Shea butter is actually a fruit
Glamour is about feeling good in your own skin. – Zoe Saldana
You must have had an opportunity to use cosmetic products containing Shea butter or to see some of numerous commercials promoting it. But, do you know what Shea butter is?
Shea butter is a fatty extract obtained from the seeds of an African tree called Shea (Vitellaria paradoxa), whose natural habitat is in the wilderness of the West African dry savannas, stretching from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east. The English word Shea comes from the word shíyiri, which is a word of a Malian language of Bambara, although this tree is also known as karite tree in Senegal or ori tree in the rest of the West African countries.
Shea butter is a skin ‘super food’, rich in vitamins A, E and F, it protects against UV rays (SPF 6) and provides the skin with essential fatty acids and nutrients necessary for collagen synthesis. It is used in the cosmetic industry for making hair and skin care products (lip glosses, skin creams and moisturizers, conditioners for dry, damaged hair, different kinds of soap).
How is Shea butter made?
Traditional preparation by West African peoples:
Since this is a fruit, it is necessary to remove the pulp and to take out the kernel, which is the source of Shea butter. After it is dried, the shell is broken and its content is extracted (the nut). This part of the procedure is a social activity and is traditionally done by women who sit on the ground and use rocks to break the shells. After this, the crushing process starts. Using a mortar and pestle, the fruit is pulverized and prepared for roasting.
The crushed nuts are roasted in big pots over open fire, and because of the oil content, they must be stirred constantly to avoid burning. When the content is cooled, water is gradually added and it is kneaded by hand. This process helps the oil separate out on top. Then it is removed and cooked separately on low heat, which allows the water to evaporate, leaving the butter completely clean.
The golden-yellow creamy substance clarified in this manner is left in a cool place to harden and then it is formed into small balls. Prepared like this, the Shea butter is in its purest form – unrefined and, therefore, of the highest quality.
Shea butter benefits
Moisturizing The concentration of natural vitamins and fatty acids in Shea butter makes it incredibly nourishing and moisturizing for the skin, so it is often used to remedy dry skin and to preserve its natural oils.
Reduces Inflammation Thanks to the cinnamic acid and other natural properties, Shea butter has an anti-inflammatory effect, it prevents skin mutation and is effective against acne.
Skin smoothing Shea butter boosts natural collagen production and due to the content of oleic, stearic, palmitic and linoleic acids, it protects and nourishes the skin, preventing it from drying, aging and wrinkling.
What to consider when buying Shea butter
Since this product is available in limited quantities, the cosmetic industry often uses various artificial additives for better smell and texture, but also to make the product commercially more attractive. All this diminishes the curative powers of this marvelous plant. The second issue that should be considered is durability.
Very often, it takes up to two or three years from the production to the moment when the product reaches an end user. The healing properties of Shea butter are strongest within 18 months from its extraction from seed. It order to use the benefits of this amazing plant in the most efficient manner, make sure you take the above facts into consideration when buying the product.
How to Use
If you manage to find a non-refined Shea butter, make sure you first warm it to the melting point and strain it through gauze in order to remove impurities and traces of shell. You can use it to moisturize your skin, to prevent stretch marks in pregnancy, for massage, for sun protection (SPF 6), as a lip balm, for improving skin elasticity, for scar elimination (since it stimulates collagen synthesis), for hangnail treatments, etc.
Refrain from using Shea butter if you are allergic to nuts and keep in mind it is intended for external use only (although in Africa it is used as a nutrient), and if you have problematic skin, always consult your dermatologist before applying it.