Where Does Shea Butter Come From?
The nut comes from the Karite tree found in the wilds of West Africa. The cream is extracted from the nuts using different methods.
What Are the Different Types of Shea Butter Available?
The Karita nut is extracted and processed using a variety of techniques that determine its nourishing qualities:
“• Unrefined (or Virgin) Shea Butter: At the high end of the shea butter spectrum you have a natural, manual extraction process which leaves more of the wonderful raw ingredients in the Shea Butter. This shea butter can vary in color from yellow to gray to even a slightly green and has a smoky, nutty scent. Color, texture, and scent vary depending on the region in which the Karite tree grows. Unrefined shea is very sensitive to changes in temperature and can be difficult to work with. It is not uncommon for products made with this butter to have a bit of a grainy feel to them. Although the grainy part melts the second it touches your skin, you can see why cosmetic companies shy away.
To qualify as unrefined, shea butter must not have passed through any filtering systems using chemicals or other methods that would remove or reduce the natural nourishing components or change its natural properties in any way. Unrefined shea butter is passed through a cheesecloth filter to remove nut skins. As with all nuts, there is a skin between the nut and the shell which can and does, get into the shea butter as it is being pressed out of the cooked nuts. You may even see some of the nut skin pieces that escaped the cheesecloth in our shea butter products.
• Refined Shea Butter: This shea butter has been passed through one or more filtering systems. It may be deodorized using chemicals, or other processes, to remove the natural nutty aroma. It may be bleached, either chemically or as a result of the filtering system used to make it whiter in color. It may have a preservative added to it to prevent it from going rancid since the natural antioxidants and vitamins that normally do this have been removed. The quality of this shea butter depends on the refining system used and there is no standard in place.
• At the other end of the spectrum, the Ultra-refined Shea Butter is usually extracted using solvents, a cheaper and quicker method of extraction. This shea butter has been filtered and re-filtered. It is deodorized, bleached to pure white, and further processed to produce a softer, smoother textured product that is easier for mass production machines to incorporate it into commercial lotions, which is why it is extensively used by the cosmetic industry. Even smaller companies making shea butter products will use this type of shea butter since is cheaper, easier to work with, produces a finer textured product. Also without its natural nutty aroma, it will not interfere when scents are added. Ultra-refined shea butter will often have preservatives added since the antioxidants and vitamins that act as natural preservatives have been removed. This over-processed product does not retain any of the healing properties that shea butter is known for, other than basic moisturizing. “ (Quoted from Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve Company)
What Are the Benefits of Shea Butter?
Shea butter has been used in Africa for thousands of years to help heal minor skin problems like burns, dermatitis, stretch marks, dark spots, wrinkles, etc. Because shea butter contains cinnamic acid, it helps protect the skin from UV rays. The high concentration of fatty acid and vitamins A and E makes it an effective moisturizer and restores the skin’s elasticity. When shea butter comes in contact with the skin, it melts and is absorbed into the skin, unlike other products that stay on the skin’s surface. Therefore, it does not clog pores and allows the skin to breathe.
Rubbing shea butter into sore muscle and joints helps reduce swelling due to its natural anti-inflammatory properties. Our hair also benefits from shea butter when it is used as a hot oil treatment and leave-in conditioner. Shea butter provides moisture because it absorbs easily into the scalp and hair. This makes it an excellent treatment for dry scalp and damaged hair.
Note: Shea butter is not recommended for people allergic to nuts or latex.