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The Health Benefits of Shea Butter: Shea Hey!

Published on Mar 16, 2017 in Bath & Body

I’m quite sure that you’re all aware of Cleopatra, the ancient Egyptian queen whose beauty has enchanted men (and women) throughout the ages. Now, it should come as no surprise that a beauty such as hers, one that inspires myth and legend and stands the test of time – doesn’t simply build up overnight. In fact, Cleopatra was known to have some of the most complex, lavish and decadent beauty rituals of her time. These included lengthy honey and milk baths, aloe vera moisturizers, honey and cream face-masks and shea butter! The queen would use shea butter in a variety of ways, as it’s a very versatile natural product – as you’ll learn here in this feature!

What is Shea Butter and Where Does it Come From?

Shea Butter Tree

African Shea Tree

Nowadays, most people would frown upon taking a milk and honey bath – too expensive and simply a waste of good milk. However, shea butter is readily available, quite affordable and very good for your skin, hair and even to eat! Essentially, it is a fat, extracted from the nut of the African shea tree (found most-commonly in West-African countries such as Mali, Senegal Nigeria, Gambia and Burkina Faso). The tree (as well as the butter) may also be referred to as karite’ or ori depending on the country you’re in or sourcing the butter from. The fruit of this tree contains a nut and this is where the oil/butter is extracted from.

What is Unrefined Shea Butter? What is Organic Shea Butter?

Organic Shea Butter

Unrefined Shea Butter

The shea butter extraction process is not unlike that of many other natural oils. Traditionally, the shea nuts are removed from the pulp of the fruit and then separated from the outer shell. The nuts are then crushed with a mortar and pestle and then roasted in a large pot. The nuts are then ground into a smoother paste and water is slowly added and is mixed by hand – traditionally. Water is continually added and in doing so, the butter oils float to the top.

The oils are then in a curd-like state and are removed from the container and slowly boiled. It is this slow boiling that essentially removes any remaining water and leaves you with the butter in it’s yellow, white or greenish state. The butter is removed and set in a cool area to settle. Once it has hardened enough, the butter is hand-shaped into balls – ready for transport or packaging.

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Unrefined shea butter is ivory in color and is essentially a triglyceride (or a fat) that is high in Omega – 9, Omega – 6, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin F, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, cinnamic acid and catechins, a strong antioxidant that until recently was thought to only exist in green tea. It’s easy to see why this is such a highly sought after product! Just one spoonful of the stuff contains roughly as many vitamins and minerals as any off-the-shelf multi-vitamin.

Shea butter has a texture not unlike that of coconut butter. However, it contains roughly half the amount of fat per 100 grams as coconut oil, 3 times as many vitamins and minerals than coconut oil and costs roughly the same amount per pound.

Is Shea Butter Comedogenic?

Beauty

Shea Butter Promotes Clear Skin

Amazingly, shea butter has a comedogenic rating of 0. This means that it absolutely does not clog up your pores – the process that generally leads to the formation of blackheads! Moreover, it is totally suitable for skin-care use on any type of skin and makes for an amazing moisturizer.

However, it’s important to note that when using butter from the shea tree as a skin care product, you must try to source as organic, un-refined and high-quality a product as you can (preferably also cold-pressed), because certain types of the butter (generally that which comes from Uganda and Cameroon) may contain a high amount of oleic acid which could lead to a thickening of the sebum in your pores and lead to acne.

Generally, we would recommend that you use shea butter that has been sourced in Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria or Burkina Faso because it has a higher stearic acid content than oleic which means the butter is more suitable for direct skin use.

Shea Butter For Hair: Uses and Benefits

Applying Hair Mask

Shea Butter Hair Mask

Because shea butter is high in Vitamin A and Vitamin E, it has tremendous benefits for your hair and scalp. It is easily applied and can protect your hair from the sun (it has a natural SPF of 6), as well as the harmful effects of chlorine and salt often found in swimming pools. This also applies to your scalp – which is just as vulnerable to sun and chemical damage as the rest of your skin, as well as soothing a dry or itchy scalp without clogging pores, allowing your hair to grow without any hindrances.

Shea butter also has an amazing ability to stimulate hair growth and heal dry, broken hair – a common symptom of blow-drying and hair straighteners.  You can think of shea butter as a natural conditioner that will beautify and soften your hair without drying it out like some shampoos do.

Shea Butter For Skin: Uses and Benefits

Skin Cream

Applying Shea Butter To Skin

Shea butter is a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant which is easily absorbed into our skin and protects against free-radicals due to it’s high Vitamin A and E content. Free-radicals are harmful atoms that are highly reactive and can lead to chain-reactions that damage proteins, DNA and cell membranes. However, strong antioxidants are able to come into contact with these free-radicals without setting off a chain-reaction and neutralize them before any harm can be done to your body. Prevention is better than a cure!

Shea butter is also regarded as a very strong emollient, which means that it has the ability to moisturize your skin by increasing the water content and decreasing evaporation. This (plus the natural anti-inflammatory properties) makes it ideal for treating scars, sores, dry or itchy skin, insect bites, contact-dermatitis (eczema) and more.

Shea Butter For Stretch Marks

Stretch Marks Before and After

Shea Butter For Stretch Marks

Shea butter is tremendously effective in getting rid of stretch marks and wrinkles. This is because of its moisturizers and skin tightening properties – the vitamins and high iron content are really good for skin elasticity, which is very helpful if you’re pregnant. It’s important to remember that shea butter is best used on exfoliated skin, so be sure to take a bath or warm shower before applying the butter for the best results. Be sure to apply a thin layer of the butter as this will allow for quicker absorption. Note that you can apply the butter up to 4 times a day, although we generally recommend that you apply it once or twice a day.

Shea Butter For Eczema

Eczema Skin

Shea Butter For Eczema

Firstly, it’s important to note that there are mainly two types of eczema, namely irritant and allergic eczema. Irritant eczema is generally caused by coming into contact with a chemical or substance that stimulates eczema and induces a rash to form generally in the area where your skin came into contact with that agent. The other type of eczema is known as allergic eczema which is generally caused by an allergy that you have and may have come into contact with. Shea butter helps to combat the effects of eczema because in it’s natural form, it contains no added ingredients that could stimulate or worsen your eczema.

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The natural antioxidants help to combat infection and soothe the infected area by stimulating cells and keeping your skin moisturized. In terms of being a natural anti-inflammatory, it has roughly 7%-12% unsaponifiables (these are components of an oily mixture that contain the elements of moisturization, vitamins, conditioning and texture quality of an oil) while avocado oil has roughly 6%.

Shea Butter For Beards: Uses and Benefits

Shea butter is incredibly good for your beard and many consider the best beard products to be those that contain the butter or are made directly from it. It contains Vitamin A and F which are essential to keeping your hair (facial and otherwise) conditioned and moisturized without the addition of harmful chemicals that could dry your beard out. Shea butter also stimulates hair growth which means you’ll be able to keep a lengthy and healthy looking beard at all times. Lastly, the natural antioxidant content will keep your beard clean and smelling great all the time. Win, win, win!

Shea Butter vs. Cocoa Butter

Cocoa Butter Chunks

Cocoa Butter

The first point to note regarding the differences between shea butter and cocoa butter is the difference in their place of origin: butter of the shea tree comes from Africa and cocoa originates from South America. The differences are subtle and really, an advantage would depend on what you plan on using either for. Cocoa butter smells pleasant and distinct, whereas the latter carries a much less defined scent. This makes it more versatile, as you can mix it with other essential oils to create a range of interesting smells.

Due to the high vitamin and mineral content of the butter, it has a stronger and more lasting effect in terms of safeguarding your immune system as well as a high cinnamic acid content which is a key factor in absorbing the sun’s harmful UV rays which cause skin damage. Ultimately, both kinds of butter are very good for your skin, hair and for treating sores or stretch marks etc. However, we believe that shea butter is a little more versatile and a lot more potent in terms of offering your immune system and your skin long-term protection.

How Long Does Shea Butter Last?

On average, shea butter (when sealed correctly – preferably in an airtight jar or container) may last up to 2 years before disintegrating or dissolving. It is important to keep it at room temperature and generally in a place out of the sun – a cool pantry or cupboard, preferably around 50 degrees F (10 degrees C). However, if your butter does start to melt for whatever reason, you can keep it in a refrigerator for roughly a day but be sure not to store it in there for too long and definitely not in the freezer. It is also important to note that you must not mix old butter with new butter as this could speed up the dissolving process.

Conclusion

A general rule of thumb to use when considering moisturizing products or oils is that they should not contain more than 10 ingredients to be considered truly natural. Anyone can slip the word ‘natural’ on the cover of a box or on a label, but nothing is more natural something in its raw form. Want to grow that beard a bit faster? Looking for a healthy, natural moisturizer or conditioner? Would you like to be able to condition your hair with the same product that you use to cook supper with? Our solution (and Cleopatra’s) is definitely all natural shea butter. Natures one-stop, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory moisturizer, sun-block, and conditioner!

Thanks for checking out this feature! Be sure to read up on great brands like Aveeno, Tresemme, and Aussie while you’re here at Maple Holistics!