Shea butter is a rock star as far as natural ingredients go. For millennia in the hot Sahara, people have used it to protect skin from drying winds and sun as well as heal skin issues, minor cuts and burns. The Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, who was magnificently beautiful, was said to owe her legendary beauty to the use of Shea butter. Can’t argue with perfection!
At Free Lion, We truly love including Shea Butter in our products, especially those formulated for dry skin. More on that later; first, more on the Shea Butter story.
Where does Shea Butter come from?
Shea butter is extracted from the fruit of the Shea Tree that grows in the savannahs of West Africa and East Africa. The English name Shea comes from its Bambara name sii, which means sacred. Traditionally, the tree was an integral part of the lives of the people, belonging to the entire community--it could not be owned by individuals even when found on private property. Its nuts help sustain the communities that depended on it. There is a tradition in Ghana to say a prayer, before collecting Shea fruit, to thank Mother Earth for her gift. The Shea tree is still treated with particular respect because of its ability to sustain human life, from skin care, to healing and nutrition.
The Shea tree grows up to 60 feet tall, can live up to 200 years and does not flower before it is 20 years old. This is a wise old tree whose magic is not given up easily. Preparing unrefined shea butter is a labour intensive process with a series of steps, commonly undertaken by both young and old women in a community.
It takes up to 30 hours of labour to produce 1 kg / 2 lb of unrefined shea, when processing by hand. The fallen fruit is collected and its pulp removed. The nut is left to sun-dry and then separated from its shell, ground, and roasted. The roasting process requires constant babysitting and stirring to avoid burning.
Roasted nuts are ground into a paste, which is transferred to basins of water where it is kneaded by hand until the oils separate and float to the surface of the water. The oils are then skimmed off the top, melted, and boiled until the water is fully evaporated. Finally, the unrefined shea is allowed to harden, after which it is packaged and distributed. Phew! That’s a lotta work!
There are modern-day facilities that help ease the production process, but despite the help of machinery, there is no getting around the need of manual labour to produce shea butter. Shea fruit still needs to be gathered from the ground, washed, de-pulped and then sun-dried (sometimes in special solar tunnel dryers) before the oil is extracted by cold pressing.
What’s in Shea Butter?
Shea butter is rich in fatty acids as well as several other beneficial ingredients. The amounts of saturated fatty acids will vary depending on where the Shea is from, as both region and climate play a large part in the composition of the butter.
Palmitic Acid 2 - 9 %
One of the most prevalent saturated fatty acids in body lipids. In aging skin, levels of palmitic acid can decrease by as much as 56%. Applying Shea butter topically can help replenish skin.
Stearic Acid 20 - 50 %
A saturated fatty acid which acts as an emollient and emulsifier. It has been shown to protect skin's surface against water loss by enhancing skin's protective barrier And it helps cells regenerate, too.
Oleic Acid 40 - 60 %
A very moisturizing, softening and regenerating unsaturated fatty acid that also offers anti-inflammatory properties. The oleic acid in shea butter is easily absorbed by the skin
Linoleic Acid 3 - 11 %
An Unsaturated omega-6 fatty acid shown to be effective as a skin restorative, an antioxidant and as a skin-soothing agent.
Phytoesterols 5 - 10 %
These gives Shea some UV-B absorbing power as well as reparative properties.
A powerhouse ingredient that has value for skin on several fronts: It’s a skin-restoring, wrinkle-smoothing, firming ingredient and an antioxidant, allowing it to improve a variety of skin concerns, most related to visible signs of aging.
One of the most well-known and researched antioxidants for the body and for skin. Vitamin E occurs naturally in human skin, but can become depleted due to constant environmental exposure in the absence of sun protection. Shea’s natural content of E-vitamin contributes to its relatively long shelf life – which can be up to 2 years.
Highly regarded for its skin soothing, healing and keratolytic (ability to remove excess skin) properties. It helps shed the outer layer of the epidermis, promotes healthy tissue formation, softens the skin and enables it to absorb more moisture. It’s particularly effective at treating wounds, burns, skin ulcers, eczema, and any other abrasion in the skin.
Shea butter is a super star as far as natural ingredients go. Millennia of anecdotal evidence tells us it can protect your skin from UV sunlight, harsh climate, dehydration and pollution damage. As anti-aging agent, it strengthens your skin by stimulating the production of collagen, a protein essential to keeping your skin youthful, supple, alive, nourished and radiant. It can smooth wrinkles and fine lines or damage and revitalize very dry or damaged skin, bringing your skin back to beautiful life.
Shea butter does an awesome job of winter and after-sun skin care. It provides the extra moisture, vitamins, nutrients and protection your skin needs during the cold season and in the summertime. It is also the perfect ingredient to protect your lips from the cold and dry weather and keep them kissably soft.
Here are some our Shea Butter hall of fame products. Check them out and give your skin the nurturing love it deserves!
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion Team