Extracted from the nuts of the Shea tree that is native to Africa, Shea butter is a fatty oil that exists as a solid at room temperature. The main components of Shea butter include oleic acid, stearic acid, linoleic acid, etc. It gets absorbed quickly into the skin as it melts at body temperature. Its moisturizing and healing properties prove beneficial for many skin issues. It also has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties (to a certain extent) that can be utilized to treat many ailments. Its similarity too many vegetable oils makes it suitable for ingestion.
The Shea tree has naturally inhabited West Africa for centuries, stretching from Senegal to Sudan and up to the foothills of Ethiopia. African history documents mention jars of a rich butter used for skin and hair care being transported during Cleopatra’s reign. The tree was used to make coffins for the early kings in Africa, and the butter extracted from the nuts was used for its healing and skin care properties. The tree is also considered sacred by many tribes in Africa. It is still extensively used in Africa to protect the skin and hair from the harsh sun and dry winds. While kneading the extracted oil with the hand was popular earlier, advancements in technology have led to different methods, such as clay filtering and using hexane for the final extraction of Shea butter. Shea butter is often used in moisturizers, creams, lotions, and other emulsions for the skin and hair. It is rich in fats that make it an excellent emollient and skin moisturizing agent. Experiments also showed it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These can help reduce inflammatory skin diseases and the damage the skin and hair have undergone due to free radicals.
Refined Vs. Unrefined Shea Butter
Shea butter may be refined or unrefined. Unrefined Shea butter is the purest form of Shea butter, which is the most natural and the least processed. Since it is extracted manually, it is able to retain its vitamins, minerals, and other natural properties. It is subjected to a basic filtration process using clay, cheesecloth, or other methods. These can slightly alter the butter’s color, scent, and texture. It is melted, set into molds, and sold in the form of bars or sticks. Unrefined Shea butter is further categorized into grades ranging from A to F, with grade A being the best quality.
Refined Shea butter, on the other hand, is the processed form. Apart from the filtration process, it also undergoes a deodorizing process by airing or usage of chemicals. It is also bleached to make the butter whiter. All of these processes make the butter white and very smooth. A major disadvantage of using the refined version of Shea butter is that all the processing it goes through reduces its nutritional value.
This refined version can be refined even further, which implies the involvement of more processes to make it even more smooth and white. This is often done when Shea butter needs to incorporated into cosmetics or skin care products. Quite a few of the nutritional benefits get destroyed after so many refining processes. This type of Shea butter is often referred to as ultra-refined or highly refined Shea butter.
9 Benefits of Shea Butter for the Skin
1. Moisturizes Dry Skin
Shea butter is an excellent moisturizer for the face and the body. Its fat content is responsible for its emollient and humectant properties. It locks in the moisture in the skin and keeps it hydrated for long. Dehydrated and dry skin becomes rough and scaly. Certain areas of the body can even develop skin cracks due to dryness. Shea butter can nourish the skin with its fat content. It can also help to soften the skin on your hands and feet and make it supple. It penetrates the skin easily, without clogging the pores, and is effective for dry skin. Use Shea butter to heal cracked heels, dry cuticles, and rough patches on your skin. You can also use it to simply moisturize your skin during the colder months.
2. Reduces Skin Inflammation
Shea butter has several derivatives of cinnamic acid that exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. These properties make it beneficial for the improvement of skin conditions that result from an increase in inflammatory compounds. Generalized inflammations from conditions like dermatitis and rosacea can be alleviated by using Shea butter on the affected area. Sunburns, rashes, cuts, and scrapes that can result in swelling can also be treated using this butter.
3. Provide Relief to Itchy and Peeling Skin
For itching skin, both the moisturizing and the anti-inflammatory properties of Shea butter prove to be beneficial. Dryness can cause your skin to start peeling and/or become flaky. It can cause the skin to itch. The moisturizing fatty acids of Shea butter can provide relief by supplying the skin with the oils it needs. If the itching is due to a skin condition like psoriasis, the anti-inflammatory activity of Shea butter works really well to alleviate it.
4. Reduce Razor Irritation and Bumps
Shaving hair using razors can often leave your skin irritated and itchy. At times, it might even develop bumps post shaving as a result of the irritation. Shea butter can help reduce this as it moisturizes and soothes the irritated skin. You can also apply the butter a day prior to shaving to smoothed the skin and hair. This will make the shaving process easier and faster and doesn’t leave any irritated spots behind.
5. Reduce Stretch Marks
Shea butter is often used as a base in ointments or creams prepared commercially for stretch mark treatment. This is because it can dramatically help prevent and reduce stretch marks formed during pregnancy due to weight gain and/or weight loss. These marks are formed when the skin stretches beyond its elastic capacity. The application of Shea butter will restore the natural elasticity of the skin and also improve collagen production. It is a natural emollient. Daily massage of the affected area with this skin healing butter can lighten stretch marks.
6. Helps Soothe Skin and Baby Diaper Rash
Unrefined Shea butter is an excellent natural moisturizer that is devoid of chemicals. Thus, it is ideal for baby care as besides being gentle and soft on the skin, it is specially adapted for the delicate and sensitive skin of babies. It can be applied after a bath and also used for healing eczema or diaper rash on the skin of babies and toddlers.
7. Excellent Lip Care
Shea butter is easily absorbance and provides extra moisture and nutrients that the lips need during the cold season and dry weather conditions. Thus, it acts as a perfect lip balm and is also effective for treating dry and chapped lips. When applied, it forms a barrier on the lips and retains moisture in the skin.
8. Treats Acne and Blemishes
Shea butter is known for its healing properties, which can be attributed to the presence of several fatty acids and plant sterols such as oleic, palmitic, stearic, and linolenic acids. These oil-soluble components do not undergo saponification or convert into soap on coming in contact with alkalis. Shea butter is more non-saponifiable than other nut oils and fats, thus imparting it great healing potential. Raw, unrefined Shea butter is effective in curing skin rashes, skin peeling after tanning, scars, stretch marks, frost bites, burns, athlete’s foot, insect bites and stings, and acne.
9. Restores the Elasticity of the Skin
The non-saponifiable matter and vitamin F in this butter are vital ingredients for maintaining the skin’s elasticity. Shea butter also improves the production of collagen in the skin. Thus, its application restores the natural elasticity of the skin besides hydrating, softening, and beautifying it. Restored elasticity also ensures reduced wrinkles and blemishes.