The Beauty of Shea Butter

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The fat of the nut of the African Shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) is the source of Shea butter. Shea is the English rendering of the word shíyiri or shísu. The Shea tree grows naturally in the wild in the dry savannah belt of West Africa from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east, and onto the foothills of the Ethiopian highlands.   

Shea butter contains several derivatives of cinnamic acid, a compound common to cinnamon and balsam trees.  It has been determined that Shea butter not only demonstrates anti-inflammatory benefits, but also contains the compound, lupeol cinnamate, which has been said to have the ability to prevent tumor development.  

Shea Butter is high in unsaturated fats with a large proportion of "unsaponifiables" components, essential fatty acids, phytosterols, vitamin E which creates a protective covering on the surface of the skin, which actually helps the skin and hair retain its natural oils and moisturizers, provitamin A which helps to remove free radicals and controls sebum production, as well as vitamin D and allantoin. All these are natural and make Shea butter a superfood for your hair and skin.  Shea Butter also contains catechins, plant antioxidants also found in green tea, as well as natural UV protection (SPF 6).  Shea butter also kickstarts collagen production, which helps the skin build new cells and repair damage.

 The concentration of natural vitamins and fatty acids in Shea butter makes it incredibly nourishing and moisturizing for skin and hair. It is a natural humectant, and helps to protect the skin and hair and prevent drying. It is often used to remedy dry skin and to help protect the skin’s natural oils, and is safe for delicate infant skin.  Due to its cinnamic acid and other natural properties, Shea butter is anti-inflammatory, reducing skin inflammation and has the potential to help avoid skin mutations. Shea butter is wholly non comedogenic, meaning it is non-pore clogging, making it beneficial for some people with acne.  Shea butter soothes skin helping it to recover from damage. It also doesn’t clog the scalp, and is known for its ability to soothe irritated and dry scalp, and helps the hair to retain moisture from the roots to the ends.

Shea butter is available in different grades, which depend on the extraction method.  Refined Shea butter has been extracted with chemical process (with hexane mostly), which involves bleaching, deodorizing and overheating. All of these deeply altering chemical processes yield a white odorless Shea butter that has lost all of its deep moisturizing, anti-aging, protecting and healing properties.   While on the other hand, unrefined Shea butter is Shea butter as close to its natural state as one can get.

Unrefined Shea butter is extracted manually or mechanically. It has a mild nutty-smoky scent and is neither white nor yellow.  It tends to be ivory or with a slight greenish tint.  Yellow Shea butter occurs when bark of the borututu tree has been added during the milling process.  Some manufacturers will remove the odor using a mild steam treatment that doesn't degrade any constituent.  Raw Shea butter retains all of its precious skin moisturizing, anti-aging and healing properties. 

Shea butter has been used in Africa for centuries upon centuries to improve skin and hair, and has also been used medicinally to treat various wounds, and skin conditions.   In many parts of Africa, Shea butter is used for cooking.  Some studies have determined that eating Shea butter may cause digestive issues, so be aware of this before consuming internally. (Our ancestors have consumed Shea butter internally for many, many years. Which leads me to wonder about the reasoning behind these studies as well as the results.)

At Tahur Living, we only use Grade A Shea butter that is raw and fair trade from women owned Co-ops in Ghana and Uganda. 

FUN TO NOTE:  In some African countries is used as a waterproofing wax and candle-making. It is used by makers of traditional African percussion instruments to increase the durability of wood (such as carved djembe shells), dried calabash gourds, and leather tuning straps.

IMPORTANT TO NOTE: If you have a known allergy to other tree nuts, you may experience a reaction to Shea butter. Consult your physician or allergist before using any product containing nut butters.  Do not use Shea butter that has mold on it (white spots), a distinctly bad odor, is either hard and not creamy, or has a bad taste.  Shea butter should taste slightly nutty and more robust than coconut oil.