Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Shea Butter- Did you know?

In the last couple of years, there have been more and more commercial products on the shelves of drug and department stores that contain "Shea Butter". These products extol the virtues of this purported miracle butter but do you really know what it is and where it comes from?

Shea Butter (pronounced shee as in tea) comes from a tree native to several West African countries including Ghana, Togo and Niger.

The Shea (or Karite) tree first produces its first fruits at about 20 yrs of age. At 45 years of age, the tree reaches full maturity. The tree will produce nuts for up to 200 years after maturity.

Shea butter is most known for its properties as a moisturizer and emollient. There have been unverified claims that it is also an anti-inflammatory agent. The current market for shea butter says that it is effective at treating the following conditions: eczema, burns, rashes (works for me), acne, blemishes, stretch marks, wrinkles, severely dry skin and chapped lips. Shea butter has natural UV sun protection but the amount can vary from nothing to approximately SPF 6, making it not the most reliable sun protection. Shea butter, if used properly and sparingly, absorbs into the skin without leaving a greasy feeling.

Shea butter is also favored among soapmakers because not all of its complex fats can be saponified (turned into soap), thus small amounts of oil stay in the soap, which in turn helps to keep moisture in the skin after bathing.

A word of caution if you have an allergy to latex: shea butter contains naturally occurring latex, though in minute quantities, but it can cause irritation or hives in people with this sensitivity.

Shea butter is also a very heavy butter and the adage of "less is more" definitely applies. Too much shea butter will sit on the surface of your skin and you may find the feeling unpleasant due to the excess greasiness.

Shea butter is melted and solidified in a very specific way so as to align the shea fibers and fatty crystals. If shea butter is remelted, it may form fatty crystals in it. These are harmless and can be massaged in to the skin but some people prefer their shea to be smooth and silky in texture.

If you want the best shea butter product, always look for it to appear high on the list of ingredients. This ensures a higher percentage of shea in the final product. Look for unrefined and fairly traded shea butter whenever possible. Unrefined shea maintains a characteristically nutty scent and varies from a creamy almond colour to golden or having a greenish tinge. Unrefined shea is closest to its natural form and is purported to be the most effective in this state.

Experiment with solid shea, whipped butters and other shea concoctions and see if it measures up to your own expectations. Personally, we are shea users for life.

(SudsMuffin whipped shea butter: get it here)


Theresa said...

Excellent and informative post. I love learning new things though I was not totally unfamiliar with Shea Butter but I did learn a few things. Didn't know it had naturally occurring latex.

Ruth said...

Great info on shea butter. Thanks for the post. I LOVE shea in cold process soap. Interestingly, all of us down here in California pronounce it "shay" (rhymes with "pay"). Must be a regional thing, huh?