Shea butter is an edible substance extracted from the fruits of the shea tree, a tree growing in the savannahs of West Africa. The name means “life” in the Mandinka language.
Shea butter is consumed in traditional cooking or used in the chocolate industry as a substitute for cocoa butter. It is best known for its cosmetic properties like moisturizing and softening the skin, a property that has made it enter in the composition of many cosmetics.
Shea butter is a godsend for the people of the West African region, who have been using it for cosmetic, nutritional, and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. They use it to protect their skin and hair from the drying effects of Sub-Saharan climate, and there’s evidence that it had played an important part in the beauty regimen of Cleopatra of Egypt in the first century BC.
Shea butter is still extracted manually by a painstakingly long process that involves the collection, cleaning, and separation, drying and pounding of the dried nuts into a paste. The fat-rich seed paste is then mixed with water and agitated by hand to separate the butter which rises to the top in the form of curd. This top layer is collected and then purified by melting it into butter oil and then filtering it out and cooling.
The immersion in boiling water will separate the butter from other components of the kernel, including impurities that settle at the bottom of the container. Once removed, the surface floating butter is pounded before being cooked for a long time to allow water to evaporate and impurities to settle.
The resultant butter is off-white in color and may contain brownish specks unless the filtering process is not meticulous. The liquid butter thus obtained will be filtered before being stored or packaged.
Properties of Shea Butter
Shea butter is indeed known for its moisturizing, restorative, and softening properties. The Shea butter holds many beauty secrets which make it be used in the manufacture of lotion, salve, moisturizers, and other cosmetics. Apart from that, Shea butter is also edible and used in a variety of food preparations like chocolate, and can be used as a substitute for the cocoa butter.
It is particularly rich in oleic acid and stearic acid, and also contains natural antioxidants (vitamins A, E, and F), latex and phytosterols. Shea butter’s unparalleled hydrating property is due to natural moisturizers that are chemically comparable to those produced by the body’s own sebaceous glands.
Depending on the source, the healing fraction of Shea butter ranges from 5 % to 17 %, and of course, the larger the healing fraction, the better. By comparison, the healing fraction of other seeds oils is very small, in the range of 1 %.
Shea butter easily penetrates the skin and will not clog pores, and there is a high level of cinnamic acid which makes Shea butter a natural sunscreen. Shea butter is particularly helpful for sun damaged skin and to help prevent premature wrinkles and facial lines.
The Vitamin A in Shea butter is important for improving skin conditions, like blemishes, wrinkles, eczema, and dermatitis. The Vitamin F acts as a protector, helping to rejuvenate rough dry or chapped skin and helps soften dry or damaged hair.
Shea butter applications
- Excellent daily skin moisturizer for face and body
- Helps prevent and reduce stretch marks during pregnancy and weight gain and loss
- Restores elasticity to skin
- Reduces blemishes and wrinkles
- Anti-aging and anti-free radical agent
- Increase circulation to the skin
- Helps reduce acne and scarring
- a superb moisturizer for both eczema and psoriasis
- Helps soothe skin and diaper rash
- Restores luster to hair
- After sun conditioning
- Help soften the tough skin on hands and feet
- Dry, itchy skin and scalp relief
- Reduce razor irritation and bumps
- Provides healing benefits to skin wounds and cracks
Benefits of Shea Butter
Shea butter contains many natural vitamins and nutrients that are vital to the skin, which makes it best for nourishing the skin, leaving it healthy and lovable. Other useful compounds for helping ensure healthy skin include collagen and collagen peptides as well.
The butter remains solid at room temperature but melts on the skin to form a non-greasy coating that in actual fact seals in the moisture. The fatty acids in the butter keep your skin moisturized, smooth, and glowing. So, people suffering from dry skin including cracked feet can benefit from the use of Shea butter.
During the dry harmattan periods of West Africa, when the dry desert winds blow from the Sahara desert, the local people coat themselves with Shea butter to protect their skin from drying out.
Applying Shea butter all over the body will help keep the skin hydrated and soft, and you can add a tablespoonful of the butter into your warm bathwater before the final rinse. This will quickly melt and cover your body with a thin, protective layer of oil, without making the skin oily.
Shea Butter Offers Protection against Sun Exposure
Shea butter can provide some protection against UV exposure, and has been estimated to have a sun protection factor of 6 (SPF-6). It may not be sufficient protection for full sun exposure on a summer day but may be enough for a quick trip outside.
With increasing concern about the possibility that chemical in sun filters themselves cause skin cancer; it may be a good idea to apply shea butter as a base layer before applying another sunscreen to the skin. The anti-inflammatory action of shea butter is useful in reducing burning and pain after exposure to the sun.
Shea Butter Helps Smooth Out Wrinkled Skin
Shea butter has higher stearic acid content than other vegetable oils. Elasticity and suppleness of the skin are maintained by the structural protein collagen that binds the skin tissue together, and loss of collagen due to aging and sun exposure is the main reason for skin wrinkles. Dehydration of the skin further aggravates wrinkles.
Aging is a nightmare for most women, but Shea butter contains anti-aging properties which help in tissue regeneration leaving your skin soft, young and healthy. It also contains vitamin F and a new form of Vitamin B3 called Niagen, which restores skin elasticity and help restore mitochondrial activity respectively.
The fatty acid profile of the shea butter allows it to be absorbed into the deeper skin layers to nourish them and sustain collagen production. The action of the butter helps hydrate the skin layers, making them more turgid and visibly smoother. Regular application of shea butter protects against moisture loss from the skin.
Being non-sticky, and a non-toxic way to protect the skin from regular sun exposure in the day to day living, Shea butter can be comfortably used day and night.
Shea Butter Helps to Reduce Or Prevent Stretch Marks
Stretch marks formation is something that is common during pregnancy and keeping the skin moist and healthy helps reduce and prevent stretch marks. The natural and non-toxic shea butter will help you fight stretch marks.
Stretch marks formation depends on heredity. Factors such as rapid weight gain and larger tummy from a larger baby or excess amount of amniotic fluid can also contribute to it. However, keeping the skin moisturized will reduce stretch marks, if not completely prevent them.
It is best to depend on natural, non-toxic moisturizing agents for keeping the skin hydrated all through pregnancy and during the lactating period, and Shea butter can come in handy.
The breakdown of the dermal layer due to overstretching is the cause of the stretch marks, but the fatty acids in Shea butter being similar in composition to skin fat may help nourish the dermal layer and make it more elastic by promoting collagen production.
Regular application of Shea butter on the stomach, thighs, and breasts well before they come under severe stress may be the key to avoid stretch marks in these areas.
Studies show that Shea butter contains Cinnamic-acid and other anti-inflammatory agents. This property helps Shea butter reduce inflammation, making it helpful when it comes to acne, pimples and other inflammatory cases.
While Shea butter is indeed edible and can be used as a source of edible anti-inflammatory compounds, pineapple fits the bill better. Shea butter works wonders when applied around the eyes, as it makes the area smooth, removing dark circles in the process.
Spot application on acne may help in most cases, but people with generalized skin inflammation, as in the case of rosacea and dermatitis, find relief from the regular use of Shea butter. It is also effective against other skin inflammations that result from tanning, scalding, frostbite, and such like.
Shea Butter Can Be Used As A Hair Softener
Shea butter is an excellent remedy for softening and regenerating damaged and stiff hair, helping to control the spread of oil in the scalp due to its non-greasy
Shea butter has the ability to soften frizzy hair and make it more manageable. When Shea butter is applied on the hair, it prevents the hair from drying out and becoming brittle and can be used to just coat the strands of hair or massaged into the scalp. It traps in the moisture by coating each strand of hair in a thin, non-greasy layer of fat.
To apply to the hair, take a teaspoonful of Shea Butter and rub it between the palms to melt, and then spread it over a small portion of the hair using both hands. Repeat until all hair is covered. Finally, run a brush through the hair, to ensure that every strand of hair is covered.
Shea Butter Can Protect Your Hair
In addition to softening your hair, Shea butter will protect your hair from harmful elements and harsh weather conditions such as the UV rays. Shea butter does not only protect the hair but also repairs the damage caused by these conditions.
Just take some butter and rub it between the palms and smooth your hair with it, and shea butter, with its SPF of 6 will offer quick and easy protection from the damaging action of sun exposure and can act as a barrier to the chemical pollutants in the air as well.
Additionally, Shea butter is an effective way of getting rid of dandruff. When applied on the scalp, it is absorbed and unleashes the vitamins to the skin without clogging the skin pores or leaving a slimy residue. Shea butter can also help in skin peeling.
Other Health Benefits Of Shea Butter
Shea Butter Gives Pain Relief
When massaged into aching joints and inflamed areas, Shea butter offers relief. This is why the shea butter is highly useful to people suffering from arthritis and rheumatic pain.
Muscle soreness resulting from exercise, sports practice, or other strenuous activity may be relieved by massaging in Shea butter to the affected areas. Applying Shea butter both before and after exercise has been found to provide faster pain relief, and for best results, unrefined, organic Shea butter should be used.
Give Relief from Cold and Sinusitis
People of West Africa, especially, Nigeria, have been known to use Shea butter to relieve nasal congestion and may help relieve sinus congestion too.
In an experimental study, Shea butter, petroleum jelly and the standard nasal drop Otrivin were tested for their effectiveness in relieving nasal congestion. The result showed that Shea butter seemed to have a more lasting effect of 5-8 hours.
The medicated nasal drop was quicker in clearing up the nostrils, but the blockage returned within 2- 4 hour and repeated application of the nasal drops resulted in nasal irritation and rebound congestion. The petroleum jelly was unresponsive.
Shea Gives Relief from Insect Bites
Shea butter has been traditionally used to treat insect bites, as spot application quickly takes away the stinging pain. Severe itching and scratching often worsen insect bites because it helps spread the poison to the surrounding tissues, but the anti-inflammatory property of Shea butter reduces itching and soreness.
It can be used to treat mosquito bites, honey bee stings, and can even be used in treating Jellyfish stings.
You can as well, apply it overexposed parts of the body to ward off biting and blood-sucking insects. It may not be as effective as chemical insect repellents, but it is definitely much safer, especially when repeated use is necessary.
Shea butter is generally hypoallergenic, but, as in the case of any substance applied to the skin for cosmetic or therapeutic purposes, you are advised to test it on a small patch of skin before using it more liberally.