According to the Global Shea Alliance, Shea butter has emerged as a highly-valued ingredient in food and cosmetics with international demand, doubling over the last decade. In cosmetics, shea is currently a Top 20 ingredient in new product launches and is utilized 300% more as an emollient than any other vegetable oil. In spite of its growing popularity, the origin and history behind this amazing ingredient are not apparent.
Shea Butter comes from shea trees which grow only in the West African Savannah. West African shea, also referred to as Vitellaria Paradoxa, was formerly Butryospermum Parkii.
Shea Butter is to West Africa what olive oil is to the Mediterranean and Middle East. It has been used in Africa for centuries for food as well as for beauty and healing. Every shea fruit that falls from the shea tree is handpicked by an African woman.
Inside the shea fruit is a nut and inside the nut is a fleshy kernel that must go through several steps for the butter to be extracted. Each step from the sorting and selection of the nuts to the processing of the butter is key to guaranteeing a high-quality end product that is fresh and has a long shelf life.
Shea Butter for Skincare Benefits
Shea Butter can be used in its pure form or as an ingredient to be blended with other oils and additives to create a wide range of skin, hair and body care products.
Studies show that Shea Butter contains high concentrations of triterpene acetates and cinnamates that provide chemo preventive and anti-inflammatory benefits that protect the skin against environmental stressors. These properties also make it ideal for anti-aging products targeted to dry, mature skin by stimulating collagen production.
Bobbi Brown’s Vitamin Enriched Face Base is formulated with Shea Butter, to instantly hydrate and soften skin. First Aid Beauty’s Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration contains Shea Butter and colloidal oatmeal to soothe, calm and protect dry, distressed skin and eczema.
Shea butter has healing properties that make it suitable for use on burn and heat damaged skin. Its unique chemical composition expedites the healing of small wounds and burns. Shea Butter also contains natural phytosterols which are beneficial for treatment of arthritis and joint pain, making it suitable for formulating sports rubs or arthritis relief creams.
Shea Butter in its purest form, similar to coconut oil and olive oil, can be used directly on hair and skin. Brands like EuGenia Shea, an Indie beauty brand run by mother and daughter team Eugenia and Naasakle, market three varieties of handcrafted unrefined Shea Butter as a pregnancy balm, an everyday moisturizer, and a skin care balm for extremely dry skin.
What's the Percentage of Shea Butter in a Formulation?
When using shea butter as an active ingredient in oil-in-water or water-in-oil emulsions like body lotions and creams, it is recommended that it be used at a minimum percentage of 5% or more for best results. Mass brands tend to use lower percentages, such as .5 to 1%, in their formulations.
Natural focused brands that avoid mineral oils and petroleum typically use higher percentages of Shea Butter in their formulations. Unless a brand indicates how much of their total formulation is Shea Butter, it can be very hard to tell if it is being used at .5% or 30%. Brands like L’Occitaine make a point of indicating the percentage levels of Shea Butter contained in their creams and lotions.
Shea Butter Hair Care Products
Shea Butter is a key ingredient in the growing multi-ethnic hair care market. Kinky, curly and wavy textured hair tends to be delicate and in need of the deep penetrating moisture that Shea Butter provides.
Shea-Butter-based-conditioners and styling products help restore hair elasticity and prevent breakage. Shea Moisture, Carol’s Daughter and Oyin Handmade use Shea Butter as a central part of their hair care formulations with great success.
Shea Butter is 'Women's Gold'
In West Africa, Shea Butter is called ‘women’s gold’ because the proceeds from the sale of shea nuts and butter allow women to make a living, to feed and clothe their children.
Over 16 million women are involved in the harvesting of shea nuts and the processing of Shea Butter. Shea Butter is truly the perfect product with the perfect story. It is a product that is produced solely by women and used primarily by women for beauty.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Funlayo Alabi is the co-founder of Shea Radiance, a natural beauty brand dedicated to transforming hair, skin, thinking … and lives into something more beautiful than what it was before.
Alabi spent nearly a decade working on all-natural product formulations for Shea Radiance. She is a global business leader who speaks domestically and internationally on matters of international business, market and economic access for African women, Africa’s agricultural sector and Shea butter.
An integral part of Shea Radiance is to empower the 16 million African women who are picking and processing Shea nuts and butter, and connect them with women around the world who benefit from their artisan craftsmanship.
L'Occitane Supports the Women Who Collect & Process Shea Butter: The brand is celebrating International Women's Day 2020 by donating profits from the sale of its Solidarity Balm.
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