Shea butter (Vitellaria Paradoxa) is a rich source of vitamin E, a seed fat derived from the African shea tree. Popularly used in skincare, organic shea butter is naturally grown without the use of chemicals and pesticides. The presence of a wide gamut of nourishing essential acids and fats makes it potent for good skin and hair. High-quality organic shea butter can provide numerous benefits as compared to refined and inorganic ones.
Let’s take a trip down history to better understand this organic elixir.
What Was Shea Butter Used For In Africa?
The oldest evidence of shea butter is found in Egypt. Shea tree is commonly found across the savanna belt of West Africa (1). Shea butter is known by various names such as Kadanya in Hausa, Okwuma in Igbo, and Emi in Yoruba languages in Africa. It is a plant extract that is considered sacred in African communities. Also known as the “tree of life”, it is a common belief that the shea tree was associated with divinity as it was thought to possess mystical powers. Folklores suggest that this precious commodity was found in burial sites to accompany the dead in the afterlife (2).
Many African kings and queens were carved of shea wood and the butter was lavishly coated on the bodies of the deceased. In earlier times, only women were allowed to touch the tree, and men were barred from it. The use of shea butter can be dated back to the time of Queen Cleopatra in Egypt, who is recorded to possess caravans of clay jars of shea butter. The chocolate industry has used it widely for the longest time as a cocoa butter substitute. What makes shea butter luxurious and one of the most sought-after components in the multi-billion dollar cosmetics industry is the presence of high levels of antioxidants (3).
How Is Shea Butter Made?
Shea butter is extracted from shea nuts which are slowly roasted to separate the butter. The butter is slowly kneaded in a large water basin, and then the fatty oils are gradually removed from the top and cooled off. The purest variety of shea butter is used in food preparations among African communities and is a replacement for cocoa butter.
What Is The Composition Of Organic Shea Butter?
Organic shea butter is ivory-colored and has a smoky smell. It contains a high level of non-saponifiable lipid (NSL) fat which is a natural antioxidant. It is solid at room temperature but melts into the skin quickly (4). Shea butter also contains a high level of phytosterols (a form of cholesterol), hydrocarbons, and phenolic compounds (5). Shea butter consists of significant amounts of saturated fatty acids compared to other plant sources like grape seed oil (6). These constituent compounds of shea butter make it an excellent addition to daily skin and hair care routines. Continuous application of shea-butter-infused products can yield magical results when it comes to your skin and hair!
Shea butter is said to have a phenolic profile similar to green tea and the antioxidant-rich natural extract has been hailed as a superhero in the beauty and cosmetic industry. Even though the catechin compound content is considerably reduced during the shea butter extraction, cosmetic manufacturers can artificially enhance them in the end product (7).
Will I Have A Reaction To Shea Butter If I Am Allergic To Nuts?
There is currently no evidence suggesting that one can be susceptible to allergies upon topical or oral use of shea butter (8).
Shea Butter For Hair Health
Shea butter can be used directly on hair to achieve smoother locks as it is packed with vitamins and fatty acids. Here are a few reasons why shea butter is a great option for your hair:
- If you have curly hair or struggle to tame your mane, shea butter is a life savior. When pollution, heating appliances, and sunlight take a toll on your hair health, shea butter can do wonders to improve its quality and texture. Due to its high moisture content, shea butter can nourish your hair and bring back its lost sheen (9).
- Shea butter is a boon for dry scalp and hair as it contains oleic fatty acids and other antioxidants that are great for fighting free-radical damage (10).
- Organic shea butter can treat dandruff, hair frizz, and other scalp issues caused due to harsh climatic conditions. Color-treated and parched hair formed due to heat exposure can cause split-ends. Weak hair can be mended with continuous use of shea butter as it is packed with moisturizing ingredients (11).
Here are a few ways of adding shea butter to your hair care routine to enjoy maximum benefits:
- Mix a tablespoon of shea butter into your regular hair mask. Keep the hair mask for about twenty minutes and rinse off.
- You can also directly apply organic shea butter on your hair, scalp, and throughout the shafts of your hair for a smooth feel after every use.
Shea Butter For Skin And Body
The excellent emollient properties of shea butter make it the holy grail of skincare and body products. It can easily penetrate your skin and show quick results. Shea butter is an edible oil, but much of what is available in the market is mixed with other ingredients for external use. The shea tree nuts are extracted from the shea tree, crushed, and boiled to target skin allergies, flakiness, dryness, and treat stretch marks.
Keep in mind that cold-pressed, organic shea butter contains higher nutritional properties than those undergoing multiple refining processes (12). Here are a few proven benefits of shea butter that you need to know:
- Shea Butter Aids In Maintaining Skin Temperature
The smooth consistency of shea butter makes it a great ingredient to add to your skincare routine. What makes this a miracle compound for your skin is that it acts as an excellent skin barrier and restores Cutaneous homeostasis (13). Cutaneous homeostasis is a process whereby the skin maintains its normal temperature to ensure survival despite changes in the surrounding temperature.
- Shea Butter Can Heal And Repair Wounds
The bioactive elements present in shea butter boast several medicinal properties. The topical application of shea butter has therapeutic benefits as it is known to heal and repair wounded skin (14). Even if they do not penetrate too deep into the epidermal layer, applying plant oils like shea butter allows for protection against water loss.
- Shea Butter Has A Hydrating Effect
Skin dryness is a result of an inferior barrier function. Shea butter is an amazing conditioning agent. Shea butter’s free fatty acid (FFA) constituents like linoleic acid and oleic acid have a moisturizing effect (15).
When used externally, these fatty acids restore lipids and reduce the risk of skin dryness and irritation by creating a barrier between the skin and the surrounding environment (16). This property of shea butter also helps in soothing dry and chapped lips. Due to its restorative properties, shea butter is also used in the treatment of stretch marks.
- Shea Butter Has Anti-inflammatory Properties
Those struggling with sensitive skin can incorporate shea butter in their daytime and nighttime routine. It is a natural but effective route to treating rashes, abrasions, and skin irritation not just for adults but for babies too. Shea butter is an excellent cure for anti-inflammatory issues. Damages to the normal skin barrier happen in the form of skin aging, infections, and skin carcinogenesis.
Linoleic acid present in shea butter helps in tissue repair and prevents or controls skin damage. Inflammatory skin diseases like eczema can be prevented with the use of supplementary plant oils like shea butter. Patients treated with a cream containing shea butter extracts have shown better responses to treatment to eczema than those who did not (17).
- Shea Butter Can Control Oxidative Damage
Shea butter acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidant defenses like organic shea butter can serve as a protective barrier against UV light exposure that causes oxidative stress leading to cell damage. Other agents of skin aging are radiation, pollution, and smoking of tobacco. All of this can cause melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers too. Excessive oxidative stress can result in loss of skin elasticity, thinning, roughness, and wrinkling (18).
The high levels of triterpenes contained in shea fat (shea butter) make it a significant source of anti-tumor-promoting compounds (19). Polyphenolic compounds in shea butter have an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect in preventing and managing actinic keratosis, causing skin barrier repair and wound healing (20). As it protects cells from free radicals, shea butter is beneficial in slowing down the skin aging process, staves off fine lines, and reduces the appearance of dull-looking skin.
- Shea Butter Can Help Maintain Skin Collagen Levels
Shea butter is also known to boost collagen production in the skin as it contains triterpene. Structural proteins that make skin firm and tight are elastin and collagen. Unsaponifiable components like triterpenes contribute to the collagen-boosting effects of shea butter which help maintain younger-looking skin (21).
- Shea Butter Can Prevent Bacterial Infections
Shea bark extracts have been found to help reduce infections caused due to bacteria. A 2012 study has shown strong antifungal effects of shea butter. Chewing the bark of shea tree can treat skin diseases, gastrointestinal like diarrhea and dysentery, and oral infections, making it a safe antibacterial drug option (22). Locally, it is used to suppress coughs, nostril inflammations and congestion, rheumatism, and also treat leprosy (23).
- Shea Butter Can Provide Sun Protection
The next time you look for sunscreen, opt for one that has shea butter. Due to its UV-absorbing capacity, vegetable oils like shea butter can be effectively used as a mild sun protection agent. So, shea butter has been used to develop sunscreen formulations minus the toxic effects of artificial ingredients in chemically loaded sunscreens (24).
- Shea Butter Can Help Lower Cholesterol Levels
Shea butter has found its use in pharmaceutical companies. The high stearic acid content of Shea butter was reported to have significant benefits in the reduction of cholesterol: High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL), Total Cholesterol, and Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) (25).
How Can You Add Shea Butter To Your Skincare Routine?
You can make your own shea butter skin mask at home. Mix a tablespoon of honey, almond oil, and a pea-sized dollop of shea butter. Apply it evenly on your face, neck, and hands and leave it for fifteen minutes. Wash it off with lukewarm water and wipe your face with a soft microfibre cloth. This mixture works great on dry skin types.
Recommendations Before Using Shea Butter
If you are a first-time user, here are a few things you must keep in mind before you buy shea butter for your beauty regime:
- Organic shea butter is available in the form of creams, lotions, and body butter. Check for certification before you purchase organic shea butter.
- Store the jar of organic shea butter in a cool and dry place.
- Shea butter is odorless. So, the fragrance will depend upon the essential oils added by the brand (26). If your shea butter smells rancid, it may have spoiled. As shea butter has more than fifty percent saturated fatty acids, it may oxidize during processing and storage (27).
- Discontinue if you notice itchiness, pain, swelling, redness, breakouts, or an unusual inflammation.
- Go for a product that contains shea butter as one of its ingredients instead of raw shea butter. Pure shea butter can cause breakouts, especially on acne-prone skin, so don’t go all-in while trying something new on the skin. Let your skin get accustomed to the product and then elevate it to everyday use once your skin is well-suited to the product. You can try a patch test to know if it’s suitable for you.
- There are many grades of organic shea butter available at various price points in the market, the purest being grade A, labeled “fair trade” (28). Do your research before you make a purchase.
The superior moisturizing properties of organic shea butter can heal different skin conditions. Be consistent with using shea butter to notice a visibly improved skin texture and quality. Have you tried organic shea butter? How did you incorporate it into your skincare regimen? Do share your shea butter routine with us in the comments section below!
Author Bio :
Nisha is passionate about writing and loves to share her thoughts with the world. She has written many articles on yoga, fitness, wellness, remedies, and beauty. She keeps herself updated by going through interesting blogs every day. This fuels her passion and motivates her to write appealing and engaging articles. She’s a regular contributor to StyleCraze.com and a few others.