Shea Butter Vs. Coconut Oil For Hair: Which Is Better?

Coconut oil and shea butter are both hugely popular ingredients in the world of beauty and haircare. So when it comes to the question of shea butter vs. coconut oil for hair, which should you choose? Which is the best for your hair?

Shea Butter Vs. Coconut Oil For Hair

Both coconut oil and shea butter have many advantages for the hair. Many find the smell and look of coconut oil to be more appealing, but it’s a close call, and some may find shea butter to be more beneficial for their hair.

Read on as we take a closer look at the benefits and disadvantages of shea butter vs. coconut oil for the hair, and weigh up the pros and cons of each.

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Why Use Oils And Butter On Hair?

If your hair is a little dry, prone to frizz and could do with some TLC, oils and butters are great for providing moisture to the hair and keeping it in great condition.

Shea butter and coconut oil are both very versatile and a common base ingredient found in many shampoos, conditioners, and hair masks. Coconut oil for instance also works as a great protectant when bleaching hair.

This is because the high content of vitamins and fatty acids in both shea butter and coconut oil help to keep your hair in optimal health. Fatty acids make hair grow faster and stronger, adding moisture and shine and even reducing hair shedding.

Benefits Of Shea Butter For Hair

Shea butter comes from the nuts of the Shea tree that are harvested in Africa. It has been used for centuries as a cosmetic product; even going back to ancient Egyptian times. It has many benefits for the hair and skin as it is packed with vitamins. 

These include:

  • Can be used as a deep conditioner
  • Contains vitamin A and E
  • Is great for the scalp
  • Nourishes hair
  • Promotes hair growth

In general, shea butter is an ingredient found in many shampoos and conditioners. It contains many fatty acids and vitamins which are great for the scalp and hair. It even has some sun protection properties (though it is best used in conjunction with your regular sunscreen rather than as a replacement for it).

Shea butter deeply nourishes the hair, promotes hair growth, and helps to prevent hair loss. On top of this, it is also very easy to use and you can even apply it when sleeping.

If you want to use shea butter for your hair, aim for grade A, raw shea butter, like this one from Amazon. Or look for products that contain raw shea butter, such as this Maui Moisture Aloe Vera and Shea Butter Hair Mask. 

Also Read: How To Use Black Pepper Oil for Hair Growth

Disadvantages Of Shea Butter For Hair

The potential disadvantage of shea butter is that as far as oils and butters for the hair go, it is heavy. It can leave a film on the hair, which can weigh fine or low porosity hair down.

If you have low porosity hair, go easy with the shea butter, perhaps only adding a small amount of shea butter to the ends of your hair. Shea oil is another, a lighter alternative that you could try.

Other disadvantages include:

Can Prevent Water From Penetrating The Hair

If you have dry, frizzy, and coily hair, you might be tempted to slather copious amounts of shea butter onto your hair and scalp on a regular basis.

This is not a good idea. Because shea butter is heavy, it can create a barrier between your hair and water while in the shower, meaning water is not able to enter the hair shafts.

Not Suitable For Those Who Co-wash

If you only use co-wash or use non-sulfate shampoo as well, they may not effectively remove the build-up from your hair and scalp, leading to drier, frizzier hair over time.

So it’s important to not overdo it with shea butter. Using a clarifying or sulfate shampoo will remove build-up from the hair and scalp, but limiting the use of shea butter will help to prevent build-up in the long term.

It Has a Strong Smell

Now, raw shea butter has an off-yellow color and has quite a strange nutty smell.

You can counter this problem by adding essential oils to your shea butter to mask the smell and provide additional benefits for the hair.

These factors can be off-putting for some people, which is why many beauty products contain refined shea butter. This is paler and whiter in color and has chemicals added to it to remove the smell.

The problem with refined shea butter, however, is it is not as potent as its raw form. Many of the vitamins may be lost during the bleaching process.

Coconut oil has had a moment in recent years, and has become a big trend in beauty, healthcare and cooking.

What Is Coconut Oil?

The versatility of coconut oil is probably one of the big factors for its popularity, added to the fact that its appearance and smell are less offensive to many than that of raw shea butter (unless, of course, you hate coconuts).

It is generally white in appearance and has a mild, coconutty smell reminiscent of a tropical island.

Depending on the room temperature, coconut oil can vary from a white, solid form with a wax-like consistency to a completely clear liquid.

It is extracted from the white meat inside a coconut and is harvested in tropical regions. Coconut oil is widely available to purchase in health food stores and beauty stores.

Also Read: How To Use Watermelon Seed Oil For Hair (3 Easy Ways)

Benefits Of Coconut Oil

Like shea butter, coconut oil is very versatile.

Coconut oil can be used for the following:

  • A pre-wash treatment
  • Hair mask
  • As a conditioner
  • Moisturizer for split ends
  • As a leave-in
  • To tame frizz and give shine

Like shea butter, coconut oil is a base ingredient in many hair products, however, the vitamin content is higher in shea butter.

Coconut oil is extremely rich in fatty acids, such as lauric acid which have numerous benefits for the hair and skin.

This fatty acid is able to absorb deep into the hair shaft and provide ultimate hydration.

Coconut oil can also serve as a protein treatment for the hair which is great for high porosity hair. It has the ability to strengthen the hair cuticle and stop water from flooding in and out too quickly. This helps hair to retain moisture and prevent frizz and therefore works great as a pre-treatment for hair coloring or hair straightening.

Disadvantages Of Coconut Oil For Hair

Unsurprisingly, what makes coconut oil so great for high porosity hair is also what makes it potentially troublesome for low porosity hair.

It can be used as a protein strengthening treatment for hair, but if your hair is low porosity, using too much coconut oil can potentially cause hair to become stiffer and more brittle. 

Just like shea butter, coconut oil is one of the heaviest oils you can use on your hair.

This means it can leave a film on the hair and weigh it down if your hair is fine or has low porosity. So, it’s best to use it sparingly or just on the ends if your hair fits into this category.

Similarly, don’t overdo it with coconut oil if your hair is dry or coily. Just like shea butter, it can cause product build-up over time and needs to be washed away with a clarifying shampoo or sulfate shampoo, which can be harsh for the hair.

Also Read: Is Olive Oil Soap Good For Hair? (Question Solved!)

Shea Butter Vs Coconut Oil For Hair: Which Is Best?

Shea Butter Vs Coconut Oil For Hair

So, which is better for hair; shea butter or coconut oil? To figure out which of these two products comes out on top, let’s weigh up the pros and cons of each.

Shea Butter


  • Packed with vitamins and fatty acids that are great for the hair.
  • Easy to use
  • Versatile
  • A great moisturizer for the hair


  • Not so great for low porosity hair
  • Very heavy and can weigh down hair if used excessively
  • The smell is not for everyone
  • Raw shea butter is a rather unappealing dirty yellow in color

Coconut Oil


  • Looks more appealing than shea butter
  • Smells nice
  • Easy to use
  • Versatile
  • Packed with fatty acids that are great for the hair
  • A great moisturizer for the hair
  • Serves as a protein treatment for hair


  • Lower vitamin content than shea butter
  • Not great for hair that is lower in porosity
  • A heavy oil that can weigh down hair if used excessively
  • Can cause dryness and frizzing for some hair types

So, it looks like in the contest between shea butter vs. coconut oil for hair, coconut oil comes out as the winner, as it has a higher number of advantages than shea butter has.

Also Read: Almond Oil Vs Coconut Oil For Hair: The Important Differences

It’s still pretty close, and there’s no denying that both shea butter and coconut oil have a great number of benefits for the hair.

It comes down to personal preference at the end of the day, and what works best for your hair. Why not try both and see which you prefer?

Or maybe you don’t have to choose at all and can combine the two together to create your own custom hair treatment that has the benefits and advantages of both. 

Alternatively, you could invest in a great product, such as a hair mask, that incorporates the benefits of one or both of these ingredients. Why not try Garnier’s amazing Ultimate Blends Hair Food Banana 3-in-1 Nourishing Hair Mask to reap the benefits of both of these ingredients together? This is easily purchased from Amazon.

What is clear, though, is if you have higher porosity hair, you won’t want to overdo it for either of these ingredients. In such a case it’s best to try lighter oils instead that won’t weigh your hair down or cause product build-up.

Disclaimer: This site is not intended to provide professional or medical advice. All of the content on is for informational purposes only. All advice should be followed at your own discretion. Ingredients may change at any time so always check the product label before using. Check our full disclaimer policy here.

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Nicola Sloan

Nicola is a freelance writer and researcher whose specialisms lie in health and wellness, beauty, and psychology. She has fine, wavy hair and is a big fan of co-washing every alternate day between shampoos (as dry shampoo makes her sneeze!)