The explosion of natural butters and oils that seem to have taken over stores whether they are health stores or supermarkets is undeniable.
Coconut oil, Argan oil and Shea butter are among some of the most popular natural oils.
You may have heard of Shea butter, but what is it? Where does it come from? What are the benefits in regard to using it with your skin and hair, and how can you source a good supply of premium graded Shea butter?
Shea butter – Back ground
Shea butter is literally the fat that is inside the kernel of a Shea nut. It is extracted manually by a process that involves crushing, roasting, grinding and cooking. Shea nut grows on the villeteria paradoxa tree which is found in some countries in the African Savannah. It takes 20 years for the villeteria paradoxa tree to bear fruit and can ‘live’ for about 200 years.
The community land that the tree grows on means that anyone is free to pick shea nuts and process it, this has been a valuable source of income for Shea nut processors. These Shea nut pickers like many rural or farm workers are not necessarily well paid. However, their income stream improves and is more consistent when they join or form a cooperative. This means that they can have storage for Shea nuts and saving schemes so out of season they can have funds to pay living expenses and school fees.
In its native countries Shea butter had many uses. It was used as an oil for cooking. Shea butter was also used as an aid for arthritis or backaches. It was used a lot for skin care. They even used to melt Shea butter on a spoon, let it cool down and swallow it to treat cough.
What is Shea butter?
We have already established that Shea butter is extracted from a Shea nut. The properties of Shea butter makes it quite interesting and unique. It is a triglyceride (fat) it is made of 4 fatty acids including Stearic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, palmitic acid.
The stearic acid is what gives it its solid and waxy composition. The oleic acid contributes to the high moisturising, hydrating and absorbent qualities that Shea butter has. This Oleic oil in Shea butter is 5 times the amount in Coconut oil as an example which makes it more moisturising.
If we broke it down in relation to vitamins it contains vitamin A, which is retinol, so it has anti-aging benefits naturally. Vitamin F means it has anti inflammatory properties. Vitamin e helps to even out skin tone.
Unrefined Shea Butter
Unrefined Shea butter can be ivory beige, pale yellow and slightly green! It has a slight nutty odour. In Nigeria there is a saying that Shea butter cannot expire! However, if the Shea butter you are buying has a strong scent, that means it has gone rancid and has expired! The challenge with Shea butter in the West is that during winter Shea butter gets so cold that it goes solid and has white chalky spots in it.
Some people stop using it because of that, others tell me that they put the Shea butter in the microwave to get in a soft consistency in order to apply it. This is bound to have negative impact on the minerals in Shea butter The Best way is to keep your Shea butter warm so keep it in a warm room near a radiator in those colder months.
During Summer months if your Shea butter melts and solidifies it may alter the consistency and become grainy, the grains do melt quickly on contact.
Refined Shea butter
Refined, Shea butter is white in colour and odour less. The process of removing the compounds means it does not have as many of the additional benefits that the Unrefined Shea butter has to offer but it is still a very good moisturiser.
In its refined state there are less challenges for cosmetic makers when using Shea butter as an ingredient.
Shea butter for skin.