What is Shea Butter?
Shea butter is a skin superfood that comes from the seeds of the fruit of the Shea (Karite) tree and that is naturally rich in vitamins A, E and F. It offers UV protection (it is SPF ~6) and provides the skin with essential fatty acids and the nutrients necessary for collagen production. Shea butter has been used in Africa and other countries for years to improve skin and hair.
Shea Butter Benefits
- Moisturizing: The concentration of natural vitamins and fatty acids in Shea butter makes it incredibly nourishing and moisturizing for skin. It is often used to remedy dry skin and to help protect the skin’s natural oils.
- Reduces Inflammation: A 2010 study found that due to its cinnamic acid and other natural properties, shea butter was anti-inflammatory. One compound in particular, lupeol cinnamate, was found to reduce skin inflammation and even potentially help avoid skin mutations. This also makes it beneficial for some people with acne.
- Skin Smoothing: Shea butter aids in the skin’s natural collagen production and contains oleic, stearic, palmitic and linolenic acids that protect and nourish the skin to prevent drying. With long term use, many people report skin softening and strengthening as well as wrinkle reduction.
Shea Butter Uses
- Indulge dry skin: According to the American Shea Butter Institute, the moisturizers in shea butter are the same ones that are produced by the skin’s sebaceous glands, making it one of the best matches for dry skin.
- Make your hair happy: Shea butter is used in many haircare products and with good reason. It is said to have a number of benefits, including sealing in moisture, defining curl, conditioning the scalp, alleviating dandruff and decreasing the dreaded frizz. Also, applied to just the roots when styling can add a bit of volume to fine hair.
- Fight wrinkles: The American Shea Butter Institute claims that the application of high-quality shea butter will diminish the appearance of wrinkles after four to six weeks of use. Other research suggests that the application of shea butter to the skin results in a brighter complexion and visibly reduced wrinkles.
- Enhance your kisser: Shea butter is said to protect and soothe the lips. Apply several times a day; smooch frequently to test its efficacy.
- Calm inflamed skin: Shea butter has several anti-inflammatory agents, including derivatives of cinnamic acid. In a study on shea butter and its anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive effects published in the Journal of Oleo Science, researchers concluded that “shea nuts and shea fat (shea butter) constitute a significant source of anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor promoting compounds.” So go on, soothe away.
- Fade stretch marks: While authorities like the Mayo Clinic and Baby Center note that the only way to really diminish stretch marks is with Retin-A or laser treatments, there are many testimonies across the Web of people who swear by the power of shea butter for helping in this endeavor. Its abundance of vitamins and healing agents doesn’t make this seem like much a stretch, so to speak.
- Ease eczema and acne: Both eczema and acne require delicate treatments as not to exacerbate the problems; and in both cases, a pure and natural product is favorable to one with synthetic ingredients and fragrances. According to reviews, shea butter’s efficacy for eczema and acne is mixed. Some say that it doesn’t work at all, but more seem to agree that shea butter does indeed help. For eczema, users like to soak in a tub then apply shea butter while still damp to lock in the moisture; for acne, suggestions include applying a thin film after cleaning the face and then rinsing it off after a few hours. We can’t guarantee these uses, but with shea’s unique properties, it sure seems worth a try.
- Repair cracked heels and troublesome cuticles: Many who suffer from painful cracked heels and dry cuticles claim that shea butter solves the problem. For heels that are particularly bad, apply shea butter before bed and slip into cotton socks for the night.
- Give skin an antioxidant boost: Shea butter is high in vitamins A and E, as well as catechins and other significant plant antioxidants, which may protect skin from damage. There is evidence that suggests that cinnamic acid esters in shea fat also help to prevent damage from ultraviolet radiation.
- Ditch the itch from insect bites: With its anti-inflammatory magic, it makes sense that shea butter would quell the swelling of insect bites, but if crowds of people across the Web are correct, it also stops the irksome itch of insect bites pretty much on the spot.
- Aid your shave: The jury is still out on this one – some like a shea shave because it’s so nice on the skin; others say that it doesn’t provide enough cushion for the razor since it doesn’t lather. If you like more of an “oil shave” than a sudsy one, shave with shea. And even if you use a lather to shave with, applying shea post-shave can soothe irritation.
Different Types of Shea Butter, Different Qualities
Not all Shea butters are made equal when it comes to quality and efficiency. They come in different types depending on how they have been extracted from the nuts: refined or unrefined. You want to make sure that you get the unrefined organic Shea butter, here is why…
- Refined Shea Butter: Refined Shea butter has been extracted with chemical process (with hexane mostly), which involves bleaching, deodorizing and overheating. All of these deeply altering chemical processes yield a white odorless Shea butter that has lost all of its deep moisturizing, anti-aging, protecting and healing properties. By the way, this is the type of Shea butter that goes into chocolate making. Do you taste the hexane in your chocolate bar?
- Unrefined Shea butter: The raw Shea butter in its natural state has been extracted manually or mechanically. It has a mild nutty-smoky scent and a golden to light ivory color. The odor can be removed thanks to a mild steam treatment that doesn’t degrade any constituent. The raw or deodorized Shea butter is what you want to use because it has retained all its precious skin moisturizing, anti-aging and healing properties.
Shea butter is for external use only. Ask a doc or dermatologist before using, especially with underlying skin conditions. Those with nut allergies should avoid or check with an allergist.