Shea butter is an all-natural product. It is a creamy-colored fatty substance made from the nuts of karite nut trees (Butyrospermum parkii or “butter seed”) that grow wild in the savannah regions of West and East Africa. While shea butter has a wide variety of applications, it is most well known for its exceptional dermatological and cosmetic healing properties.
Shea butter is often referred to as “women’s gold” because so many young women are employed in the production of shea butter. In many parts of West Africa, destruction of shea trees is prohibited because the karite nut is such a valuable source of food, medicine and income for the population.
How is Shea Butter made?
Shea nuts are extracted from the fruit by crushing and boiling. Shea nuts are picked, cracked, grilled and pounded to extract the butter which is then boiled in water until the fresh shea butter rises to the surface. It is then scooped into gourds and left to cool and set. Although these artisanal methods result in smaller output, no chemicals or synthetic agents are needed at any stage. Shea butter may also be extracted by pressing in an expeller type press which cuts 3-5 hours off the extraction time. Again, no chemicals or synthetics are needed. The end product of either method is raw, or unrefined shea butter.
Is all Shea Butter the same?
All shea butter is not the same. Shea butter loses healing properties the longer it sits on the shelf, causing old shea butter to be much less beneficial. Refining techniques vary greatly. Highly processed Shea Butter will not be as effective. Some companies mix shea butter with other ingredients that reduce its benefits. There are some products that contain very little shea butter although “shea butter” may be prominently displayed on the label. Be wary of very inexpensive products that claim to provide the full benefits of shea butter.