additional breakouts.
Can I use coconut oil instead of shea butter?
Yes – any time you would use shea butter as a moisturizer, you can use coconut oil instead. (I’d use a 1:1 ratio when subbing in for a recipe.) The inverse is true too – although (as I’ll share in greater detail below) I narrowly prefer coconut oil to shea butter – in most cases you can use them fairly interchangeably.
And here’s how you can make both:
How to make coconut oil
Coconut oil is surprisingly easy to make, since it has just one ingredient: Coconuts! Start with coconut milk – you can either buy from the store (but check the label carefully – there may be additional additives! Here are my favorite coconut milk brands), or you can make your own coconut milk straight from the coconut. Then heat the milk over a stovetop until the fat separates, skim off the fat from the top, strain it, store it, and voila!
For more detail, here’s the full, in-depth recipe for how to make coconut oil.
If all the above seems overwhelming – and I get that! – then you can also just buy coconut oil online. You want to make sure to get good quality organic coconut oil, all-natural, and no additives. (If you don’t feel like checking a bunch of labels, we’ve done the hard work for you and identified the best coconut oil brands you can buy.)
How to make shea butter
Making shea butter at home is a lot harder. If you want to start from scratch, you have to get shea nuts themselves. I think I’ve seen them before at Whole Foods, but otherwise you’ll have to go to a specialty supplier (I can’t find them on Amazon, although you can buy raw shea butter directly on Amazon). Then you need to break them open, roast them, grind them, whisk the mixture, and then eventually cook it for several hours until the liquid shea butter separates.
(Like I said, maybe best to just buy it.)
Coconut oil and shea butter storage
Shea butter needs to be stored somewhere dark, dry, and cool after you’ve made it or opened the jar. The refrigerator is in many ways the ideal storage location. By contrast, coconut oil just needs to be stored somewhere dark and dry – so a pantry, cupboard, or medicine cabinet will do just fine. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and travels well.
Shea butter vs coconut oil: The ultimate verdict
Coconut oil is better than shea butter, in my opinion. Here’s why:
Between the two, from what I’ve observed, coconut oil is a slightly better moisturizer, and it’s certainly quite a bit easier to make directly at home. (Plus, it travels just a little better, since it doesn’t need to be kept as cool as shea butter.) So if you made me pick between them, my answer is coconut oil.
But let’s face it – shea butter and coconut oil are both fantastic options for just about anyone looking for an all-natural at-home moisturizer.
And you don’t have to pick between them! Because the best recipe for making whipped body butter includes both ingredients…
The body butter recipe that gets the best of BOTH worlds
This whipped body butter recipe is simply the best (in my humble opinion). It includes both coconut oil and shea butter – because they’re both awesome – and walks you through, step-by-step, how to combine them with a handful of other great ingredients (cocoa butter and jojoba oil, to name two) to deliver a truly amazing body butter that can make a huge difference in your skincare routine.
Yes, shea butter can clog pores, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. (So can coconut oil.) It’s important to keep an eye on!
Not that I’ve ever experienced, but it’s certainly possible. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so if your pipes are cold, then coconut oil would solidify in them until you ran hot water through them again. Leave a comment below if this has happened to you!
Yes, shea butter should be refrigerated. Shea butter can go rancid (you’ll know because of the smell), so it’s important to keep it in a dark and cool place, like a refrigerator.
Yes, absolutely, please do. Each of them is great on its own, but putting them together can really supercharge your moisturizing routine.
Generally no – it’s not a good idea to leave coconut oil on your face overnight. This is because coconut oil is so thick that it can block pores and lead to increased acne outbreaks. Generally it’s a good idea to leave coconut oil on your face for about 15 minutes before washing it away with soap and water.