Butter might occasionally get a bad rap from nutritionist experts when it comes to its consumption, although many researchers are currently maintaining that—while it’s not a super-food by any means—moderate intakes of high-fat and high-calorie butter won’t necessarily contribute to health issues. Organic Shea butter on your body, though? That is inarguably the exact opposite. It has long been heralded as a “skin super-food” that is becoming one of the most versatile and natural beauty products that can be used safely on a daily basis.
Shea butter is an ivory-white, triglyceride, edible fat extracted from the seeds of the African Shea (Karite) tree. Historical records have chronicled its use since the time of Cleopatra’s reign over Egypt, where there are accounts of caravans bearing jars of Shea butter for cosmetic use; people used the butter to protect both their skin and hair from the fierce winds and sun of the savannah and the desert—cosmetic, therapeutic, and medicinal uses that are used and prized to this day.
A Scrumptious Super-food for the Skin
Brimming with Vitamins A, E, and F, Shea butter provides the essential fatty acids and antioxidants needed to successfully combat free radicals, repair and rejuvenate collagen in the epidermis, and deeply moisturize the skin. It’s often used to remedy dry and brittle skin, helping to protect and refresh the skin’s own natural oils; given that its main components include oleic acid, stearic acid, and linoleic acid, this butter melts at body temperature and is swiftly absorbed. Research attests that organic Shea butter is also exemplary for brightening the skin’s complexion.[i]
Long-term usage has been shown to significantly soften and strengthen the skin, making it markedly more supple and even helping in wrinkle reduction. In fact, the American Shea Butter Institute has discovered the moisturizers in organic Shea butter are the same as those produced by the skin’s sebaceous glands, making it arguably the most natural moisturizer that you could possibly opt for. Shea butter proves favorable for many ailments and issues of the skin: warding off stretch marks, removing under-eye wrinkles and bags, soothing cracked lips or heels, and even serving as a makeup foundation and homemade deodorant base.[ii]
- Homemade Shea butter lotion bars: combine 1 cup coconut oil + 1 cup Shea butter (also add cocoa butter or mango butter if desired) + 1 cup beeswax in a glass mason jar placed within a small saucepan of water; boil the water and mix ingredients until smooth; if desired, add essential oils when you remove it from the flame. Pour into molds and allow them to cool completely before use.
- Organic body butter: Mix ½ cup Shea butter + ½ cup cocoa/mango butter + ½ cup coconut oil + ½ cup almond (or jojoba or olive) oil + 10-30 drops of essential oil of your choice (i.e. lavender); heat until all butters and oils are melted, and add essential oil when removed from heat; cool in the fridge for 1 hour and then whip with hand mixer for 10 minutes or until fluffy; let it set in the fridge for 10-15 more minutes; store in a glass jar in a cool, dry place.
- Lip balm for soft, kissable lips: Melt 2 tbsp. beeswax pastilles + 2 tbsp. Shea butter + 2 tbsp. coconut oil in glass bowl/jar over pot of boiling water; stir until melted. Remove pan and add 30+ drops of peppermint essential oil as desired (or any other essential oil with a scent to your liking). Use the pipette or dropped to fill lip balm tubes quickly before the mixture hardens. Let the uncapped tubes cool for several hours before capping them.
Therapeutic and Antioxidant Benefits
While Shea butter is most famous for its powerful skincare attributes, it also exhibits an array of excellent healing properties, attributed greatly to its fatty acid components and plant sterols. Raw Shea butter effectively treats skin rashes, sunburns and skin peeling due to ultraviolet radiation, scars, stretch marks, frost bites, insets bites, arthritis, muscle fatigue, burns, and even athlete’s foot. Its rich levels of catechins (at least eight, among ten different kinds of phenolic compounds, which are known for their antioxidant properties) and vitamins (especially A and E) contribute to Shea butter’s ability to fight against free radicals. Vitamin A promotes skin healing and disinfection, soothing skin allergies such as poison ivy and diaper rash; Vitamin F and E are most essential for rejuvenating rough and chapped skin.
The anti-inflammatory properties of Shea butter have long been cherished, further bolstered by recent studies including that of researchers at Nihon University, who studied the anti-inflammatory and chemo-preventive effects of triterpene cinnamates (which reportedly even help to avoid skin mutations) and acetates from Shea fat, concluding that Shea nuts and Shea butter constitute a significant source of both anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor promoting compounds.[iii]
The Hair’s Ambrosia
Shea butter is impeccable for softening and revitalizing hair, helping to transform even the most damaged and brittle locks to silky-soft tresses that are as strong as they are beautiful. All sorts of hair types can benefit, including fragile, dry, and curly. It is recommended to apply Shea butter twice a week to fight excessive shedding and promote hair growth while improving the texture.[iv] Given that it has a low amount of SPF, this ivory-golden elixir further helps protect the hair against harsh weather conditions and free radicals. Once it is absorbed, Shea butter coats the hair shaft and protects it from heat tools, chlorine found in swimming pools, and other damaging materials, moisturizing and nourishing the hair and scalp without leaving it feeling greasy or heavy; this is especially useful for processed or colored hair. Enjoying its deliciously soothing and mild nutty-smoky scent doesn’t hurt, either!
- To protect your hair from heat tools: Melt Shea butter and combine with another natural oil (i.e. grapeseed or avocado, which have high smoke points); dab a bit throughout your hair before blow-drying and styling your hair.
- To soothe an irritated or dry scalp: Melt Shea butter in a double broiler over boiling water; once cooled, spread it on your fingertips and rub it in gentle circular motions directly on your scalp. For an extra soothing sensation, add a few drops of tea tree oil.[v]
The Essence of Balance:
While it’s very hard to go wrong with Shea butter, do a patch test on your skin to test for potential allergies before applying it liberally over the rest of your body. Pure and organic Shea butter, in particular, is rarely known to produce unpleasant side-effects, and is considered generally safe for moderate ingestion and topical application alike; it is regularly used as a butter substitute in Japan, a cooking oil in Africa, and in chocolates throughout Europe.[vi]