The Magical Properties of Shea Butter for Your Skin and Hair
Natural health and beauty practices have been taking the world by storm, which means that you can now find products made with natural ingredients in almost every home. In fact, you might not even realize just how natural and beneficial a lot of the ingredients in these products are.
When these ingredients become increasingly popular, it becomes easy to forget their history, where they came from, and the many things they can actually do for us. By doing a little research, you open yourself up to the many benefits that natural ingredients can provide.
The Benefits of Shea Butter
I am sure that most of you are familiar with shea butter and that many of you have used it from time to time but did you know quite how good it was for your skin and just how many healthy properties that it has?
Out of all the natural ingredients out there that are being used in mainstream health and beauty products, shea butter may be the most popularly talked about. While it is often used in skincare products such as moisturizers and lotions, you’ll find it primarily in hair care products like shampoos, conditioners, and other forms of hair treatments.
We’ve seen shea butter used so much that many people have become almost numb to its name. However, this ingredient has a rich history that matches its rich consistency and texture, and you may be surprised by just how many benefits this natural substance can provide.
In this article we will take a detailed look at just how useful that shea butter can be and exactly how it can help your beauty routine and give both your skin and hair a healthy boost.
What is Shea Butter?
Despite being very familiar with shea butter because of its prominent position in my bathroom, I had never really questioned where it came from. It is actually derived from nuts which grow on a tree native to certain parts of Africa called the Karite, Shea or Mangifolia tree.
There are two primary species of this tree, scientifically or botanically named Vitellaria paradoxa (previously known as Butyrospermum parkii) and Vitellaria nilotica, with the latter being far less common than the former. Both of these species originated and grow specifically in Africa.
The tree can be found growing naturally in nineteen different nations that all lay along a border that is often referred to as the “African shea belt.” This area spans approximately 3,000 miles and reaches from the eastern Ethiopian highlands all the way to Senegal.
This area sits between the northern Sahara desert and the southern African rainforests. Due to current civil unrest in many of those nineteen African nations, sourcing natural shea butter can often be rather difficult.
The karite tree or shea tree grows to reach heights of approximately fifty feet, but it can take between forty and fifty years to actually mature enough to produce the nuts necessary to make shea butter. Because of this, the trees tend to be treated very respectfully as a valuable asset to the African nations.
Once the nuts have reached maturity, they are harvested and boiled to allow the nuts to release their oils. The oils rise to the surface of the boiling water, and then they are removed and cooled on the side.
After the oil has been extracted, the nuts are removed, dried, and then crushed to create the butter that we have grown to love so much today.
During this process, both shea oil and shea butter are produced, but there is typically much more butter than oil once the process is finished. After everything is crushed, cooled, and packaged, the products are shipped to whoever is buying them. At this point, the buyer may choose to refine or process the products further, but this will remove many of the naturally beneficial properties that the oil and butter contain.
Because of this, it’s best to find natural products, regardless of the type, that have gone through limited processing and thus use the purest and freshest version of the substance.
As well as being used in numerous cosmetic products for the skin and hair, shea butter is edible and can be found in many cooking recipes.
The reason that shea butter is such a popular ingredient in beauty products and has become so popular around the world is that it contains many healthy chemical constituents that are just perfect for your skin and hair needs.
Among its many components, shea butter is a rich source of healthy fatty acids including oleic, linoleic and stearic acids which are absorbed quickly by the skin. It is available in both refined and unrefined form and unsurprisingly the raw and unrefined type of shea butter is considered far more beneficial because it retains far more of the essential and healthy minerals and vitamins.
Shea Butter in History
Because the shea tree has been growing in African nations for centuries upon centuries, it has a rich history that can be traced through many ancient documents. There have been several written pieces from ancient times during Cleopatra’s reign that have mentioned a rich butter kept in jars, used for the care of both skin and hair.
The Queen of Sheba has also been noted to have supposedly used this rich butter.
Besides this, the shea tree was often used to make coffins for kings in the early times of Africa, and it was considered to be sacred by many different African tribes. The butter produced by the tree’s nuts was used for healing skin care practices, as well as for hair protection from the harsh weather conditions experienced in Africa.
In northern Nigeria, the oil was often combined with palm oil and used in various recipes for cooking purposes.
The Nutritional Composition of Shea Butter
Shea butter is rich in many significantly healthy nutrients. Some of these nutrients include triterpene esters such as cinnamic acid and tocopherols, which absorb UV-B rays, as well as phytosterols, triterpenes, and hydrocarbons like karitene. The butter also contains five different fatty acids, including palmitic acid, stearic acid, arachidic acid, oleic acid, and linoleic acid. With that said, stearic acid and oleic acid make up about 85% to 90% of all the fatty acids found in shea butter.
Shea butter is also rich in phenolics, which are strong antioxidants. There are ten different phenolic compounds found in the butter, and eight of those phenolic compounds are catechins.
The levels of phenolic will actually depend on how the butter was extracted, as traditional extractions will result in higher levels of phenolic, while extractions using hexane will produce lower levels. Typically speaking, the level of catechin in shea butter is actually higher than the phenolic content found in even the ripest of olives.
Tocopherol, otherwise known as vitamin E, is found in shea butter in very high levels. With that said, the actual levels of vitamin E will depend on where the tree that produced the nuts grew, as well as the method of extraction that was used.
Vitamin A and vitamin F can also be found in shea butter. These nutrients are very useful in healing the skin and treating conditions such as dermatitis and eczema, as well as combating signs of premature aging.
You may be familiar with the label of “superfood,” which has been given to various foods like avocados and pomegranates. Shea butter is the “superfood” of skincare, mostly due to its rich concentration of unsaturated fats. Vitamin E, vitamin D, provitamin A, phytosterols, essential fatty acids, allantoin, and nonsaponifiable components are also what makes shea butter worthy of such a title.
Why Should you use Shea Butter?
If you have never used shea butter and you are thinking of doing so for the first time, then you are in for a treat. It has all the necessary healthy properties which makes it the perfect tonic for your skin and your hair.
Even if you already use shea butter, you might not know just how much it can do for you so this article will take a detailed look at its many benefits.
- Did you know for example that shea butter was an excellent source of natural antioxidants?
- Using shea butter can provide you with numerous healing antioxidants in the form of catechins, vitamin A, and vitamin E.
- Shea butter also has excellent anti-inflammatory properties because of the presence of cinnamic acid. These anti-inflammatory abilities make it ideal for treating a variety of inflammatory skin complaints such as eczema and psoriasis.
- Shea butter also exhibits healing properties because of the sterols and fatty acids such as oleic and linolenic acid.
Shea Butter Benefits for the Skin
Shea butter has powerful healing properties due to its high concentrations of plant sterols and essential fatty acids such as stearic acid, palmitic acid, oleic acid, and linoleic acid.
When shea butter is used in its raw and unrefined form, it can greatly aid in the treatment of skin rashes, acne, peeling, scars, burns, frostbite, bug bites, stretch marks, and even athlete’s foot. It may also help to reduce inflammation and treat skin conditions such as dermatitis or rosacea.
1. For Acne and Psoriasis
She butter is an excellent natural treatment for inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis because it is so rich in anti-inflammatory and antibacterial compounds. If you are considering using shea butter to treat your skin, be sure to get the unrefined kind because the chemicals in less pure forms of shea butter may serve to irritate the skin further.
- Before applying the shea butter to your skin, make sure that you cleanse the pores thoroughly with a good quality natural cleanser especially if you are prone to oily skin.
Many experts recommend cleansing the skin first with a cleanser containing salicylic acid but if that type of cleanser causes a reaction, shea butter soap is an excellent chemical-free alternative which can help remove any excess oil and dirt from the pores.
Shea Butter is non-Comedogenic (rates as a “0 – Will Not clog pores”) according to the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology.
2. To Heal the Skin
She butter has excellent general skin healing properties that can help treat a wide variety of problems that afflict the skin. It can help reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks and even age marks and other blemishes. Because of its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects, it can be applied to insect bites and minor wounds in order to relieve irritation and promote fast healing.
3. To Keep You Looking Younger
Shea butter has excellent anti-aging effects for your skin. It has antioxidant properties as well as being rich in vitamin A and E which help to keep the skin nourished, supple and radiant. When it is applied to your skin, shea butter helps to stimulate the skin’s collagen production which is important for the skin’s health and appearance.
It can also help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and other blemishes that we tend to acquire as we get older.
4. To Protect from Sun Damage
Shea butter can also be used to protect your body from ultraviolet rays though how well it acts to shield you from the sun is arguable. Proponents suggest that it is most effective when applied as an after sun treatment. It provides your skin with that extra moisture and nourishment that it needs to stay healthy following exposure to the sun’s rays. It is also a good option for the winter to prevent your skin from drying out.
5. To Tone the Skin
The vitamins and other constituents contained in shea butter are important to maintain the elasticity and strength of the skin. Shea butter not only helps hydrate and soften your skin but it can add elasticity making your skin look younger and more beautiful.
6. For the Lips
If you suffer from dry or chapped lips you can apply a little shea butter as a lip balm to protect your lips from damage. It absorbs readily into your lips and gives them the moisture and nutrition they need especially in cold or very dry weather.
Shea Butter for the Hair
1. To Moisturize Hair
Shea butter is an excellent natural choice to moisturize and condition your hair because of its healthy vitamin A and E content. It can moisturize your hair gently without leaving it feeling heavy and greasy. It is especially effective for people whose hair has become brittle and dry following perms or other chemical hair treatments.
2. To Protect Hair from Damage
This wonderful natural product can also protect your hair from the free radical damage inflicted by environmental toxins. It also possesses a small amount of sun protection factor which may be enough to prevent damage by exposure to UV rays.
It is absorbed very easily into the hair and the follicles and is able to coat the shafts of your hair protecting it from the root up. When applied before swimming, it can even protect against chlorine damage.
3. To Soften and Revitalize Hair
Massaging a generous amount of your shea butter into your hair can both soften it and bring it back to life. After applying your shea butter it will look and feel softer, healthier and livelier. If you want to treat your tired looking hair, try applying shea butter several times each week and you should soon notice quite a difference in the texture and appearance.
4. For the Scalp
As well as having so many uses for your hair, shea butter can also improve the health of your scalp. It is an effective natural treatment for dryness, itchiness and pesky dandruff. Its anti-inflammatory abilities, as well as the soothing vitamins, can help ease inflammation and add moisture to your scalp.
A comedogenic rating is a score that is given to different natural substances for the purpose of helping consumers determine which products will be most likely to irritate their skin, clog their pores, or worsen the appearance of conditions such as acne.
These scores are given on a scale of zero to five, with lower numbers representing substances that are the least likely to produce a bad reaction in even the most sensitive skin. With that said, these ratings are only meant to be taken as a source of advice because many people will still experience reactions that are contrary to what is suggested by the comedogenic rating of a product.
Shea butter, contrary to what some may expect, has been given a comedogenic rating of zero (according to the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology) Typically, substances that are high in stearic acid tend to cause breakouts, but shea butter seems to be a great option for many people in terms of avoiding breakouts.
Of course, some people may still have bad reactions to this substance, but such reactions seem to be rare. Because the butter is heavy in consistency and leaves an oily residue on the skin, you’ll only need to use a little bit to experience its benefits.
Shea Butter for Babies
Babies have very sensitive skin so it is important that you treat it very carefully and avoid any chemical laden products. Because shea butter is a totally natural product, it is a wonderful and completely safe option for babies and young children.
Assuming that you use the best quality unrefined shea butter, you can safely rub it into your baby’s skin to help treat diaper rash, eczema or any other form of skin irritation.