Shea butter is a luxurious skin moisturizer with significant therapeutic benefits. It’s also a sustainable mainstay crop for West African villagers.
What is Shea Butter?
Shea butter is a gift from nature with its healing, beautifying and regenerating properties. The precious butter is held within the Karite fruit of the (ka-ree-tay) tree, which grows wild in West Africa.
Africans have known for Shea butter’s medicinal and beautifying properties for generations. The butter is used in daily cooking, taken therapeutically for colds and flu, used as a ceremonial food, and as a gentle massage cream for babies’ skin.
The Karite Tree is known as the Tree of Life in Africa, and it takes 25 years before it starts to produce fruit, which looks similar to a large plum. The tree is in full production by 40-50 years age and the Shea butter is produced by crushing the seeds inside the fruit.
Village women harvest the Karite fruit. This traditional activity is a vital part of village culture. Earnings from the butter, known as ‘women’s gold,’ benefit some of the poorest villages in Africa.
Beautifying and Therapeutic Benefits
Shea butter has unique therapeutic benefits. Naturally occurring compounds like triterpene alcohols with cinnamon esters act as naturally occurring sunscreens and anti-elastase which is a compound that can help prevent stretch marks. She is also a potent source of vitamins A and E, which helps stimulate and regenerate skin cells. Other compounds include fatty acids, which give Shea anti-inflammatory, disinfectant and antiseptic qualities.
The Virgin or first pressing of the nut butter is considered the most potent. A chemical process using solvents and heat gives the second press butter which has moisturizing qualities but reduced therapeutic and healing qualities.
As a guide, if you are purchasing Shea for its therapeutic and healing properties look for products that are 10% unrefined and cold pressed. If you just want a moisturizer, then a 5% refined or chemically extracted butter is sufficient.
Seed oils such as Shea are divided into two categories of fatty acids: the moisturizing saponifiable fraction (SF) and the healing nonsaponifiable fraction (NSF). The NSF fatty acids in Shea promote cellular growth, helping to restore damaged skin.
Where to buy it
Purchase via internet sites such as Inesscents aromatic botanicals. The shea butter used in their products is processed by Fair Trade standards and traditional (unrefined) methods. They also use recycled glass and packaging and no animal testing.
How to use it
Skin – Shea can help prevent chapping, chafing, rashes, psoriasis, eczema dermatitis, skin cracks and tough or rough skin. It can assist in skin rejuvenation and can be used on all skin types. Rubbed into the skin, it can alleviate insect bites, frostbites, sunburns and small skin wounds. The chemical combination of shea butter is close to vernix, the substance found on newborns.
Arthritis and rheumatism – Shea butter deeply penetrates and heats to soothe joints and muscular aches and pains.
Stretch marks – rub shea butter into the skin to prevent and treat stretch marks and other scar tissue. Also, assists in healing sore and cracked nipples.
Massage therapy – reported having the best ‘slide’ consistency for massage therapy. Also good for the elderly and bed ridden invalids in preventing bed sores and maintaining skin suppleness.
Hair – recommended for deep conditioning of hair and scalp.