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Shea butter: how to choose it and how to use it

By the 09 March 2020

Modifié le 17 March 2020

Shea butter has many cosmetic virtues. It’s simple, providing it’s high-quality, and it brings your skin pretty much everything it needs! But be careful, not all shea butters are equal – in terms of your skin, but also in terms of how they’re produced…

 

Shea butter: a cosmetic treasure

 

Take one of nature’s wonders, pass it through generations of ancient know-how and you’ll end up with the wonderful shea butter. Do you think we’re being too enthusiastic? Just you wait and see…

 

This plant butter is extracted from almonds that are particularly rich in fat: the Shea nuts, a big wild tree that grows naturally only in West and Central Africa. Here, shea butter is everywhere: cooking, medicine, skincare, haircare… And it has been for ages! Stories of voyages written in the 14th century even mention it. In wolof, the name of the tree, ghariti means butter tree. And after having discovered it in the 19th century, Europe’s caught up with its missed time: today, shea butter is an international cosmetic superstar.

 

It has many advantages. The plant-based ingredient that is the richest in active components, it is one of the best natural skincare products to take care of your whole body – from your hair to your feet! More precisely, shea butter provides you with regenerating and reparative vitamin A, antioxidant and anti-aging vitamin E, healing vitamin D, and vitamin F which will protect you from external aggressors. Add in ceramides that strengthen the hydrolipidic barrier and keep the skin hydrated, latex for flexibility and elasticity, and phytosterols which stimulate cell renewal and healing.

 

The best part is that shea butter is super nourishing due to its 55% fat content, yet it doesn’t leave your skin feeling oily. It melts and soaks deeply into the skin to provide it with nutrients. Magic!

 

 

1001 cosmetic uses for everyone

 

The conclusion: while it’s hard to list all of shea butter’s uses, it’s beneficial for all skin types!

Your skin’s best friend to protect you from harsh Winters or burning Summers, it gives your skin an additional protective barrier and helps it to overcome extreme weather conditions. A pot of shea butter in your suitcase will be just as useful as your flip flops or snow boots. But, be careful: its light anti-UV powers don’t come close to replacing your sunscreen. But a thick layer on your face, lips and hands before zooming down the slopes, a gentle massage on your chapped lips or sunburns will get your skin out of even the stickiest of situations, soothe it immediately and help it to regenerate itself. If you have sensitive skin you can use it as a daily skincare product, face and body. 

 

Shea butter is also a good after-shave product, a great anti-aging product and is able to minimise the appearance of wrinkles. Calluses on your knees, elbows, heels? Apply a thick layer like a mask at bedtime and they’ll disappear overnight. Finally, it’s great for taking care of dry hair and split ends, irritated scalps or dandruff. Doing a mask or applying a pea-sized amount after washing your hair will make your hair more voluminous and lively.

 

And the best thing: it works for everyone, or almost everyone. Even the most sensitive skin. It can be used on a daily basis and for a long period of time without any side-effects. The only thing to be careful about is latex allergies.

 

Otherwise, skin that is damaged, sensitive, or suffers from eczema or psoriasis, can all say thank you for shea butters preventative and healing qualities. And so can pregnant or breastfeeding women, for its prevention of stretch marks, scarring and breastfeeding pains. And babies, to treat rashes or patches of dry skin. In Africa, babies are traditionally massaged with shea butter from head to toe.

 

How to use it? Very simply: in its pure form, apply it directly as a balm, mask or hydrating product, it’s super beneficial just as it is. The most effective method remains using it in combination with plant and essential oils, according to the problem you’re treating, its fatty acids will also help to boost the application and penetration of the other oils.

 

It’s easy to find DIY recipes for skincare products made with shea butter: with such great properties, enthusiasm was inevitable! Haircare, chapped lips, dry hands, moisturising the face or body, anti-wrinkle, stretch mark prevention, it has become an indispensable component of our skincare routines. Obviously, we’re not going to deny ourselves such a treasure: all of our oOlution products contain shea butter. But not just any shea butter. 

 

Raw or refined: what difference does it make?

 

A butter that conserves the precious nutrients of its nuts is called raw. It is achieved either through cold-pressing (under 80°C) or according to the traditional method. The nuts, that have dried out in the sun, are crushed by hand, and the paste that is obtained is churned with water and cooked for a long time in a cauldron in order to separate the butter from its impurities. The butter is then filtered, beaten by hand.

 

A long and hard job which requites really high quality and fatty nuts. And therefore expensive. Not compatible with industrial volumes and profits… Raw shea butter has one other drawback: like all fatty substances rich in antioxidants, it is hard to preserve, it oxidises quickly. As a result, there are packaging difficulties and it is difficult to manage large stocks without risking some losses.

 

Nonetheless, manufacturers have found the solution: extracting the shea butter at a very high temperature and/or using petrochemical solvents. Quicker, cheaper, these techniques mean that lower quality nuts can be used, in exchange for a rancid product. Naturally, the butter that is obtained is of a lower quality, a less pleasant texture, 0dour and colour. But, come on, a little bit of petrochemical ingredients is fine, right? They neutralise the product to get rid of oxidising fatty acids and give it a longer shelf-life, removing odour and colour. The result is a sparkling white odourless refined shea butter. And one that has been stripped of most of its vitamins and fatty acids. During this process, refined shea butter can lose up to 80% of its nutrients. And we haven’t even mentioned the petrochemical residue…

 

Raw or refined, it’s not always easy to know which you’re dealing with: there’s no equivalent of the categorisation labels we apply to food products and there’s no obligation to specify how the shea butter was produced. Even if your tub indicates that it is 100% natural shea butter, there’s no guarantee that it is raw, only that it doesn’t contain anything else. Check its colour (from yellow to grey, but never white), its scent (refined butter doesn’t have one) and its texture (it’s solid but it melts easily, whereas refined butter is gritty and hard to spread around). But as for its cosmetic uses, it’s almost impossible to know its real quality. It’s not specified? Then it’s probably refined – as the question but keep in mind that real shea butter is pretty rare. Its refined version dominated the cosmetics market…

 

Raw, traditional shea butter is a matter of ethics

 

Your choice not only dictates its effectiveness. The refining process it polluting, the solvents it involves are carcinogenic. And by choosing a traditional artisan shea butter, you’re helping entire communities live on their natural resources.

 

The harvesting and production of shea butter are the livelihood of millions of women in rural Nigeria, Mali and Burkina Faso. It has really contributed to improving their living conditions – and, for this reason, it gets called women’s gold. But the international demand and the industrialisation of the process to the detriment of the quality and generational know-how means that their jobs are taken away from them. Selling the nuts cheaply becomes their only source of income.

 

What’s the solution? Ensure that your shea butter is made traditionally, under ethical and fair conditions. Especially considering its growing industrial production, which makes the butter out of all nuts, leading to exploitation of resources. A cosmetic star, what is lesser known is that its main use in Europe is in the food-processing industry. A flavouring agent, a more nutritionally dense alternative to other fats, it’s got lots of advantages. And its danger? An ecological disaster the likes of palm oil. By consuming shea butter sensibly, we can avoid this kind of atrocity.

 

At oOlution, you’ll only find pure, unrefined shea butter in all of our skincare products which is are produced with the utmost respect for traditional methods and the working conditions of the producers. Its production process is semi-mechanised and artisanal, without the use of any chemical substance. On a side note, the scientific name of shea butter is rather symbolic – Butyrospermuum Parkii. And why? In hommage to Mungo Park, the Scottish explorer reported to have discovered Africa in the 19th century. From this time onwards, African women have been deprived of any recognition. It’s up to us to change things through more informed consumption.

 

 

 

This post is also available in french.

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