An oil rich in fats that is derived from the karite tree (also known as the shea tree) is your solution for many skin, health, and hair health issues. Fairly recently, this butter has gained huge popularity in the western world due to its widespread use in several beauty products, such as lotions, cosmetics, shampoos, and conditioners. Let’s learn more about shea butter benefits, nutrition facts and much more.
Extracted from the nuts of the shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) that is native to Africa, shea butter is a fatty oil that exists as a solid at room temperature.
The Karite tree bears the fruits, and the nuts inside the fruits are of prime importance. These nuts are crushed, boiled, and manipulated to extract a light-colored fat, which is commonly referred to as shea butter.
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 to 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. Even the Queen of Sheba is said to have used it!
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. A few tribes also blend it with palm oil and use it for cooking purposes. This is mostly seen in Northern Nigeria.
Shea butter exhibits several health benefits and is used in a variety of cosmetics and medicinal formulas in combination with other botanical ingredients. Here’s why.
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.
It also contains vitamins A and E, which not only keep the skin in optimal health but also protect it from being damaged by the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. These components give shea butter a mild sun protection factor (SPF). Vitamin E also soothes dry skin and improves the skin’s elasticity, making this butter a good anti-aging agent
Now, when it comes to the types of shea butter available in the market, there are a handful of varieties. Raw or pure shea butter is the most natural form that is usually yellow or green. It may contain a few impurities as it has not been processed at all and is sold right after extraction from the nuts. This raw version can be processed in different ways to yield different varieties of shea butter. We shall discuss these below.
Unrefined shea butter is derived from the seed of the shea tree. Also known as galam butter or karite butter, it’s used in cosmetic products, chocolate production and as a cooking oil. At room temperature shea butter should be a creamy solid that easily spreads like dairy butter on bread. Shea butter has a characteristic smoky, nutty smell and should be between cream, beige and yellow in appearance. Unrefined shea butter is an all-natural, vegan-friendly butter and lard substitute that can be used in baked goods — or just spread on toast.
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 clays, cheesecloth, or other methods.
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. Addition of additives is common to add a suitable scent and increase the shelf life (preservatives) of the butter. 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 be 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.
Some companies also market their shea butter as being organic. This is the unrefined version that has been grown and harvested using natural processes only. The healing and moisturizing properties of shea butter can be attributed to its nutritional value. Here is the nutritional data for shea butter.
Shea butter contains UV-B absorbing triterpene esters, such as cinnamic acid and tocopherols. In addition to these, it also has a high percentage of phytosterols, triterpenes, and hydrocarbons such as karitene. It also contains:
- Fatty Acids: Shea butter contains five principal fatty acids namely palmitic, stearic, oleic, linoleic, and arachidonic acids, with a higher proportion of stearic and oleic acids that together accounts for 85-90% of fatty acids. Stearic acid provides a solid consistency, whereas oleic acid influences the hardness or softness of the shea butter.
- Phenolics: Phenolic compounds are known for their antioxidant properties. Shea butter contains 10 phenolic compounds, 8 of which are catechins. Traditionally extracted shea butter has higher phenolic levels than that extracted with hexane. In fact, the catechin content of shea butter is higher than the total phenolic content of ripe olives. The overall concentration and relative percentage of the shea kernels vary from region to region, depending on the level of environmental stress endured by the trees
- Vitamin E: Tocopherol is otherwise known as vitamin E. Different versions of this are found in shea butter, but their concentrations fluctuate depending on climate and some other factors like the butter extraction method
- Vitamin A And Vitamin F: These are also found in shea butter naturally. They can aid in the treatment of skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, and even slow down premature aging
Shea butter is considered as a superfood for the skin as it is rich in unsaturated fats, with a large proportion of non-saponifiable components, essential fatty acids, vitamins E and D, phytosterols, provitamin A, and allantoin. It has been used since time immemorial for skin care, baby care, and consumption. Given below are its various shea butter benefits for the skin.
Benefits Of Shea Butter For The Skin
Incorporating shea butter into your regular skin care routine will work wonders.
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.
- 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 rashes, skin peeling after tanning, scars, stretch marks, frost bites, burns, athletes foot, insect bites and stings, and acne.
- 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.
- Anti-Aging And Anti-Free Radical Agent: Shea butter is considered as one of the best anti-aging agents for the skin. It stimulates the production of collagen, the youthful scaffolding protein in the skin. The vitamins A and E found in this butter keep the skin supple, nourished, and radiant. If used regularly, it reduces wrinkles and also prevents premature wrinkles and facial lines.Its anti-aging properties can also be attributed to its ability to increase circulation to the skin and promote cell renewal. These vitamins, along with catechins, also exert an antioxidant effect against free radicals that damage the skin. These free radicals are often found in our environment in pollutants and irritants. The sun’s rays can also increase the free radicals in our skin, which can easily damage the skin cells. The cinnamic acid esters in the shea fat prevent damage from these compounds by giving your skin an antioxidant boost. protected from a heat tool or any other damaging material being passed along the hair. This is particularly beneficial for processed or colored hair. It also protects the hair against salt and chlorine when applied before swimming.
- Provides Relief To Itchy And Peeling Skin: For itchy 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.
- Reduces 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.
Benefits of Shea Butter For Hair
A number of chemical treatments like straighteners, perms, and curlers are responsible for stripping of the natural moisture from hair. Shea butter can help restore this lost moisture. It also protects the hair from harsh weather conditions and the harmful free radicals in the air and water. Moreover, shea butter has a low SPF that is sufficient to protect the hair from sun damage caused due to exposure to ultraviolet radiation. It repairs the damage that has already been caused by the harsh weather and the sun. This is largely due to the fact that once absorbed, shea butter coats the hair shaft so that it is protected from a heat tool or any other damaging material being passed along the hair. This is particularly beneficial for processed or colored hair. It also protects the hair against salt and chlorine when applied before swimming.
Prevents Hair Loss: The fatty acids of shea butter condition the scalp and hair. It also provides many essential nutrients that improve both scalp and hair health. These, in turn, will make your hair follicles stronger and reduce hair loss. Another important property of shea butter that can prevent hair loss is its anti-inflammatory properties. Scalp conditions can be treated by these compounds, thus reducing hair loss. Your hair will grow thicker and have a natural shine when you use shea butter.
Soothes Dry And Itchy Scalp: Shea butter is effective in soothing a dry, itchy scalp or dandruff. It possesses anti-inflammatory qualities and rich fat that get absorbed into the skin without leaving a greasy residue behind or clogging the pores. Hence, it is extremely effective in providing relief from a dry scalp, scalp psoriasis, and other scalp conditions.
Effective Natural Conditioner: The presence of vitamins A and E makes shea butter an excellent choice to moisturize your hair from the roots to the tips. It can be used as a natural conditioner. It is highly effective in locking in moisture, without leaving the hair greasy or heavy.
Here is a simple way to include shea butter in your hair care regimen:
- Take a tablespoon of raw or unrefined shea butter and melt it in the microwave for 30-60 seconds.
- Once the butter cools down slightly, add a few drops of lavender essential oil. This step is not compulsory.
- Make small sections of your hair and apply the liquefied butter to the scalp and entire hair length.
- Leave it on for half an hour and then rinse your hair with a mild
Benefits Of Shea Butter For Ailments
Soothes Muscle Aches: Muscular pain often results from an inflammation at the affected site due to exertion or a muscular ailment. Traditionally, shea butter has been extensively used in Africa to relieve muscle aches and soreness. Even though there is no concrete proof for this, feedback from people who have used shea butter to massage the affected site showed that they noticed a reduction in the swelling as well as the pain.
Rheumatism: Rheumatism is often characterized by joint pain, inflammation, and stiffness. The pain and swelling can also be present just in the muscles or the fibrous tissue. It is used as an ointment on the parts of the body affected by rheumatism to relieve the swelling and pain. Its anti-inflammatory properties are of key importance here as rheumatism is basically an inflammatory disease.
Arthritis: A chronic joint disorder that is often associated with increasing age, obesity, and trauma, arthritis can be very painful for people who suffer from it. The pain is almost constant and disrupts basic movement and the quality of life in an arthritis patient. The unsaponifiable material of shea butter is primarily composed of triterpenes. These compounds have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Its usage by arthritis patients has shown excellent results in alleviating the swelling and pain. The exact mechanism of action is still unknown. However, the triterpenes are considered the main contributing factor for these results.
Lowers Cholesterol: As we mentioned earlier, shea butter is edible and is used by many people in Africa for food preparation. An unknown advantage of adding shea butter to your diet is its ability to lower cholesterol in the blood. This butter is rich in stearic acid, a type of saturated fatty acid that was shown to reduce lipoprotein and plasma cholesterol levels in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Nasal Inflammation And Nasal Congestion: The next time you experience nasal congestion, all you need to do is apply some shea butter in your nostrils using your finger. This might sound weird, but it works. Nasal congestion is often a result of inflammation of the inner linings of the nasal passages. The anti-inflammatory compounds of shea butter can reduce this inflammation and clear your nostrils. In a study conducted to test the efficacy of shea butter, the participants experienced nasal congestion clearance in just 90 seconds.