Shea butter is a fat extracted from the seeds of the fruit of the Karite (shea) tree that is most commonly found in Africa. Rich in vitamins A and E that repair and protect the skin, shea butter also has essential fatty acids that boost collagen production and has shown anti-ageing properties.
This skin superfood has been used for centuries in Africa, with history recording jars of the rich butter for skin and hair care being used in Cleopatra’s reign. The Queen of Sheba is also said to have used shea butter!
The popularity of shea butter in the western world can be attributed to the widespread use in beauty products like moisturizing lotions, cosmetics, shampoos and conditioners. It also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can be used to treat many health issues and ailments.
Look at many of the moisturizing creams or lotions that you see on the shelves of your local store and you’ll often see the words shea butter emblazoned across the packaging. Looking at the contents of a large variety of shampoos and conditioners you’ll also find shea butter listed as an active ingredient that nourishes the hair. Even some razor lubrication systems or waxing kits use shea butter to repair the skin from damage often resulting from hair removal.
Shea butter is also available in an organic raw form or as a processed variety and its many similarities to vegetable oils make it safe for human consumption. African tribes have been known to mix shea butter with palm oil and use for cooking purposes, with some chocolate companies using shea butter instead of cocoa solids. (It’s quite a different taste, but not necessarily a bad one!) In the majority of shea butter producing countries, only a small fraction of the annual shea harvest is exported for cosmetic use.
Raw shea butter is a smooth, beige solid which doesn’t liquefy at room temperature but melts easily in the hands and can be quickly absorbed by skin. Pure shea butter has a pretty distinctive smell, but often cosmetic firms may add fragrances or coloring agents which may make it seem white, yellow or sometimes grey. Unlike other moisturizing oils, shea butter has many healing properties. These unique healing properties gave the shea tree the name ‘Karite’ tree, literally translating as tree of life.
Benefits of Shea Butter for Your Skin
Shea butter is often referred to by many experts as a skin superfood with the main components including oleic acid, stearic acid, linoleic acid and skin-friendly vitamins quickly absorbed into the skin as it melts at body temperature. By incorporating shea butter into your daily skincare routine, you’ll quickly see and feel many benefits to the skin. Let’s check out the various advantages for healthy skin.
Moisturising Benefits for Dry Skin
When it comes to moisturizing, shea butter is one of nature’s own miracles. Shea butter locks moisture into the skin and prevents it from becoming dry, rough and scaly by keeping it hydrated for longer. When areas of the skin crack due to dryness the fat content nourishes the skin. Moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties of shea butter can also be effective in the treatment of itchy skin by supplying the oils the skin is lacking.
Suitable for use all over the body and face, shea butter can be applied to your hands and feet to help soften the skin and make it more supple. Easily absorbed, shea butter penetrates the skin without the clogging of pores associated with many moisturizers and can be effective on very dry skin. Shea butter is especially good at keeping the skin moisturized in the colder winter months.
Hides Blemishes and Acne on Your Face and Skin
Shea butter has significantly more healing qualities than many other traditional seed oils used for moisturizing. Oil-soluble components like various fatty acids and plant sterols including oleic, stearic and linolenic acids don’t undergo saponification, or turn into soap when they come into contact with alkalis. Raw or unrefined shea butter is very effective in healing skin rashes often caused by skin peeling after exposure to the sun, scars, frost bites, burns, insect bites and other blemishes. Shea can even be used to treat acne on the face.
Below you can find a short YouTube video which explains how to use shea butter for the treatment of blemishes and acne.
Anti-inflammatory Properties of Shea Butter for the Skin
A 2010 study found that high levels of triterpenes in shea butter could provide anti-inflammatory and anti tumor-promoting compounds. In plain English, shea butter has properties that can improve skin conditions that arise from inflammatory conditions. Inflammations like dermatitis and eczema can be eased with shea butter and swellings that occur from sunburn, rashes or cuts and scrapes can also be treated with shea butter.
Anti-Ageing Qualities of Shea Butter
Vitamins A and E found in shea butter help keep the skin nourished and radiant, while boosting collagen production, the youthful support protein in skin, with regular use. Incorporating shea butter into skin treatments reduces wrinkles and prevents premature wrinkles or facial lines. Other anti-ageing benefits arise from shea butter’s ability to boost circulation and promote more cell renewal.
Free radical damage to the skin from pollutants and irritants in our environment are combated by the antioxidant effect of the many vitamins and catechins found in shea butter. Free radical exposure can also be increased the sun which can cause severe damage to the skin. By giving your skin an antioxidant boost, shea butter is effectively giving you an extra layer of sun protection.
Shea Butter and Skin Elasticity
Vitamin F and non-saponifiable compounds in shea butter are essential ingredients for helping to maintain the elasticity of your skin. With boosted collagen production also occurring, regular use of shea butter not only hydrates and beautifies the skin, but also restores its natural elasticity. This restored elasticity can further reduce wrinkles and skin blemishes.
Shea Butter for Lip Care
When applied to the lips, shea butter is easily absorbed and forms a barrier to lock moisture in while providing nutrients that lips often need during colder or dry weather. It can also be used as a lip balm for the treatment of dry or chapped lips.
Benefits of Shea Butter for Your Hair
Many of the same moisturizing and healing benefits that are so beneficial to the skin can be used to condition and nourish your hair too.Hair damaged by chemical treatments like straighteners, perms or coloring can be stripped of natural moisture. Shea butter will help restore this lost moisture and protect the hair from harsh environmental factors like weather, harmful free radicals in the air and damage from ultraviolet radiation from the sun’s rays. Shea is absorbed by the hair protecting it from many heat tools or any other damaging materials that are passed along the hair including salt or chlorine if applied before you go swimming.
Fatty acids that are present in shea butter condition both the hair and scalp and are effective in soothing a dry, itchy scalp and are a powerful tool to combat dandruff. Hair follicles grow stronger when shea butter is absorbed and it helps reduce hair loss and thinning. Anti-inflammatory properties and rich fats are absorbed by the skin without clogging up pores or leaving behind a greasy feeling.
Vitamins A and E found in shea butter make it an excellent conditioner to moisturize the hair from the roots to the tips and it’s one of the few natural oils that can actually repair split ends. As a natural conditioner, shea butter locks in moisture without leaving the hair greasy or heavy while softening or revitalizing brittle hairs. Applied twice a week, shea butter will improve both the hair texture and moisturize it, making curly or fragile hair more manageable.
Shea Butter Benefits for Your Health
As well as being an excellent moisturizer, shea butter is used to treat many health issues too. Anti-inflammatory qualities are effective at treating muscle aches and pain traditionally caused by swelling or inflammation due to overexertion. Severe medical conditions like rheumatism or arthritis benefit from shea butter reduce swelling in the joints and muscles. Although it’s not fully understood how shea butter aids these conditions, many studies have suggested that titerpines are the main beneficial agent responsible.
Two of the more unexpected uses of shea butter are in the treatment of nasal congestion or diarrhea. Nasal congestion is often the result of inflammation of the nasal passages and its inner linings, applying a little shea butter in your nostrils will help reduce this inflammation. Patients in a study who tested shea butter as a decongestant found it cleared their nasal congestion in 90 seconds.
Although diarrhea can be a symptom of many other illnesses, it can often occur by itself. Shea butter is sometimes added to many of the herbal remedies or medicines that are formulated for the treatment of diarrhea. Shea butter was traditionally used for its properties in relieving diarrhea symptoms in Africa for many years.
It may sound strange for what is basically a fat, but shea butter also has the ability to lower your cholesterol. You can actually use shea butter in cooking and one of the saturated fatty acids abundant in it, stearic acid, has been shown to reduce lipoprotein and lower plasma cholesterol levels in a study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Shea butter is often used as an alternative to coconut oil, butter or olive oil in cooking due to its healthy fats, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
A Final Note on the Healing Powers of Shea Butter
Although all forms of shea butter are an excellent moisturizer, many of the refined shea butters you can buy have many of the essential nutrients and healing properties either reduced or completely removed. Wherever possible try to go for a 100 percent natural unrefined product that will be an off beige color rather than artificially white. Unrefined shea butters are ranked from class A to F, with class A butter having more non-saponifiable properties which heal as well as moisturize.
With so many benefits, every household should have a tub of shea butter somewhere. Most people will not suffer any reactions to it, normally that comes from added ingredients, but it’s an oil derived from a nut. If you suffer any allergic reaction, it’s advisable to see your physician before continuing to use it.