What is Shea Butter

Shea Butter: The Complete Guide

Shea butter is an ivory-colored or off-white herbal fat extracted from the nut of the African shea tree, sometimes called the karite tree, which comes from French and means the tree of life.

Shea tree is twenty meters high and  it can take more than fifteen years for it to grow its first edible nuts. The tree is very rich in nutrients which allow it to survive for several hundred years even in extremely dry and warm conditions, such as in Sahara desert.

Shea butter is edible and is used for centuries in Africa for food preparation, as well as a skin moisturizer and hair conditioner. There are numerous benefits of using shea products and they depend on the type of shea butter that product contains.

Types of Shea Butter

There are 4 types of shea butter; raw and unrefined shea butter, and refined and ultra-refined shea butter – They vary in color, scent, and different benefits.

All types come from the same basic shea nuts processing. What makes the difference is additional processing such as filtering, removing any impurities and smell, altering color and changing its composition.

Raw Shea Butter

Raw Shea ButterThe process of making raw shea butter goes in 5 stages:

  1. Drying nuts and removing the outer shell
  2. Crushing the nuts
  3. Roasting and grinding
  4. Boiling the shea flesh in water
  5. Collecting the butter of the water surface during boiling

As there is no additional processing, raw butter contains some impurities and has a characteristic smoky smell which comes from roasting. The color of raw butter is usually a deep yellow or even greenish if processed walnuts were not fully ripe.

If shea butter is filtered in any way, it is not considered as raw anymore.

Unrefined Shea Butter

Unrefined Shea ButterUnrefined shea butter is very similar to raw shea butter. However, there is a difference in filtering these two butter types – Unrefined shea can be filtered as long as the filtering methods don’t affect its quality.

Unrefined shea butter cannot contain chemicals and preservatives.

At the end of filtering, unrefined shea butter is beige in color and has a nutty scent.

Refined and ultra-refined Shea Butter

Refined shea butter usually undergoes processes of filtering and odor removing. It contains some perfumes and preservatives and has fewer nutrients than raw and unrefined butter.

Ultra-refined shea butter goes through at least two filtering systems which result in changing its composition. During the refinement process it loses nutrients, the consistency can vary from firm to liquid and the color of ultra-refined butter is very white. This type of butter you can find in mass-produced cosmetic.

Refined and ultra-refined shea products are visually appealing, easier to use and feel more luxurious. Unfortunately, the moisturizing and healing properties in refinement process are reduced.

African Shea Butter

African Shea Butter Tree

Karite Tree – A Tree of Life

African shea butter in its pure unrefined state is used for centuries in Africa. Shea is not only an excellent natural moisturizer, but it is also edible and has exceptional healing properties for various skin conditions.

Traditional use of African shea butter:

  • for food preparation as a cooking oil
  • as a base for medical ointments
  • for hairdressing
  • as a skin protector
  • for candle making
  • as a waterproofing wax

In cosmetic products shea butter is widely used as a moisturizer, salve or lotion. Some of the most popular shea products are:

  • skin moisturizer creams and emulsions
  • hair conditioners for dry hair
  • lip gloss
  • soaps (in soaps for commercial use shea comes in very small amounts 5-7%)

Shea Butter for Skin

Your skin is the largest organ of the body and takes care of the vital functions including body temperature regulation, protection and storing water, vitamins and fat. To function properly and look healthy, your skin also needs protection, hydration and nutrients.

Shea butter is without a doubt one of the best agents for your skin as it offers supreme protection and anti-aging regeneration. As a moisturizer, shea is beneficial for dry skin. It offers all nourishment your skin needs and helps damaged skin to heal.

Shea is also ideal for baby care since it is natural and very soft and gentle for sensitive babies’ skin.

Shea Butter for Hair

Shea Butter for hairThanks to its moisturizing properties, shea butter is the best revitalization agent for your hair. You can use shea for every type of hair, but dry, damaged and dull hair will benefit from shea treatments the most.

You can use shea masks on your hair anytime, especially in summer and when your body is subjected to a lot of stress. Shea protects the hair from damage caused by weather conditions such as the wind, humidity or the sun. Shea restores hair moisture and vitality. Minerals and vitamins in shea butter accelerate hair growth.

An increasingly common problem of a modern time is dry hair. The problem occurs as a result of frequent coloring, aggressive hair straightening procedure or curling with a use of chemicals, washing with hard water or during winter staying in dry and overheated areas.

Dry hair requires an extra care! It is recommended to apply shea packungs on dry hair 2-3 times a month.

Shea Butter Benefits

Benefits of using shea butter are numerous; shea nourishes and heals, protects and soothes.

Incredible moisturizing properties

Shea butter contains several natural moisturizing properties, the same ones that the sebaceous glands produce in your skin. The butter melts at the body temperature and rapidly absorbs into the skin.

Reduces inflammation and alleviates the pain

Shea contains high healing fractions – 5-17%. Comparing to other seed oils which usually contain 1% of healing fractions, shea butter is superior in reducing inflammation and protecting skin. It also has a limited capacity to absorb UV radiation.

For its exceptional inflammatory and soothing properties, shea is used for:

  • sun protection
  • to replenish skin after tanning
  • sunburn and skin damage from heat
  • skin allergies
  • frost bites
  • winter skin care
  • insect bites
  • itching skin

Shea butter skin conditionsSmooths the skin

Shea contains important acids which protect and nourish the skin – oleic, stearic, palmitic, linolenic and arachidic acid. It also helps the natural collagen production in the skin. Shea is rich in allantoin which helps to prevent aging.

  • wrinkles
  • stretch marks
  • skin cracks and wounds
  • scars

Shea helps with skin conditions

Except in healing fractions, shea is extremely rich in A, E, and F vitamins.

Using shea butter can also help with various skin conditions:

  • acne – shea is low on the comedogenic scale which means it does not clog pores
  • eczema
  • dermatitis
  • psoriasis
  • rheumatism
  • arthritis
  • rashes
  • skin blemishes

Shea butter hair conditionsHair conditions

Shea moisturizes, repairs and protects hair from the roots to tips:

  • revitalizes dry, damaged and dull hair
  • nurtures hair
  • helps with hair growth
  • restores hair moisture and vitality
  • softness the hair and helps with combing
  • prevents scalp itching
  • protects the hair from chemical compounds

How to Store Shea Butter

For storing refined and unrefined shea butter, make sure to follow product instructions. Usually, shea butter products are best to use within a year after opening.

Raw and unrefined shea butter can last a lot longer, sometimes for years. However, with time nutrients in the butter can break down. To preserve the highest quality of your butter use the following recommendations:

  • keep it in a cool place with consistent temperature, best around 50 degrees F
  • do not mix it with other products or if you do, use it within 30 days
  • always keep it covered to prevent oxidation
  • use a wooden spoon for scooping out the raw butter
  • all types of shea butter keep away from direct light