Shea butter is a solid fatty oil that is derived from the nuts of the Karite trees (also known as Mangifolia), predominantly found in Africa (grows wild in the equatorial belt of central Africa between Gambia and Sudan where oil palms do not grow because of insufficient precipitation).
The Karite tree bears the fruits and the nuts inside the fruits contain shea butter. The nuts are then crushed, boiled, and manipulated in order to extract a light-colored fat, which is commonly referred to as shea butter. Pure shea butter resembles lumps of hard caramel ice cream.
Being edible, shea butter is often used in food preparations. It has gained huge popularity in the western world due to its widespread use in several beauty products such as lotions, cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners and many more.
What Is Shea Butter?
The main components of shea butter include oleic acid, stearic acid, linoleic acid, etc. It gets absorbed quickly into the skin as it melts at body temperature. Shea butter may be refined or unrefined.
Raw or unrefined shea butter is the purest form of shea butter, which is the most natural and the least processed. Since it is extracted manually, it is able to retain its vitamins, minerals and other natural properties. Refined shea butter, on the other hand, is the processed form of butter.
Shea Butter Benefits For Health
Shea butter exhibits several health benefits, particularly for the skin and the hair. It is used in a variety of cosmetics and medicinal formulas in combination with other botanical ingredients. Some of the health benefits of shea butter are given below.
1. Healing Qualities:
Shea butter is known for its healing properties that can be attributed to the presence of several fatty acids and plant sterols such as oleic, palmitic, stearic and linolenic acids.
These oil-soluble components do not undergo saponification or convert into soap on coming in contact with alkali. Shea butter is more non-saponifiable than other nut oils and fats, thus imparting it a great healing potential for the skin.
Raw, unrefined shea butter is effective in curing skin rashes, skin peeling after tanning, scars, stretch marks, frost bites, burns, athletes foot, insect bites and stings, arthritis, and muscle fatigue.
2. Antioxidant Qualities:
Shea butter contains plant antioxidants, such as vitamins A and E, as well as catechins. The vitamins A and E protect the cells from free radicals and environmental damage.
The cinnamic acid esters in the shea fat help in preventing skin damage from ultraviolet radiation.
3. Anti-Inflammatory Properties:
Shea butter has several derivatives of cinnamic acid that exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. Research has proved that in addition to its anti-inflammatory benefits, lupeol cinnamate found in shea butter prevents the development of tumors. Its anti-inflammatory properties render it beneficial for the improvement of skin conditions.
Shea Butter For Skin
Shea butter is considered a super food for the skin as it is rich in precious constituents such as unsaturated fats with a large proportion of non-saponifiable components, essential fatty acids, vitamins E and D, phytosterols, provitamin A and allantoin. It has been used since time immemorial for skin care, baby care, and for consumption.
In fact, the legendary Egyptian queen, Nefertiti, owed her beauty secrets to shea butter, which further demonstrates its goodness for the skin. Given below are its various benefits for the skin.
4. Sun Protection:
Shea butter acts as a natural sunscreen by providing protection against the ultraviolet radiations of the sun, though the level of protection offered may be variable.
Shea butter is considered as the best skin care for winter and after-sun care as it provides the extra moisture, nutrients and protection needed by your skin during the cold season and summer.
5. Healing Agent:
Shea butter has amazing healing properties. It is often used as a base in medicinal ointments due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used since ages for the treatment of scars, eczema, blemishes, skin discolorations, chapped lips, stretch marks, dark spots, and in reducing the irritation caused by psoriasis.
Due to its high content of vitamin A, it is effective in promoting healing and disinfection, and soothes skin allergies like poison ivy and insect bites. Vitamin F acts as a rejuvenator for soothing and healing rough and chapped skin.
6. Anti-Ageing Benefits:
Shea butter is considered as one of the best anti-aging and moisturizing agents for the skin. It stimulates the production of collagen, the youthful scaffolding protein in the skin.
The vitamins A and E found in this butter keep the skin supple, nourished, and radiant, and prevent premature wrinkles and facial lines. Shea butter penetrates the skin easily, without clogging the pores, and is effective for dry skin.
7. Baby Care:
Shea butter is an excellent natural moisturizer that is devoid of chemicals. Thus, it is ideal for baby care as besides being gentle and soft on the skin, it is specially adapted for the delicate and sensitive skin of babies.
It can be used for after bath application on the skin and also for healing eczema or diaper rash on the skin of babies.
8. Lip Care:
Shea butter is easily absorbable and provides extra moisture and nutrients that are needed during the cold season and dry weather.
Thus, it acts as a perfect lip balm to protect your lips from cold and dry weather and is effective for treating dry and chapped lips.
9. Restores Skin Elasticity:
The non-saponifiable matter and vitamin F in this butter are vital ingredients for maintaining the skin’s elasticity.
Thus, the application of shea butter restores the elasticity of the skin and helps maintain an even skin tone, besides hydrating, softening and beautifying it.
Shea Butter For Hair
When we talk about the benefits of shea butter for the skin and the hair, the list is simply unending. In short, one can say that it is considered a natural conditioner for the hair, thanks to its moisturizing and healing properties. Some of the numerous benefits of shea butter for the hair are given below.
10. Soothes Dry And Irritated Scalp:
Shea butter is effective in soothing a dry, itchy scalp or dandruff. It possesses anti-inflammatory qualities and gets absorbed into the skin without leaving a greasy residue or clogging the pores. Being rich in vitamins A and E, it soothes dryness, repairs breakage and mends split ends. Hence, it is extremely effective in providing relief from a dry scalp, dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis.
The presence of vitamins A and E makes shea butter an excellent moisturizer to moisturize your hair from the roots to the tips.
Thus, it can be used as a natural conditioner. It is highly effective in locking in moisture, without leaving the hair greasy or heavy. Shea butter has wide usage in curly hair treatments due to its emollient qualities.
A number of chemical treatments like straighteners, perms, curlers, etc. are responsible for stripping off the natural moisture from the hair. Shea butter can help restore this lost moisture.
12. Hair Protection:
Shea butter provides protection to the hair against the harmful free radicals in the air and water and harsh weather conditions.
Moreover, shea butter has a low amount of SPF that is sufficient to protect the hair from sun damage caused due to the exposure to ultraviolet radiation and repairs the damage that has already been caused by the harsh weather and the sun. This is largely due to the fact that once absorbed, shea butter coats the hair shaft so that it is protected from a heat tool or any other damaging material being passed along the hair. This is particularly beneficial for processed or colored hair. It also protects the hair against salt and chlorine when applied before swimming.
13. Hair Softener:
Shea butter is great for softening and revitalizing damaged and brittle hair. Due to its non-greasy nature, it helps to control and spread the excess oil in the scalp.
Massaging the hair with generous amounts of shea butter can give soft and silky tresses. This benefit of shea butter is applicable for dry as well as fragile, curly hair. Shea butter should be applied twice a week for hair growth, improving the hair texture and moisturizing the hair.