Shea butter is winning over home gardeners with its benefits, as well as people who are looking for a naturally based, unrefined and unprocessed skin care product that has powerful abilities as a superb moisturizer with exceptional healing properties for the skin. The best Shea butter originates from nuts that are gathered, extracted and prepared without the use of chemicals from the Shea or Karite tree that grows wild in the African savannah.
Shea butter contains important nutrients such as vitamins A and E, and other valuable phytonutrients required for healing. Regular use of this natural cream can treat many skin problems and maintain a healthy, vibrant skin condition.
The highest quality Shea butter is prepared by hand in small villages across western Africa. It is very labor intensive – estimated to take 20 to 30 hours to produce one kilogram of handcrafted Shea butter. The nuts are picked from the Shea trees, then cracked, lightly roasted, and ground to a powder. This powder is then whipped and kneaded in water until a color change occurs, anywhere from one to three hours of continual kneading. Warm water is then added when white spots begin to appear, separating the Shea oils which rise to the surface of the kettle.
The oil is collected and slightly heated to remove any remaining water, then filtered into settling basins. The total time from selecting the nuts until the Shea oils are collected is anywhere from 10 to 14 hours of continuous work. After it cools and solidifies into a butter-like consistency it is stirred very carefully to initialize the crystallization process. This part of the process is very critical and requires a lot of experience. The final Shea butter is then packaged and shipped, providing us with a pure, high quality, and natural product.
Only pure, unrefined Shea butter has all of the healing and moisturizing properties. Most Shea butter available to the general public outside West Africa is white and odorless, as it has been chemically “refined” to remove the natural scent and color of natural Shea butter. Most Westerners think the color white indicates purity, but not in this case.
During the chemical refining process, the majority of the effective healing agents are removed. Most refined Shea butter is extracted from the Shea kernels with hexane or other petroleum solvents which are carcinogenic. The extracted oil is boiled to drive off the toxic solvents then refined, bleached, and deodorized, which heats it to over 400F and uses of harsh chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide. Shea butter extracted in this manner still contains some undesirable solvent residues, and its healing values are almost non-existent.
High grade Shea butter will have a distinctive aroma that is identifiable but not unpleasant. Once melted into the skin, the aroma should subdue within a few minutes. Due to its wildcrafted origins, it will be shades of light to medium creamy yellow. This color is an indication of the vitamin A content. Consistency should be smooth and creamy and might have a slight crystalline structure, but should never feel granular or gritty.
Pure Shea butter starts melting at 75°F and should easily melt into the palm of your hand. Pure white or deep yellow Shea butter has been chemically refined or diluted with palm kernel oil and has lost its ability for healing. Strong, unpleasant odors or those that last more than a few minutes after melting into the skin indicate old or rancid butter. 100% pure unrefined Shea butter is not easily found on store shelves, expect to buy it from a specialty supplier or small company that has a relationship with the producer that constantly monitors and maintains quality standards.
Almost all commercially available lotions and skin creams that advertise “Shea butter” on the label have less than 1% Shea butter by volume, just enough to qualify as being listed as an ingredient and therefore able to be marketed as containing this highly prized moisturizer. Remember though, that what little Shea butter it does contain will most certainly be the chemically refined and deodorized type with no healing properties to it. You truly do get what you pay for!
Uses for Shea butter are many, from a simple daily hand, face and foot cream to keep the skin hydrated and healthy, as a scalp and hair moisturizing tonic, as an aftershave emollient that soothes and relieves the skin, as a luxurious healing bath experience when a spoonful is added to hot bathwater to a highly beneficial massage for tired and overtaxed muscles, especially when a small amount of essential oils are added.
Many of our customers report using Shea butter after surgeries to help the incisions heal much faster than any other method. Family doctors and surgeons are always surprised at how quickly and completely the healing takes place. Cuts, abrasions and other wounds heal faster with Shea butter, as the vitamins and phytonutrients are absorbed into the subcutaneous portion of the skin and help the healing process along. Wounds heal from the inside out, and nothing else is absorbed as deeply as Shea butter.
Shea butter is best warmed up and worked into the skin or hands. Get a small amount on the tip of your finger (less than you think you’ll need), and warm it up in the palm of your hand. You might need to rub it between your palms if your hands are cold. As it starts to melt with your body temperature it is ready to work into your skin.
Spend a couple of moments and don’t rush this, as one application can last all day (or night) if properly used. Massage it into where you need it. It will dissipate quickly, leaving a light film on the surface of the skin. Continue to massage this in for a few more moments, until the lubricating effects start to diminish. You will have a slight sheen on the skin that will dissapate as the Shea butter finishes absorbing into your skin. At the end of the day you will notice that your skin is softer, more pliable and feels better, even after just one use.