African Shea (Karite) Information Page
The Shea Tree (Butyrospermum Parkii)
Living up to two centuries, the Shea Tree bears fruit after 20 years and produces a full crop after 45 years. The Shea Tree cannot be cultivated. It blooms from June to July and bears dark green fruits which fall to the ground when ripe. Each fruit contains a nut with a hard white kernel which is the source of the Shea Butter.
Before the Shea Nuts are collected to prepare Shea Butter, a prayer is said. This has been the practiced for centuries in Ghana. The prayer is simply to thank Mother Nature for providing the Shea Tree, and to show respect for collecting the Shea Tree's fruit, which by the way is an edible fruit.
Traditional Uses of Shea Butter
Before 100% Pure African Shea Butter was introduced to the world, it was used for many other purposes besides cosmetics. Traditional healers have used Shea Butter for centuries to treat their patients, birth mothers and infants, and for spiritual cleansing. Shea Butter is also used during certain traditional ceremonies to prepare certain dishes.
Despite its popularity today, traditional uses of Shea Butter are being preserved because a vast number of people in Africa and elsewhere around the world are using African Shea Butter for its intended purposes.
Shea Butter in Ghana is called NKUTO. In French, Shea Butter is pronounced Beurre de Karité. Beurre means BUTTER & Karité means SHEA. In Igbo & Yoruba languages (spoken in Nigeria) Shea Butter is called ORI.
Shea Butter is Naturally...
...rich in a number of vitamins, especially A, E, F and K of which are the most popular.
Vitamin A has soothing and hydrating properties which provides healthy skin collagen in order to prevent premature wrinkles, premature facial lines and premature slackened skin.
Vitamin E balances and normalizes the skin. Helps keep it clear and healthy, particularly beneficial for dry or sun-exposed skin.
Vitamin F acts as a skin protector and revitalizer. It soothes rough dry or chapped skin on contact and helps soften and revitalize dry or damaged hair. Vitamin F consists of linolenic, and arachidonic acids, which are essential fatty acids.
Vitamin K helps aging and damaged skin look younger and healthier. Vitamin K reduces severity of bruising, improved skin elasticity, and improves dark under-eye circles.
Shea Butter is....
Shea Butter comes from the Shea Tree. Mostly found in West African countries like Ghana, Mali, Togo, Burkina Faso & Nigeria. Shea Butter can also be found in East Africa. The Shea Tree or Karité Tree grows naturally in nature. Traditionally, the nuts from the Shea Tree or Karité Tree, called Shea Nuts.
Shea Butter Today
Today, Shea Butter is acknowledged all over the world for its nourishing, enriching and toning properties for skin & hair. Like every good product, traditional African Shea Butter has been converted into refined, processed, industrialized, extra refined, as well as ultra refined.
The commercial method of extracting Shea Butter has also added to the perplexity of Shea Butter. Shea Butter is used as an ingredient in soaps, shampoos, conditioners, hair relaxers, lotions, hand & body creams etc... There is nothing wrong with using Shea Butter as an ingredient as long as it is Unrefined Shea Butter and not processed or refined. If Shea Butter is added to products and the portions are generous along with other natural and/or organic ingredients, the product is good.
However, when the Shea Butter is not listed as a RAW ingredient, and is listed as one of the last ingredients, it is not worth buying. Unfortunately, many companies will use Shea Butter to market their products using scarce amounts of Shea Butter which may ultimately be refined and/or processed. Processing/refining Raw Shea Butter takes away it's natural healing properties. It is important to preserve the ancient methods of Shea Butter by using it in its RAW state rather than processed.
Shea Butter Benefits Include
- Shea Butter helps cell regeneration and capillary circulation which favors the healing of small wounds, skin cracks and crevices, and restructuring effects on the epidermis.
- Shea Butter benefits include healing and soothing some scalp & skin irritations such as eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, dermatitis, dermatoses, acne, rash, minor scrapes and burns.
- Shea Butter has an anti-elastics characteristic which penetrates deep into skin to help restore elasticity. The anti-elastics characteristic is a good active ingredient against stretch marks and scars.
- Shea Butter evens skin tone by eliminating the dark spots caused by the harmful UV rays of the sun.
- Shea Butter doesn't clog pores & block hair shaft, like various other petroleum based products.
- Shea Butter moisturizes & protects skin & scalp, especially over processed & heat treated hair.
- Shea Butter displays a protecting role against UV rays because of its content in cinnamic acid and can thus be incorporated in solar products, hence used as a natural sunscreen.
- Shea Butter can also be used to treat arthritis, tendonitis, rheumatism and aching muscles.
- Shea Butter can ease colds because it decongests nasal mucous tissues; therefore, it is safe to put in eyes, and nose.
Types of Shea Butter and Colors
UNREFINED Shea Butter COLOR ivory/almond pale to light grey. The color of Unrefined Shea Butter depends on the Shea Nut itself. Due to the nature of the nuts, the color of Unrefined Shea Butter may vary. Dark Yellow colored Shea Butter has a root extract added to it.
White Shea butter is pure Shea butter, which is mostly used for cooking and total body care. The yellow butter becomes yellow because of the roots that are added during the butter extraction process, and is favored in the south of Ghana for the making of cosmetic products. Yellow butter is considered to be softer than white butter by several women traders. Lovett (2005) dictates that there is no difference in texture between the different colored butters when taken into labs for testing. The yellow color of the butter is said to make it more attractive for the use in skin products.
As far as properties & benefits are concerned, there is no difference between the various colors yielded in Unrefined Shea Butter. One cannot judge the quality and authenticity of Unrefined Shea Butter solely based on color, i.e., ivory/almond pale to light grey and/or natural yellow. Texture and quality is imperative when purchasing / using Shea Butter. Try not to base your knowledge of Shea Butter by color first. Look at quality, texture, and tune into your senses. It should have a natural semi-sweet nutty scent. It should not smell like an expired grease (lard).
REFINED and/or PROCESSED - Bleached, deodorized, refined. Hexane is used to extract more Shea Butter. Sometimes further processing is required to remove the hexane contaminated Shea Butter. Refined and/or processed Shea Butter is white (Do not confuse with ivory/almond to creamy beige, light grey cream). Usually in lotion bottles, shampoos, hand creams, etc... There are many beauty products processed using formaldehyde. Yes, you heard it right! Formaldehyde!
Above Image: Unrefined PURE Shea Butter (light grey, ivory/almond to creamy beige). No Colorants Added. In pure form, NO color added.
Above Image: African Shea Butter (Dark Yellow - root extract added).
Processed -VS- Unprocessed Shea Butter
First used as a biological preservative more than a century ago, formaldehyde has since become an essential part of the production of hundreds of beneficial products that are used every day in homes and factories. Formaldehyde-based technologies are an important part of the U.S. economy, as they are used to produce a wide range of materials.
Click here to read about a study conducted this year by Canada’s Environmental Defense Group. The study shows that there is an alarming presence of dangerous substances found in cosmetic products and how they cause skin ailments such as rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, skin cancer, acne and various other health problems not related to skin, i.e., cancer, and various other diseases.
The texture of Shea Butter is smooth. Fresh Shea Butter is usually very soft. As the Shea Butter ages, it becomes stiffer but still smooth. Shea Butter is naturally thick and fatty (in a good way). A little goes a long way! Shea Butter is easily melted by the hot sun or any form of heat. This will make it liquefy. It will get back to its solid state once it is in a cool area and it will NOT lose its natural benefits, unless it it done on a repetitive basis. When Shea Butter is melted under direct heat or very high temperatures, the texture changes. It becomes grainy and never returns to its original texture; however, it is still usable.
Some processed Shea Butters may have a gummy texture to it. Other processed Shea Butters may have a petroleum jelly texture to it.
Shea Butter like all other natural products has a natural scent. These scents do not stink. The natural scent is usually stronger if the Shea Butter is fresh. As the Shea Butter gets older, the natural scent gets weaker; however, the benefits do not weaken.
Shea Butter with no semi-sweet smoky smell is not Unrefined Shea Butter. Traditionally extracted or cold pressed Shea Butter will usually have a semi-sweet nutty and a slight smoky scent to it because it is prepared under an open fire. Once applied to skin or hair, there is no scent. Unrefined Shea Butter will not be fragranced. As far as properties & benefits are concerned, there is no difference between the various colors yielded in Unrefined Shea Butter.
This is another area of misunderstanding for some people. Unrefined Shea Butter does expire. It's healing properties are very powerful within the first year and a half. However, please keep in mind that the containment for which you store your Shea butter, must be compatible in order to preserve the valuable nutrients that Shea Butter offers. There is no need to store it in a freezer or refrigerator. Treat it like you treat your moisturizers and lotions. Keep it in a cool dry place.
- Lovett & Haq, 2000. Evidence for anthropique selection of the Shea nut tree (Vitellaria
paradoxa). Agroforestry Systems 48: pp. 273–288.
- Lovett P.N., et al., 2005. Shea butter export guide, USAID WATH.
- Lovett P.N., 2004. The Shea butter value chain, Production, transformation and marketing
in West Africa, WATH technical report no. 2.