You may have noticed Shea butter is listed as an ingredient in many of the beauty products you can find here. It is not a coincidence. In fact, Shea butter has been used in cosmetics for many years due to its incredible natural properties. This fantastic ingredient is also used in traditional cuisine in some parts of Africa as a substitute for margarine or other butters. In this blog post, you will find out more about this magnificent ingredient, such as its origin, properties, and benefits.
The Shea Tree
Shea butter is nothing more than the fat extracted from the kernel of the shea fruit, which is produced from the shea tree. Shea tree is an African tree that grows naturally in the wild, typically in the savannah of Central Africa and parts of Western Africa. It can grow between 7 to 15 metres tall and have a trunk diameter of 2 metres. It will start producing its fruit when it is 10 to 15 years old, with full production reached at the age of 20. From there, it will produce its fruit for about 200 years. The harvesting, processing and products derived from the fruit have become an important part of the economy in these regions allowing families to earn an income. In fact, almost every part of the shea tree has a use, from the wood used as material for building, to the roots and leaves used in traditional medicine.
The Production Process
The shea fruit is similar to a large plum, with a thin pulp around a kernel. Rich in vitamins and antioxidants, the fruit is edible and has a mildly sweet flavour. The production process of the shea butter can differ depending on the region or tradition, but in general, they all share the same guidelines.
To begin with, the nuts of the fruit are washed in order to remove dust and dirt. Once washed, the nuts are boiled for about 40-60 minutes. This makes the shell easier to break and helps the de-shelling process to leave just the kernel. The kernels are sorted to remove the damaged ones and washed again. Then, they are laid on racks and sun-dried to remove moisture. With the kernels clean and dry, they are crushed into smaller pieces for the next step: roasting. The crushed kernels are roasted for about 30 minutes to aid the oil extraction and they emit a coffee like aroma when they are ready.
The roasted pieces are ground into a paste, and traditionally, kneaded manually by hand. Cold water is added gradually, which helps the fat break away from the mixture and stay afloat. The floating fat is collected and boiled for about 1 hour to dehydrate it and the butter is ready to be skimmed.
Properties & Benefits
As previously mentioned, shea butter has a wide range of benefits, but maybe the best known benefit is that it is an excellent skin moisturiser. It is safe for virtually all skin types. Allergic reactions to shea butter are very rare, even for people allergic to tree nuts.
Shea butter is rich in fatty acids, including linoleic, oleic, stearic, and palmitic acids. These components are rapidly absorbed by the skin, act as refatting agents restoring and retaining moisture, thus preventing skin dryness. Linoleic acid in particular, is essential for a healthy skin and a vital part of the skin cell wall structure. Moreover, our body cannot produce it naturally, so it is important to include it in any skincare routine. Oleic acid nourishes all skin layers reinforcing the skin’s natural barrier to protect against free radicals in the environment. All in all, keeping the skin hydrated, nourished, and protected can prevent loss of firmness, wrinkles, 1and ageing.
Shea butter has anti-inflammatory properties that can help fight skin conditions such as eczema. Shea butter slows down the production of cytokines, small proteins that control the growth of some immune system cells and the body’s inflammation responses. By reducing this protein, shea butter can reduce inflammation of the skin alleviating skin irritation.
Wound healing and collagen production
Triterpenes are compounds found in many plant species, with shea tree among them. They have been found to aid skin healing as they accelerate skin epithelialization and improve scar formation.
As aforementioned, shea butter is rich in Vitamins A, E and F. Vitamins A and E absorb energy from UV light protecting the skin against sun damage. Long exposure to UV light can cause premature skin ageing and cancer among other conditions.
Anti-bacterial & anti-fungal
Some products derived from the shea tree have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and are used with medicinal purposes. Although not scientifically proven, shea butter may have these same properties.
Despite its many properties and benefits, it is worth mentioning a couple of drawbacks about shea butter. Although shea butter is suitable for all skin types, including those of people allergic to tree nuts, it is better to avoid if you have a history of allergic reactions. The risk may be low, but it is always there. The second downside regards to acne prone skins. Due to being high in fatty acids, particularly oleic acid, shea butter could clog your pores and if you suffer from acne or worried about clogged pores, it is better to avoid.
In conclusion, shea butter is an exceptional natural ingredient used in cosmetics and cuisine. The shea tree where it comes from, plays a crucial role in the economy of many African regions and many families earn a fair income harvesting and producing products from every part of the shea tree. Regarding its use in beauty products, shea butter is a proven skin moisturiser with a high content of fatty acids and antioxidants that protect the skin and keep it nourished. However, it is better to avoid products that contain shea butter if you have a history of tree nut allergies despite a very low risk of developing an allergic reaction, or if your skin is acne prone.
Want to try it?
If you are interested in shea butter and its multiple benefits, the following list includes some of our products containing shea butter: