Is shea butter an occlusive?

For the uninitiated, skincare lingo can be about as decipherable as ancient hieroglyphics. Words like “exfoliation” and “occlusion” sound more like vocabulary words from a medical textbook than something you’d want to slather onto your face. But fear not! We’re here to tackle one of those perplexing terms today: occlusives.

What are Occlusives?

Occlusives are ingredients that form a barrier on the surface of your skin, helping to prevent water loss and locking in moisture. They basically create a protective seal over your skin, which is important for keeping it hydrated and plump. Some common examples include petroleum jelly (Vaseline, anyone?), mineral oil, and beeswax.

How do they work?

Basically, these ingredients work by forming an impermeable layer on top of your skin that seals in moisture. This helps prevent trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL), which is just a fancy way of saying that water doesn’t evaporate off your skin quite so easily when you’ve got an occlusive layer blocking its escape.

In addition to their hydrating properties, many occlusives also have some emollient effects – i.e., they help soften and smooth rough or dry patches of skin. It’s worth noting though that not all occlusives are created equal; some can feel greasy or heavy on the skin, while others are lighter in texture but still effective at sealing in moisture.

So…is Shea Butter an Occlusive?

Ah yes, finally we get to the heart of the matter: does our beloved shea butter fall into this category? The short answer is…yes! Woohoo!

Shea butter has long been known for its moisturizing properties thanks largely to its high concentration of fatty acids (particularly oleic acid, stearic acid, and linoleic acid). These fatty acids help to soften and regenerate damaged skin while also providing a protective barrier against environmental stressors. So not only does shea butter help keep your skin moisturized, it can also aid in repairing any damage that may have already occurred.

What makes Shea Butter such a powerful occlusive?

One of the things that makes shea butter such an effective occlusive is its viscosity – i.e., how thick or gooey it is. The thicker the product, the more effectively it will form a barrier on top of your skin. And boy oh boy, is shea butter thick! (Cue flashbacks to trying to scoop the stuff out of jars during cold winter months)

Shea butter’s high concentration of stearic acid also helps lend itself well to its abilities as an occlusive. This particular fatty acid has some pretty impressive “film-forming” properties which means that when applied topically, it can essentially form a second layer over your skin (remember what we said about sealing in moisture?).

Finally, because shea butter has both emollient and humectant (i.e., water-attracting) properties in addition to its occlusive powers, it’s truly a triple threat skincare ingredient!

Anything else I should know about using Shea Butter as an Occlusive?

If you’re thinking about incorporating shea butter into your routine specifically for its occlusive benefits then there are some important things to be aware of:

  • Though highly moisturizing for many people (myself included), sheer weightiness might make certain formulas or products incompatible with thinner-skinned/fine-pored individuals.
  • While great at keeping moisture locked in place, this benefit might pose additional problems for acne-prone individuals like yours truly who already struggle enough with clogged pores but their noncomedogenic nature usually mitigates most issues!
  • Finally, it’s important to look for skincare products that have the right balance of occlusives in addition to other moisture-retaining or humectant ingredients. Basically, if a product is solely made up of shea butter and nothing else then you’re likely sacrificing the potential benefits derived from combining many different complementary compounds.


So there you have it folks: Shea Butter is an effective occlusive wonder-ingredient with an impressive range of skin-loving properties that keep us hydrated, glowing and healthy! And as someone who has personally slathered their face night after night in layers upon layers of Shea butter, let me just say – your skin will thank you!

Now go out and add some more shea goodness into your life! Your hydration levels will never be higher!