Shea Butter: Benefits, Composition and Uses

Posted by Mik Witkamp on

SHEA BUTTER

Our organic unrefined shea butter comes from Ghana. It is made from the raw fats extracted from the nuts of organically grown Shea trees.

The scientific name for the Shea tree is Vitellaria Paradoxa, a tree that is native to Africa and grows in the sub-saharan savannah belt. It is grown from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the East.

The tree is grown predominantly as a food source, as well as for it's benefits in skincare.

On a list of ingredients shea butter is labelled as Butyrospermum Parkii butter, often clarified with the addition of the word Shea for easy reading.

PROFILE

The fatty acid profile of shea butter is a combination of mostly stearic and oleic acid, with smaller amounts of palmitic, linoleic and a minimal amount of arachidic acid.

The variations of the different acids determine the consistency of the butter, Where stearic acid makes for a solid butter, while oleic acid influences how soft or hard the butter is.

The exact profiles differ per region, but even on a local scale they can be different from one tree to another. A tree producing hard butter can be growing alongside one yielding a softer produce.

Studies have shown that shea butter has phenolic compounds with antioxidant properties. Most of these are catechins, a flavonoid type of antioxidant. It has trace amounts of vitamin E, vitamin A & vitamin C.

HEALTH BENEFITS OF SHEA BUTTER

The butter of the shea nut has several nutritional benefits, however we are primarily focussing on the benefits from topical use, for healthy skin and hair.

MOISTURISING

The most obvious and best known qualities of this butter is its ability to moisturise. The fatty acids allow it to deeply penetrate the skin and deliver the nutrients and antioxidants. This butter keeps your skin feeling soft and hydrated.

It is suitable for daily skin care, encouraging circulation and cell repair. This can be beneficial in treating rough skin and boosting the skin tone.

SOFTER SKIN

Having emollient qualities means that this butter reduces the rate at which water evaporates from our skins. It does so by supplementing the lipid bilayer, the outer layer of skin and other cells that is designed to regulate the amount of proteins and other molecules within the cell as well as it's level of moisture.

By regulating your skin's level of moisture your skin can stay soft and flexible.

MATURING SKIN

Because it is rich in phenolic antioxidants, this butter can help reduce and prevent oxidative stress on your skin. When our cells are exposed to oxygen, free radicals are released, which is a prime reason for cell damage and the ageing of skin cells. By reducing these stresses you can help to keep your skin looking younger for longer.

Our bodies also produce less collagen as we get older. Collagen is the connective tissue between cells. It can function in different ways; it's what makes bones hard and sturdy, cartilage bendy and our skin firm but flexible. Often it is the loss of collagen production that can result in skin appearing loose and wrinkled.

The collagen boosting properties of shea can be helpful in keeping your skin feeling tight and restoring elasticity. Applying regularly could slow down the appearance of wrinkles and age spots.

ECZEMA

For those who suffer from eczema, the dry and itchy skin can be very challenging, to say the least. The precise cause of this group of diseases is not clear, however in some cases a trigger can be identified and avoided. If untreated, the itchiness, red skin and dry rashes can potentially develop into blisters, lesions and worse.

The deep hydrating properties of shea can potentially be very soothing and might bring the initial relief. Furthermore, this butter is rich in cinnamic acids. Cinnamic acids occur naturally in a number of plants and act as an intermediate for the biosynthesis of various acids and other compounds.

Some studies have shown that the derivatives of this acid can potentially act as a natural anti-inflammatory agent, as well as offer other health benefits.(see source).

In our personal experience, we have been using our own, pure shea butter bars to treat our son's eczema. We have found that it is the pure butter that offers the best relief, having tried other salves and even medication.
Certainly, this is no guarantee and eczema consists of a range of skin problems, which are impossible for us to assess. This is not intended as a medicine and we recommend to always seek advice from a qualified medical professional.

TYPES OF SHEA BUTTER

Shea butter is being sold in various forms and qualities. The following list are all examples of pure shea butter. There are of course both organic and non-organic varieties and these are sold in different grades. It is generally divided into four categories.

RAW SHEA BUTTER

The process for making raw shea butter is as follows:

First the nuts are dried, usually by keeping them in the sun for some time. Afterwards, the nuts are taken from the shell and crushed. The unshelled nuts are first roasted and then ground. The flesh is added to water and boiled, which will make the butter float to the surface. It is then scooped from the water, after which there is no further processing.

It has a typical smokey aroma and can vary in colour. Usually, raw shea is a deep yellow colour or, if the nuts were not all ripened, it can have a greenish tint.

Besides the smokey scent coming from the roasting, it does also contain impurities. If the shea is filtered in any way, it is no longer considered as raw.

UNREFINED SHEA BUTTER

Our favourite is unrefined and organic, which is the one we sell and use in our other products. It is very similar in its qualities to raw, but has some filtration added.

To be labelled unrefined, the filtering cannot affect the quality of the shea. The colour is more beige after filtering and the smokey scent is lost, allowing the nutty aroma to come out.

Unrefined shea butter is pure, without the addition of any preservatives or chemicals. This makes it ideal for our purposes, as we value the high nutritional qualities and do not have to 'mask' the characteristically smokey smell of the raw product.

REFINED SHEA BUTTER

In refinement the shea butter is deodorised and normally preservatives and some perfumes are added. During processing some of the qualities of the butter are lost, resulting in fewer nutrients than the raw and unrefined varieties.

ULTRA REFINED SHEA BUTTER

This grade of shea butter is predominantly used in the mass production of cosmetics. It is filtered in a number of ways and most of its nutrients will no longer be present. The consistency can vary from solid to even liquid and the colour is lost to become almost white.

The refined grades of shea are mostly used for their visual appeal, being mixed with emulsifiers. They are easier to apply than the unrefined varieties and are added to cosmetic ranges purely for their basic fatty acid profile. Most of the true benefits of this butter, such as its deep moisturising and healing properties, will no longer be present. Often to be substituted by chemical compounds, sadly enough.

STORING

We recommend storing shea in a cool and dry environment. To help stop the shea from drying on the surface, a container with a good closure works best. It keeps well for a number of months if stored correctly.