The beauty benefits of shea butter are recognized by women worldwide, just as they have been known to women in Africa for thousands of years. From palm-tree spas to oak-tree shopping malls, shea butter has become a dominant ingredient in the finest and most popular cosmetic and skin-care products.
Shea butter comes from the shea nut of the shea tree. The nut is prepared by women in African countries such as Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Burkina Faso.
You may have noticed shea butter as a prominent ingredient in jars of body moisturizers designed for “spread-ability” and easy absorption into the skin. Whether in jars, bottles or even in soap, cosmetics and skin-care manufacturers recognize shea butter as an effective emollient and skin softener.
You have probably used other types of moisturizers, such as petrolatum, lanolin or glycerin. What’s special about shea butter is its ability to restore “elasticity.” Skin experts use the term “elasticity” to describe the skin’s ability to stretch and return to normal, just as you would test a rubber band. Poor elasticity is often a sign of aging. Another advantage is that shea butter does not feel heavy on the skin, which is that lard-like feeling you may find in some emollients. Shea butter is easily absorbed by the pores. The skin feels soft for long periods throughout the day.
You may be surprised to know that shea butter can help to block out the sun’s harmful effects. Shea butter’s sunscreen agent is in the form of cinnamic acid. If you live in an area where you must be mindful of skin exposure to the sun, then stick to your usual sunscreen product. Using shea butter daily as an all-over body cream is great if you experience only light exposure to the sun.
You can use shea butter to moisturize your hair as well as skin. Shea butter, with its high content of fatty acids, is a therapeutic hair conditioner that helps to seal in moisture.
When your hair is still wet after shampooing, apply shea butter to the scalp and hair, especially to the ends, in the morning and at bedtime. Shea butter can work well on hair that looks lifeless and dried-out.
Variations of Shea Butter
Shea butter is a key ingredient in modern cosmetic products, and it is also sold as “pure” shea butter. The choice depends on your taste. In Africa, shea butter is recognized not only for beauty but for healthful applications. Shea butter there is used on newborns as a body massage. The color of shea butter varies from product to product, from light brown to yellow to white. Pure shea butter may have a distinct nutty aroma. Refined shea butter has less odor, is white, and may have a better shelf life.
Shea butter today comes from over a dozen African countries, from the eastern to western part of the continent. Shea butter from East Africa is said to have more olein, making it very soft. On the other hand, West African shea butter is said to have more vitamin A and special properties that prevent stretch marks.
No matter which type of shea butter product that you choose, you will likely agree with the Queen of Sheba–and Cleopatra–that shea butter should belong in your beauty kit.