Shea Butter


Did you use Shea butter today?

If yes, then you deserve a ‘PAT ON THE BACK‘ for being the ultimate reason behind the smiles of thousands of African women, who bank upon Shea butter for earning their livelihood.

Shea butter is the Blessed and Benevolent ‘BRAINCHILD’ of Almighty Himself.

I utter this statement simply because of a solid reason that ‘Shea’ is the most generous tree in the world, which is counted on by the economically-challenged and toiling African community.

Extraction of Shea butter has become the ‘bread winning’ profession of the most deprived and the valiant African women.

Women are nobly, the best creation in the planet. They adorn the world, wherever they are. All she touches turn to gold and all these florid words are to explore the secret behind the magnificence of Shea trees.

Shea-butter-bannerShea trees can live up to 200 years and Shea nuts are harvested by women in a traditional way.

It is a well known fact that Shea Butter comes from the tropics of Africa and you’d be glad to know that the process of extracting the butter is extremely unique. I for one thought that there was a very elaborate and strenuous procedure to it, but the ingenious way was actually quite simple.

The nuts of the Shea-Karite tree are first collected. It is said that these trees take nearly 15 years to bear fruit, and only after completion of 30 years, the tree begins to produce its best. Well, after the nuts are collected they are cracked, grilled and pounded. Next they are dropped into a pot of boiling water where they are boiled for hours till the butter floats to the surface.

The butter is then carefully scooped up from the surface and placed in a holding container to cool off. This is called unrefined or raw Shea Butter. Though West Africa used to be the major producer of Shea Butter, East Africa is beginning to take its turn in making the softest Shea Butter that you’d ever seen.

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What makes us talk about this?

When people of today list out their concerns, most of them focus on beauty and fitness! Even psychiatrists believe that a person’s physical appearance can certainly change the total well being of the individual. Coming to the conclusion that a lot of things in today’s world revolves around physical appearance, people have started focusing on the best of the best that can make them look and be their best.

While we are on the page of talking of what’s the best that could happen to the cosmetic industry, none can deny that Shea Butter is yellow gold from the God’ s themselves. Well that’s how most cosmeticians have gotten to know it.

For those of you who are quite new to the topic of discussion, let me guide you through the in and out of this buttery gold.

Let’s start by learning about the history and culture of Shea Butter.

History of Shea Butter:  

Shea Butter had found its place in the land of Africa centuries ago and has been mentioned of how well it has been cherished over the years. The butter has been immensely popular that it has been trapped in the history and culture of the West African wooded savanna.

You’ll find its mention in almost all the African historical documents which also dates back to the reference as early as Cleopatra’s Egypt, where caravans bearing clay jars of Shea butter for cosmetic use where mentioned back then.

The History also speaks of funeral beds of kings which were engraved in the woods of the old Shea trees, and the mention of Shea Butter as a primary ingredient in African pharmacology.

Shea butter has many useful properties and has been used for traditional hair and skin care, as cooking oil, and as a lamp fuel. The butter is of an ivory color which contains triglycerides and Unsaponifiables, including Katitene, Lupeol, Butryospermol, Parkeol, Karisterols, and cinnamic esters.

The butter is a resourceful active component known for its anti-aging, soothing and moisturizing properties. Shea Butter has been used as an important ingredient in beauty products across the world, for both skin as well as the hair to prevent them from drying out in the harsh African environment.  Observations carried out in 1940 found that the folk of Africa who used the butter had fewer occurrences of skin diseases than those who didn’t.

Culture of Shea Butter:  

Shea Butter in Togo:

Learning from a person who was bred in Togo I found that each linguistic group has their own name for the Shea tree and Shea butter., and in the language of Kaboli native of Togo, it was called oyi and the Shea tree is eggi-oyi.

In northern Togo, Shea Butter is very essential, and a valuable natural resource for this region. It’s used in food, cosmetic oil, and in the ceremonial practices of various ethnic groups in central Togo.

Shea Butter in Fulani Group Cultures:

Among the Fulani group Shea butter was used by the bride for 3 months before the wedding to beautify herself for the big day. The butter would be made by her mother or other female relatives.

The groom would also need to use the butter to prepare for the wedding. Godja ritual, which is a ritual of whipping, will be carried out by the bride parents to check the son-in-law’s willingness to endure physical pain for his bride.

If he shows the lightest signs of weakness during the ritual, the wedding will be called off and he will have to wait a year to try it again.  Shea Butter along with honey is used to treat the wounds before the wedding day.

Shea Butter in the Okalakun Plateau:

In central Togo, Shea Butter and its byproducts do play an important role in daily life. The residue that is left behind after the collection of the butter from the boiling water is nothing but milky red water. This water is said to have a certain scent that can ward away termites. Living in Africa termites can be a major cause of destruction to food and property.

So, the red milky water that is collected after removing the Shea oil is mixed with clay to form bricks. This is very effective, and has been adopted throughout central and northern Togo and is used for making granaries to store corn, millet and yams, which are susceptible very to termites.

Nature of Shea Butter:  

The butter is adaptable to all climatic conditions and is normally solid at room temperature. The aspect that I really like about the butter is that it quickly melts at body temperature making it extremely easy to use. Though this is the natural quality of the butter, the color and smell, even the quality of the butter may vary based on the method of extraction of the butter.

Though that this is the most suitable variety of Shea Butter to use, Shea Butter is also received in the market in two other varieties.

The first and the purest variety being the raw or unrefined butter that is obtained using water. This variety is similar to whipped butter, and sometimes takes the color of a grayish yellow.

The second would be the refined one which is highly processed taking extra effort to maintain its natural qualities.

The third would be the highly refined or processed solvent which uses hexane through the process to help with increasing the yield. Also to make the butter more pleasant to the eye, the processed Shea Butter is pure white.

Shea Butter and its Smell:

Understanding that the butter is derived from a nut, it is quite obvious that the butter has a nutty fragrance to it. This smell is seen only in the raw form of the butter and for those who find the smell to be unpleasant, may look or the processed forms of the butter.

Though, over a period of time the smell of the raw butter might diminish.  Since butter can go rancid, you might want to be on the look out to see if your butter is beginning to smell. ‘Your butter should never smell rotten.’

Properties & Composition of Shea Butter:  

As Shea Butter melts at body temperature, it gets rapidly absorbed into the skin and acting as a “re-fatting” agent. It is also pretty good at binding with water and hence extensively used in skin care. The butter contains fatty acids like stearic acid (20-50%), palmitic acid (2-9%), oleic acid (40-60%), linoleic acid (3-11%), and arachidic acid (<1%).

The stearic acid of the butter has the property of mixing and blending with oils and water, hence is commonly used in low concentrations to function as an additive in liquid cosmetics for skin and hair.

Because stearic acid helps water and oil mix, the ingredient is also added to many liquid cosmetics, and skin and hair care products in low concentrations to function as an additive rather than an active ingredient or cleansing agent.

Oleic acid on the other hand is a monounsaturated fat which is known for its preservative properties and also used as a cleaning agent in the manufacturing of soaps and detergents. Oleic acid is also an emollient and used in creams, lipsticks, lotions, and skin products.

Health Benefits of Shea Butter:

In general Shea Butter finds itself extensively used in the areas of the cosmetics industry for skin- and hair-related products. The butter contains an abundance of unsaponifiables which make it any cosmetic’s best friend. It is basically used as a conditioner for dry and brittle hair, skin moisturizer, creams and emulsions, and even seen in lip gloss.

You’d be surprised to know that the butter is also used as cooking oil, for candle-making, used as a cosmetic in hairdressing, a waterproof waxing, and also in medicinal ointments.

Musicians of Africa are even known to use the butter as a wax on their percussion instruments to increase the durability of wood. The butter is also used to bring out flavor in organic broths, and in the UK there are used to make softer tissue products for daily use (Toilet Paper).

SHeabutter-broucherShea Butter for the Skin:

As already stated in the nutritional facts, Shea Butter is loaded with vitamins. The focus of today is going to be on Vitamins A, E and F. These vitamins generally have a lot to do with maintaining and healthy nourished skin.

Vitamins A and E help keep the skin clear and healthy. On comparison with many extensively used fats and oils, we see that Shea Butter is high in Unsaponifiables, containing between 7-12% Unsaponifiables; which in relation to avocado oils that contain only 2-6%.

Anti-aging Properties of Shea Butter:

Regular usage of Shea Butter may prevent premature wrinkling of skin and the occurrence of facial lines, this being most women’s dream come true. The Vitamin F seen in the butter acts as a general skin protector, and a rejuvenator. Since the butter also contains essential fatty acids like vitamins A and E, they help in maintaining your skin’s elasticity and suppleness.

Shea Butter as a Moisturizer:

A research carried out in 2012 by the Tennessee State University states, “The properties of the tree are stearic acid, which promotes and protects skin barrier health (Fowler, 2008) and various ingredients such as triterpene alcohols, known to reduce inflammation; cinnamic acid esters, that have limited capacity to absorb ultraviolet (UV) radiation; and lupeol, this property prevents the effects of skin aging by blocking the action or function of enzymes that degrade skin proteins.”

The butter can also be used in treating sun damaged skin, mature skin, severely dry skin, chapped lips and also used in the treatment of damaged hair.  The presence of high level of Unsaponifiables seen in the butter is truly one of the reasons that make Shea Butter the choice in the treatment of above mentioned disorders.

The butter has the ability to soothe, hydrate and balance the skin and can be used as a moisturizer for dry skin and eczema, as a dry scalp treatment. The butter is often used on chapped lips, and to treat cracked dry skin on heels, elbows and knees.

Shea Butter as a Sun Screen:

Unlike other product of skin care, Shea Butter melts and gets absorbed into the skin allowing the skin to breath, favoring few skin related complications. Shea Butter also acts as a natural sun screen and provides a degree of protection from the sun due to the presence of cinnamic acid in it.

Shea Butter for Minor Skin Problems:

The butter is known for its soothing effect on the skin and has little evidence that it can treat minor skin conditions like eczema and acne. People who have used Shea Butter for treatment of psoriasis, claim that it has no side effects and is half as expensive as their regular treatment regimen.

There were even several instances when users of the butter reported absence of regular occurring rashes ever since they have put Shea butter to use. The properties of Shea Butter are extensive effective that as of today the butter is also used in getting rid of stretch marks as well. The butter I also good to use as a skin softener while you shave; you can use it instead of soap, or even post shave to make the skin smoother.

The American Shea Butter Institute strongly believes that; raw Shea butter maintains its therapeutic qualities, whereas processed Shea butter loses its healing properties. So sticking to the raw form of Shea Butter can make a worlds difference if you are looking for prompt results.

Shea Butter for the Hair:

Shea Butter is just great for the hair. It nourishes and moisturizes hair from the roots to the tips. Besides this, it also serves in protecting your hair from dryness, brittleness, and weather damage.  It serves bet for treating dry damaged hair, and can be used to restore life into damaged hair caused by heating iron.

The butter is readily absorbed into the scalp and prevents side effects such as the itchy, sticky feeling that you get when you use oils. On regular usage of Shea Butter on your hair, you’ll see life breathed into it and luster returned to those damaged shafts. Shea butter can also be used in conjunction with coconut or olive oil and other essential oils to nourish the skin, hair and scalp.

Medicinal Benefits of Shea Butter:

Shea butter is a good emollient and has found its way into making medicinal ointment as well. The butter has anti-inflammatory properties, and humectants properties. The butter is commonly used in sun blocks, lotions as treatment of sun tanned or skin damaged by the sun.

Shea butter is also used in the treatment of sinusitis and relief of nasal congestion in Nigeria, and also massaged into joints and parts of the body where pain is experienced. Besides this, the butter is also used in treating insect bites and rheumatism.

A research on ‘Anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive effects of triterpene cinnamates and acetates from Shea fat’ in the year 2010 states that, “The biological activities of triterpene acetate and cinnamate esters, together with the exceptionally high levels of these triterpenes in Shea fat, indicate that Shea nuts and Shea fat (Shea butter) constitute a significant source of anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor promoting compounds.”

Conditions to Use Shea Butter:

Just to make things very clear, I am listing out a few conditions where you might want to put Shea Butter to the task for immediate effects.

Some of them are skin rash, Blemishes and wrinkles, Skin peeling, after tanning, dry skin, Itching skin, Sunburn, Small skin wounds, Skin cracks, Tough or rough skin, Frost bites, Shaving cream for a smooth silky shave, Stretch mark prevention during pregnancy, Insect bites, Cold weather, Muscle fatigue, aches and tension, Skin allergies such as poison ivy or poison oak, Dermatitis, Eczema, For before and after strenuous exercise, Healthy skin, and Skin damage from heat.

What makes Shea Butter Stand Apart?

When it comes to comparing seed oils they are divided or categorized based on two fractions. One being the saponifiable fraction, which refers to the moisturizing properties of the product of concern, and the other, refers to nonsaponifiable fraction, which pertains to the healing properties.

The fraction that makes Shea Butter looks like the emperor is when it comes to the healing fraction.  We see that Shea Butter contains important nutrients, vitamins, and other valuable phytonutrients required for healing, and this fraction increases from 5% upto 17% depending on the source from which the butter is retrieved. This quite explains, the larger the healing fraction, the better the quality of butter.

This in comparison to other seed oil we see, that most of them have less than 1% or not more than 1% of healing fractions.

On the other and since Shea Butter has both the moisturizing fraction and the healing fraction, using it as a cream on a regular basis can be used to treat itching, sunburns, blemishes, insect bites, frost bite, wrinkles, eczema, small skin wounds, skin allergies, and other skin conditions. For this reason the Shea Tree is also termed as the karite tree, meaning the TREE OF LIFE.

Storing Shea Butter:

Like most butters Shea Butter doesn’t have to be refrigerated. The butter can be stored in a cool dry place, making sure that it’s covered in a dry, air-tight container. This butter can be stored and used for a period of two years, and though its properties might reduce over a period of years, it can always be used as a moisturizer.

Greener Life Diamond™ & Essential Depot: 

At Essential Depot our products are animal friendly, bio healthy and all business are performed under fair trading. Our Shea Butter is one of our first to be approved and certified under Greener Life Certified TM along with the new Greener Life Diamond™ Here we sell only the finest Organic African Unrefined Shea Butter, which is completely raw, unrefined and has a thick and often nutty aroma. We abstain from using bleaches, deodorizers, or chemicals to change the scent or appearance of Shea Butter.

To understand the quality of the product, Greener Life Diamond™ gives a numeric value in each sector so that consumers can quickly make ethical purchasing decisions. This numeric value is based on 4 quadrants representing the four major aspects of health, social and environmental responsibility.  At Essential Depot, Shea Butter is rated with a 0 in each sector, signifying that the highest standards for each quadrant have been met.

Essential Depot takes absolute pride in presenting the best ever Shea Butter in the world with its mind-blowing Greener Life Diamond certification that grants you the promise of using the best Shea butter that is skin safe, environment friendly, manufactured with complete animal friendliness and adheres to absolute fair trade practices.

Producers of Shea Butter in Ghana:

The producers of the Shea Butter are usually the local women who are just trying to feed their families.

But theirs is a lot of struggle in Ghana just to get a meal on the table. According to the International Journal of Development Research, in May 2014 a study was done on ‘AN ANALYSIS OF FACTORS AFFECTING WOMENS’ CAPACITIES AS TRADITIONAL SHEA BUTTER PROCESSORS IN NORTHERN GHANA ’ ; where we see that 600,000 women in Northern Ghana depend on incomes from the sale of Shea butter and other Shea-related products as a means of their daily sustenance via, supplementing the family food budget and meeting medical and educational expenses. But with the problems that are faced such as decreased income, poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and social disruption things are becoming no easier to handle.

To Reflect:

Shea butter is by far the smoothest natural plant butter in the world but with the hardest efforts of the African women populace.

By using Shea butter, you can take absolute pride in honoring and saluting the determination and perspiring efforts of such beautiful ladies on the earth.

Every time, you use Shea butter, you would be the reason behind their smiles (earning their living).

And own the joy of partnering with these resolute women in making the world much more beautiful.

Reference Links:

  1. Shea Butter by Wikipedia
  2. Shea Butter by Shea Institute
  3. Shea Butter by Digital Scholarship TN state
  4. Shea Butter by PubMed