Shea Butter

Shea Butter


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If you pick up a bottle of heavy-duty moisturizing cream, chances are one of the ingredients will be shea butter. But what, exactly, is this popular ingredient?

Shea butter is the slightly yellowish or ivory colored fat extracted from the nut of the African shea trea (Vitellaria paradoxa). The tree, also called the karite nut tree, or mangifolia, grows in semi-arid regions of West and Central Africa. Shea butter is sometimes referred to as “women’s gold” because it contributes strongly to the economic prosperity of women in the regions where it is processed.

What is shea butter used for?
Shea butter has numerous uses, but it is most well-known for being a key ingredient in many skin and hair related products, including moisturizers, salves, and lotions. It is well-suited to these products because its natural oils are great for moisturizing the body. Its properties also make it ideal for cosmetic use. It melts at body temperature, is readily absorbed into the skin, acts as a re-fatting agent, is good at binding water, and doesn’t leave a greasy residue. Over the years, it has been used to ease a variety of skin irritations, including psoriasis, eczema, and sunburn. It has also been used to treat burns, ulcerated skin, and dryness. Proponents of its use in cosmetics report that it seems to reduce the appearance of fine lines and scars. Many pregnant women use shea butter to reduce or prevent the occurrence of stretch marks.

In addition to its cosmetic uses, shea butter is edible and has been used for centuries in food preparations in Africa. It has also been used occasionally by the chocolate industry as a substitute for cocoa butter, when combined with other oils. This is done despite the fact that there is a noticeable taste difference between cocoa butter and shea butter.

Top five ways to use shea butter:

  • Apply shea butter to the rough skin of your feet to help soften it
  • Dab some shea butter on a bug bite to help stop the itching
  • Use shea butter on skin affected by allergies, such as poison ivy or poison oak
  • Smooth shea butter onto hands to protect against chapping in the cold
  • Massage shea butter onto legs before shaving for a smooth, silky shave

How is shea butter made?
Besides being so safe it is edible, one of the major selling points of shea butter is that it is produced without chemicals or synthetics. The production of shea butter begins when the shea nuts are extracted from the fruit. The next steps include extracting butter from the fruit, boiling the butter to further refine it, and then letting the butter harden in gourds. If this seems like quite a process, that’s because it is. The making of shea butter is done in artisanal fashion and almost exclusively by women. Sometimes the process is shortened by using an expeller-type press, but the final product of either method is raw, or unrefined, shea butter, and one of the most popular cosmetics ingredients of all time.

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