Shea Butter is the oil from the nuts of wild Shea trees (Vitellaria paradoxa - also known as Butyrospermum parkii in the cosmetic industry) scattered throughout the wooded savanna of West and Central Africa. Shea Butter has been used for centuries in Africa and is completely enmeshed within the history and culture of the West African savanna. Shea Butter is mentioned in almost all African historical documents, including a reference as early as Cleopatra's Egypt, which mentions caravans bearing clay jars of Shea Butter for cosmetic use. Funeral beds of kings were carved in the wood of old Shea Trees, and Shea Butter has always been a staple of African pharmacology.Indigenous Knowledge for Skin Care
Shea Butter has been used for centuries in Africa as a decongestant, an anti-inflammatory for sprains and arthritis, healing salve, lotion for hair and skin care, and cooking oil. However, the protective and emollient properties of Shea Butter are most valued for skin care. In recent clinical trials, Shea Butter was found to help to protect skin against climate and UV aggressions, prevent wrinkle formation, soothe irritated and chapped skin, and moisturize the epidermis. Shea Butter also enhances cell regeneration and capillary circulation, which helps prevent and minimize stretch marks, inflammations, and scarring.
Why Unrefined Shea Butter?
Handcrafted, unrefined Shea Butter contains the maximum amount of healing and moisturizing properties. Most shea butter available to the general public outside West Africa is white and odorless: in other words, it has been "refined" to remove the natural scent and color of natural shea butter. In the process, the majority of the effective agents are also removed. For example, the yellow tint of unrefined shea butter is due to the Vitamin A content. Remove this color, and the beneficial vitamins have also been removed.
Furthermore, refined Shea Butter has usually been extracted from the shea kernels with hexane or other petroleum solvents. The extracted oil is boiled to drive off the toxic solvents, and then refined, bleached, and deodorized, which involves heating it to over 400 degrees F and the use of harsh chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide.
Shea Butter extracted in this manner still contains some undesirable solvent residues, and its healing values are significantly reduced. Antioxidants or preservatives such as BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) or BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) may be added as well. The end result is an odorless, white butter that may be aesthetically appealing, but lacks the true moisturizing, healing, and nutritive properties of true traditional shea butter.The Difference
Refined Shea Butter is often hard and grainy, not smooth and creamy like pure, unrefined Shea Butter. All that can be said for refined Shea Butter is that it has an extended shelf life, a white, uniform color, and no odor.How to use Shea Butter
For direct application to the skin, take a small amount in the palm of your hand. Rub your hands together to warm up the butter until it is smooth and liquid. Then apply to your skin. If you are concerned about an oily feeling, use only a small amount or apply the Shea Butter before going to bed. Shea Butter absorbs quickly into the skin, but there will be a few minutes that it feels oily. Shea Butter can also be applied to your hair. Some people apply it before washing to protect the hair from harsh shampoos. It can also be applied after washing as a conditioner. Apply it in the same manner as to the skin.