Thursday, 21 November 2013 13:35

Shea Butter Basics

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While you may have only recently heard of Shea Butter, its use is far from a recent development. The benefits of Shea Butter have been well known for centuries.

People on the African continent have used Shea Butter for many generations to protect and rejuvenate their hair and skin.

Today, Shea Butter is available in pure form and as an ingredient in many products to help with maintenance of the hair and skin and relief from many common ailments.

What is Shea Butter? Shea Butter is only found in the tropics of West Africa. It is extracted from the nuts of the Shea-Karite tree which begins to bear fruit after about 15 years; and can take up to 30 years to bear a quality crop of nuts with a high content of unremovable fatty acid. It is this unremovable fatty acid that gives Shea Butter its unique healing properties and makes it far superior to cocoa butter and other vegetable butters.

Traditionally, Shea Butter was extracted by people who picked the nuts, cracked them, grilled them and pounded them.. They were boiled in water for hours until the Shea Butter rose to the surface. It was then scooped into gourds and left to cool and set. Shea Butter is solid at room temperature although it quickly liquefies right around body temperature. This Shea Butter is called Unrefined or Raw Shea Butter.

How can I tell good quality Shea Butter? Pure Shea Butter can be found in three types of extractions.

Raw or unrefined- extracted using water - The color ranges from like cream (similar to whipped butter) to grayish yellow. This is the original form of Shea Butter.

Refined- is more highly processed. Has many of its natural components still intact.

Highly refined or processed- solvents are used to increase the yield (hexane is an example). The color is pure white.

Smell: Shea Butter has a natural, earthy smell, which is quite pleasant, not pungent. Over time the smell of the Shea Butter will diminish. If an unrefined Shea Butter has almost no smell, it is probably getting old. Shea Butter should not stink, not matter how old it is.

Handling: Shea Butter does not need to be refrigerated.. However, over a period of two or three years, the Shea Butter will begin to lose some of its effectiveness. As the natural ingredients begin to break down, some of the healing benefits will be reduced, but the Shea Butter will continue to be an effective moisturizer.

Color: The color of unrefined Shea Butter depends on the Shea nuts used. Shea nuts will vary in color from almost white to yellow. Therefore, refined Shea Butter will vary in color. You will not be able to determine the authenticity or quality of Shea Butter based strictly on its color. However unrefined Shea Butter will certainly look different from processed Shea Butter. Should not be: Greasy, green or hard

How can Shea Butter benefit me? Shea Butter can provide relief from everything from just dry skin to many minor dermatological diseases (if you have a serious skin condition, you should see a doctor). It has been clinically shown to provide benefits. Here are some of the benefits of Shea Butter for the skin:

  • Daily skin moisturizer (face and body)
  • Dry skin relief
  • Dry scalp
  • Skin rash- including diaper rash
  • Skin peeling, after tanning
  • Blemishes and wrinkles - Itching skin due to dryness
  • Sunburn
  • Shaving cream to reduce razor irritation
  • Small skin wounds
  • Skin cracks
  • Soften tough skin on feet (especially heels)
  • Stretch mark prevention during pregnancy
  • Minor burns
  • Excema
  • Sun and wind protection
  • Even skin tone
  • Reduce blemishes and scarring
  • Eliminating scalp irritation from dryness or chemical processing
  • Preventing bumps after shaving
  • Reducing acne (especially in combination with African Black Soap)
  • Absorbs quickly without leaving a greasy residue
  • Helps restore elasticity to skin
  • Restores luster to hair

How does Shea Butter benefit my skin? Shea Butter nourishes the skin with Vitamins A, E and F. Vitamins A and E help maintain the skin and keep it clear and healthy. They are particularly helpful for sun damaged skin. They help prevent premature wrinkles and facial lines. Vitamin F acts as a skin protector and rejuvenator. It soothes rough, dry or chapped skin and helps soften dry or damaged hair.

How does Shea Butter benefit my hair? Shea Butter provides moisture to dry or damaged hair from the roots to the very tips, repairing and protecting against weather damage, dryness and brittle's. It also absorbs quickly and completely into the scalp to rehydrate without clogging pores. It is particularly beneficial for processed and heat treated hair. It is an excellent treatment for dry scalp. It restores luster to damaged hair. Is all Shea Butter the same?

All Shea Butter is not the same. Shea Butter loses some of its healing properties as it sits on the shelf, so very old Shea Butter is not as beneficial. Refining techniques will vary. Highly processed Shea Butter will not be as effective. Sometimes Shea Butter is mixed with other ingredients that reduce its benefits. Then, there are those products that add very little Shea Butter but prominently display "Shea Butter" on the label.

While Shea Butter is not very expensive, you should be aware of products that claim to provide the benefits of Shea Butter and sell for very low prices. Many manufacturers are taking advantage of the Shea Butter buzz by adding a little Shea Butter to a very inexpensive product implying you can get the benefits of Shea Butter in their product.

What can I tell by looking at the label? Ingredients on the label should be listed in the order from the ingredient that is the most to the least. Therefore, you should look for Shea Butter products that list Shea Butter early on the list of ingredients. You should know the ingredients before you buy any Shea Butter product and should buy from a reputable source.

The more Shea Butter in a product, the greater the likelihood, you will receive the full benefits of Shea Butter.

Last modified on Saturday, 25 November 2017 05:33
Patricia "Deecoily" Gaines

Patricia Gaines aka Deecoily is the founder and creator of Nappturality in 2002, the beginning of the natural hair movement. Since 2000 she has been blogging on all things natural hair, Black culture and politics.

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