Wow, the past month has been nonstop for me. I have been looking forward to the holidays and some much needed time off. Since my last post, work has been incredibly hectic and the demands of a new baby has left me little to no time to write a new post.
But now that I have some time off and things have quieted down, I can finally sit down and share with all of you my love affair with shea butter. I always had problems with dry skin growing up. I would scratch and scratch until I would start bleeding. I still do this when I get lazy and don’t moisturize. I can’t help it! Scratching feels so good. The doctors couldn’t figure out what all these dry patches on my body were and they told my mom to just keep my skin moisturized. It wasn’t until I had my son and he was experiencing the same problem that his doctors diagnosed him with having eczema and told me that the problem was genetic.
I was a teenager when I first discovered Shea body butter at The Body Shop. I have to tell you that when I first smelled shea I found it rather repugnant. So I opted instead for the coconut body butter even though I knew shea was supposed to be a skin miracle worker. I have since learned that good quality shea butter has a light scent and the smell varies upon where the nuts are harvested and the process of how it is made and how old the butter is. I was at the mall a few weeks ago and went into The Body Shop to smell their shea butter for the fun of it and I was surprised to find that it didn’t smell like anything at all. I found that very interesting and was actually rather disappointed because of what the company prides itself in.
About four years ago I started researching shea because I wanted to make my own body butter. I was pregnant with my son and it was then when I started reading labels on everything I used and ate because I wanted to make sure nothing harmful was going to my baby. I started to also question the fact that if it wasn’t good for my baby then it probably isn’t good for me too. I spent many nights awake researching natural alternatives and emailing every single seller and distributer of shea. Only two companies wrote me back and only one out of those two actually talked to me honestly about their shea and answered every single question I had.
Shea butter is a hot commodity. Not only is it your skin’s best friend, but in its pure, unrefined state, shea butter is edible and has been used for centuries as a cooking oil in Africa. The availability of shea depends upon the demands of the chocolate industry. They use shea to make chocolate smooth and creamy. Good quality shea is also expensive. It is made in Africa and depending what village it is made in, many undesirable “contaminants” can be found in it such as bicycle parts, cigarette butts and sometimes bugs. The cheaper the shea, the more likely you are to find this and the more likely you are to get spoiled shea.
Ok, so now let’s get into what makes shea so incredible.
Shea (pronounced “Shee”) butter comes from the Shea tree fruit that grows in the central regions of Africa. It is sometimes referred to by its French name karite, meaning “the tree of life,” because of its exceptional healing properties. It takes 10 to 15 years for the shea tree to bear fruit and takes around 20 years to reach full maturity. Shea butter is a handcrafted product and a lot of effort goes into the process of making shea butter. If you want to watch the process from nut to butter, you can click on this link: http://youtu.be/Q7ktkxQuCjI.
There are three ways the butter can be extracted from the nut:
1. The traditional method
2. The cold-pressed method
3. The chemical method (using hexane)
Shea butter ranges from a slightly yellowish to ivory color and has a nutty, smoky scent. Pure, natural shea butter readily melts at body temperature and is quickly absorbed by the skin. Shea has a characteristic smell that most people do not find attractive. After 10 to 20 minutes of applying it to the skin, however, the smell disappears. Shea butter is NOT white, yellow, green, gray or dark brown. There are different grades of shea, ranging from A to F, and even though all shea can moisturize the skin, only fresh, good quality and unrefined shea butter will have all the naturally occurring properties to heal and rejuvenate the skin. In our modern, mass-produced, cookie-cutter world, cosmetic companies are not willing to work with this artisanal product. The use of shea butter in the cosmetics that line our store shelves most commonly involves the use of hexane in order to remove the smell and color. It is hard for companies to sell products that differ in color and smell.
High quality grade A shea butter has two important factions. The saponifiable faction, which is the moisturizing faction and the nonsaponifiable faction, which is the healing faction. The saponifiable faction of shea butter ranges from 5% to 17%, whereas the oils of other seeds ranges from 1% or less, therefore making shea a supreme natural moisturizer. The moisturizers in shea butter are the same moisturizers produced by the sebaceous glands in the skin. It is this reason that makes this butter ideal for wound healing. The nonsaponifiable faction of shea is composed of phytonutrients and is an extremely rich natural source of Vitamin A and Vitamin E. The phytonutrients regenerate skin cells, it has a natural SPF of 3 to 4 and its anti-inflammatory property make it excellent for eczema.
The germinal layer of our skin is where new cells are produced. When vitamin A is applied to the skin it works on this germinal layer where it repairs damage. It takes 4 to 6 weeks for new cells to migrate to the surface which is when we notice the smoother and softer skin caused by the use of shea butter.
Shea butter also contains Lupeol, Beta-Amyrin and Cinnamic Acid. These three things, as well as the vitamin A, inhibit elastase activity. Elastase is an enzyme that breaks down a protein called Elastin. Elastin allows the skin to stretch and recoil, giving skin its suppleness and youthful resilience. But as we get older, Elastase plays a greater role in the aging process.
Here are some of the benefits of using shea butter:
- Dry skin
- Skin rash
- Skin peeling
- Itchy skin
- Small skin wounds
- Muscle problems
- Skin cracking
- Stretch mark prevention
- Insect bites
- Skin allergies
- Skin damage from heat
- Skin damage from the sun
- Shaving cream for a smooth silky shave
- Tough or rough skin on feet
- Skin cleansing
- Skin imperfections and wrinkles
- Skin inflammation
- Dry hair and skin
- Cell regeneration
- Scars and dark spots
- Anti-free radical agent
- Increases micro-circulation
- Promotes and accelerates wound healing
- Reduction in skin thinning due to collagen deterioration
There are so many shea products on the market labeled as “pure,” “refined,” “unrefined,” “grade A,” and “premium.” I will discuss those things further in future posts, but only high quality shea butter can offer the benefits mentioned above. Shea butter has a shelf life of 12 to 18 months, depending what part of Africa the nuts are harvested from. As shea butter ages, it retains its moisturizing qualities but loses its healing properties.
If any of you use products with shea butter in it, take a good look at it. Does it have the characteristics of shea butter? There are some pretty expensive shea products out there that have been modified and contain very little shea in it. Are you getting your money’s worth? Did they use good quality shea in their product or cheap shea that they could readily get their hands on? I have yet to come across a good shea product that is sold on the market, which is why I make my own.
Take a look at the difference between shea body butter sold in stores and handmade shea body butter –
Store Shea Body Butter:
Aqua (Water) (Solvent/Diluent), Butyrospermum parkii (Shea Butter) (Emollient), Cyclomethicone (Emollient), Theobroma cacao (Cocoa Butter) (Emollient), Glycerin (Humectant), Glyceryl Stearate (Emulsifier), PEG-100 Stearate (Surfactant), Cetearyl Alcohol (Emulsifier), Cera Alba (Beeswax) (Emulsifier/Emollient), Orbignya oleifera (Babassu Oil) (Emollient), Lanolin Alcohol (Stabiliser/Emollient), Phenoxyethanol (Preservative), Parfum (Fragrance), Methylparaben (Preservative), Propylparaben (Preservative), Xanthan Gum (Viscosity Modifier), Benzyl Alcohol (Preservative), Disodium EDTA (Chelating Agent), Linalool (Fragrance Ingredient), Coumarin (Fragrance Ingredient), Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone (Fragrance Ingredient), Limonene (Fragrance Ingredient), Butylphenyl Methylpropional (Fragrance Ingredient), Sodium Hydroxide (pH Adjuster), Citronellol (Fragrance Ingredient), Citral (Fragrance Ingredient), Geraniol (Fragrance Ingredient), Eugenol (Fragrance Ingredient), Caramel (Colour), CI 19140 (Colour).
Handmade Shea Body Butter:
Raw and unrefined shea butter, Vitamin E (natural preservative)
I hope this info has been helpful to you and in my next few posts there are a few more things about this amazing nut called Shea that I want to share with you.