What is Shea Butter
Shea butter is a slightly yellowish or ivory colored and nutty, smoky scented natural fat extracted from the seed of the African shea tree. It is often referred to by its French name as karite tree, which originally (ghariti) means the tree of life. The tree got this name due to its exceptional healing properties.
In its pure unrefined state, shea butter is also edible and has been used for centuries in Africa as cooking oil, as a waterproofing wax, for hairdressing, for candle-making, as an anti-inflammatory for sprains and arthritis, and to sooth dry skin.
From practical point of view, shea butter is supreme natural moisturizer with exceptional healing properties for the skin. Handcrafted, unrefined shea butter is by itself ready for direct application to the skin, without any need for further processing. Mixing it with other natural ingredients such as essential oils and other butters, you can make it even more appealing and convenient for particular application.
Shea Butter Benefits
Except as a superior moisturizer, shea butter is used to treat various skin problems including:
- stretch marks
- dry skin and hair
- insect bites
- cracked skin
- itchy skin
- muscle fatigue and tension
- skin allergies and rashes
- scars and dark spots
- skin blemishes
According to the W.G. Goreja, shea butter’s unparalleled moisturizing property is due to several natural moisturizers present in the cream. The moisturizers in Shea Butter are the same moisturizers produced by the sebaceous glands in the skin. In addition to this moisturizing fraction (saponifiable fraction), shea butter contains a large portion of healing fraction (nonsaponifiable fraction). Comparing to the other seed oils, where the healing fraction is in the range of 1% or less, shea butter healing portion ranges from 5% up to 17%.
Shea butter is extremely rich natural source of two important vitamins, namely vitamin A and E. According to the before mentioned source, vitamin A in shea butter is important for improving a number of skins conditions, including blemishes, wrinkles, eczema, and dermatitis. The same source states that, although the exact benefit and function of the Vitamin E in human being is not entirely clear, it has been described as effective in a number of conditions or circumstances. These benefits include being anti-aging, an anti-free radical agent, and exerting a positive effect on increasing the micro-circulation.
Refined vs. Unrefined Shea Butter
Confusing thing about shea butter is various sorts and shea butter attributes marketed by different producers and distributors, like ‘pure’, ‘refined’, ‘unrefined’, ‘grade A’ and ‘premium’. I will try to shortly describe how i understood it.
Unrefined shea butter simply means it is extracted and prepared without the use of chemicals or preservative. In other terms, that means it is produced the same way African people do it for centuries. And this is what really counts, because only unrefined shea butter keeps all of its natural healing properties. On the other hand, refined shea butter has usually been extracted with hexane or other petroleum solvents and some antioxidants or preservatives may also be added. Unfortunately, amazing shea butter moisturizing and healing properties are significantly reduced or completely removed in this process.
To cut it short, differences between unrefined and refined shea butter are the scent, color and benefits. Unrefined shea butter maintains its nutty scent, beige color and its healing properties. Refined shea butter has been chemically altered to remove shea butters natural scent, is bleach white in color and retains only a small portion of its natural healing properties. The end result of refinement 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 other meaningful term is shea butter grade. Commercial shea butter is classified into five grades: A – raw or unrefined, extracted using water; B – refined; C – highly refined and extracted with solvents such as hexane; D – lowest uncontaminated grade; E – with contaminants. Grade A shea butter retains the most natural vitamins, especially vitamins A and E, which are partially lost in the other grades.
Where to Buy Shea Butter
We usually buy unrefined shea butter and other ingredients for my personal homemade recipes online. The choice is really large and sometimes it isn’t easy to decide where to buy it. With a little effort you can find supreme quality butters and oils for a very fair price. When we started our own shea butter adventure i bought small orders from different distributors, just to check if i like their products and overall quality of their service. Maybe it is just my prejudice, but i discarded in advance sellers who didn’t have appealing or at least professional web site.
Most of the shea butters i bought online were fine and here are few suppliers I really like:
They have beautiful site with extremely large choice of organic natural products from all over the world. Quality of their shea butter and cocoa butter is very good and you can easily find all other ingredients for different homemade recipes. They have very good shipment service.
They have great choice of ingredients for natural skin care. FNWL are wholesalers, but you can order small quantities as well. They ship internationally. Even if you are not interested to buy their butters and oils, you can learn a lot about natural skin care on their site.