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.
What we put on our skin can get into our blood system. So for this fact alone it is good to seek out a natural product.
Due to the anti-ageing properties, the ability to fade skin cars gradually the anti-inflammatory properties in Shea butter and the high oleic oil that gives it supreme moisturising abilities Shea butter is good for all skin types but especially beneficial for dry skin conditions including eczema, dermatitis and psosarsis. You will note how Shea butter immediately softens your skin and provides a protective barrier.
Shea butter is non comedogenic so it will not block your pores. But if you have oily skin or acne prone skin I would advise you to use a natural oil that has a high linoleic content like Argan oil. You can use s
Shea butter afterwards to help fade any acne scars. The sooner you use it the quicker you will see the results.
To benefit the most Shea butter should be applied to skin when it is still a bit damp. Not when it is completely dry.
If you find Shea butter too rich, it may cause break out in a small amount of cases. You may want to try Pure Shea oil is a by-product of Shea butter that has had some of the stearic fatty acid that makes Shea butter solid removed. It is very moisturising similar consistency to coconut oil but more hydrating.
Shea butter does have SPF protection of 6. Some people have also said that Shea butter makes their skin darker. If this is not your desire, a product like Monshea™ Shea oil with ylang-ylang will prevent this or you can opt for another oil like Coconut oil
The chart below gives you an idea on how Shea butter compares in regard to its hydration and absorption abilities compared to other natural oils or butters. This is useful information to bear in mind if your skin is particularly dry.
Pure Shea butter can be used on babies. It provides a natural alternative for baby skin care
Popular oils measured in regard to the quantity of oleic oil(moisturing fatty acid)
Shea butter for hair.
Our hair styles, styling habits ie use of colour, weaves, extensions the environment and even hard water has taken a negative impact on our hair.
It may have lost its sheen, frizzy, dry or even shedding due to lack of elasticity. Due to Shea butter moisturising, and softening abilities the prevalence of Shea butter in products and the hair care advice given on it , adding Shea butter to your hair care regime seems essential.
A word of caution however is that Shea butter is an oil and not a conditioner. A conditioner need to have some water content in it. When you use Shea butter as a leave in conditioner for example, it can leave your hair feeling quite dry maybe a day or so afterwards.
To overcome this dilemma, use Shea butter as part of your conditioning process and add Shea butter with your conditioner as part of a deep conditioning process. Using this method, the Shea butter now acts as a sealant locking the moisture. It also acts as a detangler for those blessed with thick hair.
In between washes you can make your own leave in conditioner with Shea butter and water as an ingredient. Or you can use Shea oil that absorbs better in the hair or any other of your favourite oils including a hair oil product.
Shea butter has personally helped to thicken my hair. I make my own hair oil product with Shea oil, Argan oil and glycerine which helps to keep my hair hydrated.
Another favourite recipe is Shea butter/Shea oil coconut oil and castor oil to help promote hair growth.
Liquid Shea butter / Shea oil is also a good product to use to keep a dry scalp hydrated without matting hair that may be the case if you are sporting plaits, extensions or locs.
Shea butter source.
As mentioned earlier Shea butter is prevalent. To identify a good source of Shea butter it should be graded as premium grade A. If it is organic and unrefined Shea butter is (no certification is required under the law) then that is good. If your supplier supports a woman cooperative or community enterprise that actively has schemes to improve the lot of Shea pickers and processors you are on the right track.
I belong to Global Shea alliance that aims to harvest Shea nuts in a sustainable way and supports Shea pickers with advice and practical support.
If you would like to try our premium grade un refined Shea butter please then fill out
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