Native to the African savannah, Shea Butter is the oil from the nuts of the Shea tree. Its properties as a skin and hair care oil have been valued for millennia and it continues to be used to stop the skin and hair drying out in the harsh African climate.
Shea Butter Benefits
This rich and creamy butter boasts its main components as oleic acid, stearic acid and the anti-inflammatory linolenic acid. Comprised of around 46 percent of oleic acid, Shea Butter is deeply moisturising to the skin and works exceptionally well as a luxurious night treatment. Oleic acid is produced in small amounts by the skin and its production decreases with age. Using a moisturiser that is rich in this compound promotes younger looking skin as it penetrates easily and deeply into the skin’s surface. It stops moisture from evaporating and restores the natural balance of oil without clogging pores.
Recommending Shea Butter for extra dry skin, Jody Levine MD, clinical instructor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine has this to say, "The moisturisers present in Shea Butter are some of the same moisturisers that the sebaceous glands produce."
Shea Butter is considered one of the best anti-aging oils due to its ability to stimulate the production of collagen – the scaffolding protein of the skin. It is also rich in the antioxidant, fat soluble vitamins A and E which help to keep the skin nourished and supple. It is well known that antioxidants prevent much of the free radical damage that can lead to premature aging, fine lines and wrinkles. It is also a rich source of plant flavonoids, including the antioxidants; quercetin, epicatechin gallate, gallocatechin and epigallocatechin.
The linolenic acid present in Shea Butter helps to preserve and restore skin elasticity. Restored elasticity means that skin can combat blemishes and wrinkles more easily, promoting a younger looking, fresher complexion.
Eczema, Psoriasis, Dermatitis
Shea Butter is considered the perfect moisturiser for skin conditions that lead to flakiness, dryness, itchiness and scaliness due to its efficacious humectant and emollient properties. Its anti-inflammatory action can also be effective to lessen itching and swelling.
In a 2009 study by the University of Kansas, Shea Butter was shown to be an option for treating eczema. A patient with a moderate case of eczema applied Vaseline to one arm and Shea Butter to the other, twice daily.
At the beginning of the study, the severity of the patient’s eczema was rated as a 3, with 5 being a very severe case and 0 being totally clear. At the end, the arm using Vaseline had its rating downgraded to a 2, while the arm using Shea Butter was downgraded to a 1. The arm using Shea Butter was also notably smoother.
The healing properties of Shea Butter also apply to insect bites. It disinfects, heals and soothes insect bites and rashes, whilst its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial action speed up the healing process. It also helps to prevent insect bites from becoming infected.
The deep penetrating action of Shea Butter is highly beneficial to hair. It protects the hair from harsh weather conditions and harmful free radicals that abound in the environment. It helps to restore lost moisture and due to its low SPF, it also protects the hair from UV damage.
Once it has been absorbed, Shea Butter can offer protection against chemical hair treatments such as perms and harsh colouring agents. It also protects against straighteners, curlers and hair dryers and if applied before swimming will protect against the damaging effects of chlorine.
When applied to the scalp, Shea Butter provides many essential nutrients that can improve both scalp and hair health by nourishing the follicles, which in turn makes them stronger, helping to prevent hair loss.
The rich fatty acid content soothes a dry, itchy scalp and alleviates dandruff and relieves scalp psoriasis.
Shea Butter can be applied directly to the skin as a soothing, hydrating moisturiser or added to natural skincare products. It can also be used on the hair and scalp to nourish lacklustre hair and provide relief from a dry, itchy scalp.
Shea Butter has a long and esteemed history, stretching back to Cleopatra’s Egypt where it was stored in large clay jars for cosmetic use. Funeral beds of kings were carved out of the wood of Shea trees and the butter has long been a staple of African pharmacology.
In more modern times, the presence of the Shea tree has helped to conserve the fragile ecosystems in Africa’s semi-arid regions and has become vital to the economy of some of the poorest areas of West Africa. The tree is an integral part of the lives of the people – traditionally, the tree belongs to the entire community and cannot be owned by individuals even when found on private property. When difficult times arrive, the Shea tree is there to help sustain the communities who depend on it.
Shea Butter contains nonsaponifiable components (substances that cannot be fully converted into soap by treatment with alkali) and the following fatty acids: oleic acid, stearic acid, linoleic acid, palmitic acid, linolenic acid and arachidic acid.