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What is Body Butter: Luxury Treat or Essential Skin Care?

Updated on November 7, 2012

Body Butter is for Bath Time

Original photo and image © Redberry Sky 2012.
Original photo and image © Redberry Sky 2012.

Nothing in this world is quite so luxurious as a self-massage of warm body butter after a long, hot soak in a bubble bath. It is the very last word in self-indulgence: a soft, smooth and heavy cream; opulent and rich. One of the ingredients of many body butters is Shea Butter (which may be listed as Butyrospernum parkii or Vitellaria paradoxa too), which is known by both science and long traditional use to have a beneficial nourishing and softening effect on skin and which, with its creamy, whipped-butter consistency, adds a sumptuous touch to a nightly bathing and skin care routine.

What is Body Butter?

Body butters are moisturising creams with a thick buttery consistency. They are massaged into the skin of the legs, arms and torso, and they provide an intensely moisturising effect. They can be quite oily, sticky and greasy, at least until they absorb into the skin, so are usually used at night before bedtime. Shea butter, honey and fruit are some of the most popular ingredients in body butters, so they can be very highly scented – sometimes delightfully so, but others can be a bit too sickly sweet! Natural ingredients like these often have claims attached to them, like softer skin, moisturising properties, antibacterial effects and others, some of which are confirmed by research and others through the observations of years of traditional use, or even through folklore. Other effects could be simply wishful thinking…

Drenched in Luxury Body Butters

Digitally Manipulated Detail of 1890 painting 'The Bath' by John Reinhard Weguelin; original image is in the Public Domain.
Digitally Manipulated Detail of 1890 painting 'The Bath' by John Reinhard Weguelin; original image is in the Public Domain. | Source

How to Use Body Butter

Body butters are very thick, and although they melt and absorb quite quickly at body temperature, I tend to give it a helping hand by having the tub or tube in the warm bathroom while I’m having a bath, and then massaging it into my skin (legs, arms and torso only – don’t apply it at all to face and neck) when I’m still warm from my soak.

I’ve only ever used it at night, after a bath and straight before I get my jim-jams on and go up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire (for anyone not from Britain, this is a quaint way of saying I go upstairs to bed!). Although it absorbs within a few minutes and doesn’t leave skin feeling too coated or greasy, it’s still too heavy for daytime use as clothes ‘stick’ to it, although it’s fine with cotton pyjamas or a nightdress.

Body Butter for Dry Skin

Because it’s oily and buttery, it’s ideal for very dry areas like knees and elbows (and even feet if you don’t want to buy separate foot balm). I get a little contact dermatitis on my hands sometimes, especially in very hot or very cold weather, and rubbing the excess body butter into them every night seems to keep this under control.

But I use it all over – my legs and arms and body – and it makes my skin incredibly soft and smooth. I also exfoliate once a week and use a fine netting body puff, but if I go without body butter for a couple of weeks, I can really feel the difference as my skin becomes drier and quite a lot less smooth.

Why Body Butters are Different from other Moisturisers

I didn’t use body butters until about five years ago, but once I did start to use them, I was addicted! I didn’t think my skin was very rough or dry, and I started to use them more as a bath time treat and a bit of luxury at the end of the day, but after about a week or two the difference in my skin was amazing – it was very soft and smooth and supple, but one of the most noticeable effects for me was that the small little irritations that I’d barely even thought about - things like my jeans rubbing against my thighs, or my cotton tops rubbing against my arms, or vaguely (but almost constantly) itchy calves and ankles - vanished.

I’m hazarding a guess here, but I think that (like most women), although I applied facial moisturiser regularly, I’d rather neglected the body moisturiser – my legs and arms are almost always covered so sun protection is rarely an issue, and it never occurred to me that the faint red dots on my thighs and upper arms that made my legs look as though I’d just walked through a nettle patch, were the result of my clothes rubbing constantly against my dry skin. Body butters made this ‘nettled’ appearance disappear within a few days, and the dryness I’d become so used to that I hardly noticed it was replaced by wonderful silk.

Applied at night, before bed, heavy body butters seem to really hold moisture in and put back the oils that get lost during the day. Body butters aren’t the only moisturisers I use – I use them about half the time and use soufflés, serums, and other lotions and potions the other half. I try to make sure I use a butter three times a week, and I find that if I miss it out completely for a couple of weeks, my skin starts to feel a little bit rougher and drier.

How does Body Butter Work?

Shea butter is one of the main ingredients in many body butters. In Western countries, Shea is mostly used only for cosmetic products, although it is a common food in African countries.

Shea contains antioxidants that fight off the damage free radicals cause. Antioxidants are found in abundance in fruits and vegetables and research very strongly suggests that people who eat lots of these live longer and healthier lives and are less prone to diseases of aging like Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular problems. The benefits of applying them to the skin are less well-researched and the results are less clear-cut, but two things do stand out: research carried out by academics funded by a cosmetic company found that out of all the natural substances researched (which were those most often used traditionally for skin care benefits), white tea performed the best, suggesting that even when applied to skin the antioxidants and phenols actively work to keep skin youthful and healthy. Secondly, Shea has been found to have a very similar profile to green and white tea in terms of antioxidant and phenol content, suggesting that this also might have a beneficial effect. Of course, since similar oils and antioxidants are found in fruits as well, fruit extracts are popular ingredients too.

The oils in the butters also play a role, both forming a barrier to stop moisture escaping from the skin and to prevent toxins from damaging the skin, and to replace some of the oils that are lost naturally through the day.

De-Stress at Bath Time with Potions and Lotions

Image and Original Photo © Redberry Sky, 2012.
Image and Original Photo © Redberry Sky, 2012.

Luxury, Pampering and Relaxation

Above everything, cosmetics are a luxury. After a stressful and trying day, a long hot bath and lots of scented butters, oils and creams completely unwinds tangled thoughts. Stress wreaks havoc on the immune system and an uptight mind can lead to many skin complaints like acne, flaking, dehydration, itching and sensitivity, perhaps minor in themselves but also perhaps the first sign that stress is beginning to have an adverse effect on health. As well as acting as a protector and moisturiser, a nightly self-massage with body butter provides a little pampering oasis of calm – so light the scented candles, luxuriate in a warm tub with your favourite book, and let the world go hang for an hour! Cosmetics and unguents and potions and lotions might seem like quite a shallow and indulgent form of opulence, but in terms of comfort and relaxation, their effect is far from skin deep.


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    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I have used Body Butter before but I didn't really know what it was or what it was for- all I knew was it felt good. This is a great, informative hub on the subject and I'm definitely going to consider buying some more so my skin can look and feel moisturized.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Wow! I didn't think about this with body butters - I always thought of them as a "luxury" :)

      Um, I have to share and tweet this! Beautiful pictures and GREAT hub!

    • Your Cousins profile image

      Your Cousins 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Oh, I love body butter. It's really helpful in smoothing rough skin brought on by wintry weather. Thanks for the info. Voted Up and Useful.

    • Redberry Sky profile image

      Redberry Sky 4 years ago

      Cheers Alecia, Cyndi and Your Cousins, and thanks for sharing, Cyndi :). Let's hope all our skin stays soft and pampered this winter (hint hint, boyfriend, husbands and assorted loved ones, if you happen to be looking for something luxurious for your favourite girls...)

    • AngelsRinglets profile image

      AngelsRinglets 4 years ago

      Gotta love the body butters. I have them on my vanity, right next to my lotions. I decide which one to use based on how big the job is LOL! Crusty heels? Body Butter. Daytime ashy legs? Lotion will do. All in all though, I like to keep it natural, and shea butter is great for that. Love this post!

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