West African Shea Butter: My Beauty Secret!

Shea butter is an important staple product in my hair regimen and is my beauty secret!
I think every (West) African girl grew up with shea butter in their household! We all use it! Shea butter wasn't necessarily a staple in my household as a kid because my mother didn't really grow up with it, BUT my aunties would use shea butter on my hair whenever I would go visit my family in Ghana (where it is called nkuto by my tribe-the Akan). Over the past few years, after researching the benefits of this amazing butter, I've used shea butter essentially every single day! I am currently having a shea butter moment, where the only thing I want to put on my hair, face, and body is shea butter. This happens every summer.  During the warmer months, shea butter melts a little more so it gets softer, oilier, and more pliable, which means that it has a nice smooth finish when applied. I love how that feels, especially on my hair. I always purchase ALLOT of shea butter when I go to Ghana, which is pretty much every other year, so I'm always heavily stocked with some, thank goodness! Even if you don't regularly travel to West Africa, you can absolutely find it online and at most beauty supply stores. Try to buy the most raw and unrefined shea butter as possible to reap the most benefits.

What it is:
Shea butter is a fat extracted from the nut of the African shea tree (itellaria paradoxa) and its color can range from white to dark yellow, depending on the level of refinement, but mostly on the type of shea nuts used.  It is found in West African countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, and Mali. It  has a high level of fatty acid, which makes it so rejuvenating and moisturizing. It remains solid at room temperature and melts into the skin when it comes in contact with body heat.
How it is made:
Shea butter extracting and refining has deep socio-cultural roots in West African countries and takes allot of work!  It is a highly social activity usually done by women (which is why so many "fair-trade" shea butter companies have such an emphasis on providing social and financial support to women and children only).  In sum, it involves separating the pulp from the seed, crushing the nut into a butter for HOURS, roasting the nut in large pots over open fires, grinding the roasted nuts into a smoothe paste, separating the oil, then collecting and shaping the butter into balls to cool then eventually sell at the market. 
Some Benefits:
  • anti-inflammatory
  • high amounts of vitamins A, E, & F
  • high amount of oleic acid
  • natural humectant
  • can help manage sinusitis and relieve nasal congestion
  • stimulates cellular activity to fight the effects of aging and repair damaged skin
  • It never expires!
Some Uses:
  • Food preparation
  • Cosemtics; ranging from lip gloss moisturizers, to hair conditioners, to soap
  • used by traditional African percussion makers to increase the durability of wood
  • can treat a myraid of skin issues including: dry skin, eczema, stretch marks, blemishes, skin allergies to poison ivy, wrinkles, bumps associated with shaving and minor burns
  • As shave cream AND after-shave cream
  • *Face mask/cream: For best results (this is what I do), first wash your face with African black soap, then apply the shea butter to your face. I like to mix shea butter with another organic lotion to give it a smoother consistency and for actual moisture. I'd like to note that the only thing that can really be moisturizing is water, so anything that is truly moisturizing must contain water. Shea butter doesn't contain water. Applying shea butter to an un-moisturized face is like applying oil to dry skin. It can be done but it can leave your face oily....
  • *Deep conditioner for hair: Apply unrefined shea butter to your hair (some people apply to their scalp too), wrap with a warm towel, rinse out and wash as usual
  • *Sealant: After moisturizing my natural hair with water or a water-based moisturizer, I often seal and/or style with shea butter.  Because it is a butter, it has a nice firm hold, making it ideal for defined twist-outs and braid-outs. I've been trying to come up with a perfect recipe for months, but I can't seem to get it! I usually mix shea butter with a variety of oils and aloe vera gel, and hope for the best
  • *Natural sun-screen: I don't use commercial sunscreen. Every time I head to the beach or spend an extended period of time outside in the sun, I apply shea butter all over my face and body, and always return home with the same skin (color, health, texture) that I left with!
Please dish on your experiences with shea butter!

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Medical Disclaimer: Naika, the writer of this blog, is Naturopathic Doctor and Acupuncturist. Please do not take this as medical advice, without consulting your health care practitioner. Also remember, knowledge is power and your health is your wealth!