“ She butter extract - made from African shea tree seeds - has gained increasing popularity as a skin care favourite. Boasting anti-inflammatory properties, this multi purpose product can be found in both mainstream boutiques and health food stores. How do you use yours? „
Shea butter in general
I recently received £20 in Amazon vouchers as a competition prize. Normally I would get something for Christmas for the children, to ease the expense of the season. On this occasion I decided to get something for myself. Being a huge fan of L'Occitane's shea butter hand cream, I decided to try and make my own hand cream, something based on Shea butter. The initial cost was a little more than the cost of the hand cream itself but once whipped and mixed with essential oils etc would make a lot more product, and should last me all year. I bought 350g of organic unrefined shea butter, rose mosqueta oil, fractionated coconut oil a few essential oils and glycerin and away I went.
Where does shea butter come from
The Shea tree grows in the Savannah regions of West and Central Africa, the fruit and kernel or seed, which is commonly incorrectly referred to as a nut is completely edible and has been used locally as food. The seed provides a valuable source of natural dietary fat. It was 'always' known that the seeds produced a health giving oil, which other than for food was also used as a healing balm. The unrefined butter is high in all sorts of goodies, it has anti-inflammatory properties, is rich in vitamin A, and vitamin E amongst others. shea butter is sometimes called "women's gold," because extracting the oil and creating the 'butter' gives employment and income to many rural African village women. Unadulterated shea butter remains so non-toxic and beneficial that it is used in foods and cooking as well as soaps and beauty products.
The extraction process is quite time consuming, and if done by pressing and kneading rather than the more damaging chemical extraction leads to a product rich in antioxidants. The colour ranges from yellow, through green, and dark tan to ivory, only very refined shea butter is white and like anything over refined has lost some of its best properties. The colour of the unrefined shea butter depends on many things from how ripe the fruit was when processed, to the region the product is from.
The texture also varies from fairly smooth and creamy, to quite solid and a little crumbly. Whatever the texture the butter melts easily at skin temperature and will have the same softening properties.
As a health/beauty product Shea butter is most used in the UK in combination with other ingredients in skin creams, hair conditioners.
I have used shea butter in the past bought from L'Occitane with lavender added, it seemed a nice product but I didn't find it a must have item. However I've since read so many good things about organic unrefined shea butter that I wanted to try it for myself. When my pot arrived I noticed it was quite a different colour and had a distinctive smell all of its own. The colour was a sort of dark ivory or a slightly caramelised cream. Some people find the smell of unrefined shea butter unpleasant, but I rather like it, it's sort of very slightly smoky, earthy with a subtle unique slightly nutty smell that it's hard to describe. I much prefer the scent of the shea butter to cocoa butter, but that is down to personal preference.
The texture of my shea butter was hard and slightly crumbly but when held in the hand or on the fingers it starts to melt and soften straight away and rubs into the skin very easily. With the L'Occitane shea butter I noticed that it took ages to sink in, the unrefined product sank in much more quickly. Though not at all as quickly as a commercial moisturiser. Shea butter whip is very good for conditioning hair, but works best when washed out thoroughly and used in small quantities.
How I used it...mainly by making my own shea mix rough short recipe included:
I do use the shea butter alone and still have a small amount set aside in a jar for solo use and it melts into the skin well and feels lovely. However I did want to make a body and skin product that had added properties. So I set about making a 'whip', rather unconventionally without the use of an electrical hand whisk/blender to whip it as I don't own one.
My shea butter mix is quite firm in texture as I don't use water (which you can do as long as you also use an emulsifying wax), to reduce the possibility of the product going off, and just because I prefer the melting texture of the solid oil.
It consists of two thirds shea butter with:
A couple of teaspoons of coconut oil (which my skin loves).
Rose mosqueta oil for the antioxidant and age fighting properties.
A teaspoon or two of pumpkin seed oil.
A teaspoon of glycerin (can buy a big bottle in Boots or tiny one in the cooking section of Tesco for about 98p.
About 10 drops or so of Frankincense oil which acts as an antibacterial as well as having great cellular renewing properties and skin lightening.
The frankincense oil acts as a natural preservative too, but you could use a different oil such as tea tree.
I have been using the Frankincense oil neat on a dark freckle to test the lightening thing out, as I did with Bio-Oil. The Bio-Oil had no effect, the frankincense has lightened it at least two or three shades, and decreased the size.
I don't add any scented oils as I quite like the refreshing almost menthol scent my mix has. However you can add scented organic essential oils (not the chemical type you use in oil burners just for the smell) as long as you check that they are not irritating on the skin (by the way not everyone can use Frankincense oil neat on the skin, it is recommended that you add it to a carrier oil such as sweet almond, coconut, jojoba etc.). I like French vanilla for the lips (leaving out the frankincense and adding a small amount of beeswax).
I soften the shea until very very soft and partially melted, in a bowl over a pan of hot water. It softens quickly and easily. Then add your other oils and whip the bejesus out of it until it starts to thicken. You can then either stick it in the fridge for a few minutes to help the solidifying along, then take out and whip a bit more, or just keep on whipping until it is a thick creamy consistency a bit like clotted cream. You can then plop it into anything you want really. I sterilised a few screw top skin care jars I've collected over the years in baby bottle sterilising solution (I also sterilised the hand whisk and spoon I used to scoop it into the jars.
Shelf life and sourcing
Unrefined shea butter does have a shelf life so unless you are going to use loads it's probably best to buy in smaller quantities the price varies quite a bit, I paid £8 for 350gs but I had to buy mine through Amazon to use my vouchers, you can buy it more cheaply in bulk but I've seen it sold for a lot more too. A good place to buy is direct from the suppliers - there are several easily traceable on the internet ethically sourced so the bulk of the money goes to the communities where it is produced.
Mine has lasted well in the fridge I've been using it for about 4 months so far and nothing has 'gone off' and I still have a lot left. I think once it's whipped up with the Frankincense oil it gives it a longer shelf life.
How has it performed?
I have written a few times when reviewing nail products about how rubbish my nails are. Recently my nails became particularly bad (mentioned in my nail buffer review) no matter what I did they peeled right down the nail plate, and were becoming painful. Even old faithful strengtheners that had previously worked failed to help. The buffer was one step in my rescue plan, and I hoped that my shea butter would be another step.
As my mix has other oils added it can take a couple of minutes to sink in completely depending on how much you apply, so best to use if and when you have a couple of minutes spare. The shea butter alone sinks in a little faster, but not much.
Pure shea butter usually causes no skin sensitivity, and has been used by sufferers of eczema with good results, my hands in particular are very sensitive to all sorts of things, my sister has severe eczema, but the unrfined shea butter, and the little mix I use have proved very soothing for both of us with no adverse reactions.
I use my mix a couple of times a day, within literally two days I noticed that the nail peeling seemed to have stopped. Within a week the damaged nails had started to grow out and look much more healthy. With the help of the buffer to keep the nail smooth and less likely to lift when in contact with water my nails were looking 100% better within a couple of weeks. Now a few months later my nails are in such good condition that I have to cut and file them to keep the length down (other wise I'm hitting all the wrong keys with my nails) something I've never had to do to manage length before in my life.
My hands which are the main place I use the butter are looking younger and have better tone, and they feel supple and moisturised all day. Even my daughter who couldn't care a fig for how I look has commented on how nice my hands are looking lately. A potential age spot has receded and is now back to being just a slightly larger freckle.
You can use this anywhere but bear in mind that it can take a while to sink in, it seems to sink in fastest on legs and arms. I do use this around my eyes. though you need to be careful here because of the frankincense, and you don't want to overload the are with heavy oils. It seems ok for me but could well be less comfortable, or irritating (because of the frankincense) for some. Just a small amount melted onto my finger and tapped in every few days is enough. It's helped to sooth my very irritated and dry allergy eyes and softened some crepiness that was coming in because of the eye irritation I was suffering. My sister has very dry skin and this sinks in quite quickly, even on her face, I don't use it here as I tend to have oily skin.
I would highly recommend shea butter, more specifically unrefined shea butter, I will never use anything else now. As for making my own mix, you obviously don't have to do that, as even when I use the shea butter alone I get very good results. If you'd like to give making your own mix a shot, I'd highly recommend that too, it's not as tricky as it might sound and it's very satisfying using a product you've custom made. I've given a few pots to family members and they've all asked for more, what better endorsement could I ask for.
Shea butter is a natural fat extracted from the African shea tree seeds. It is a multi use product, widely used in the cosmetics and food industries. You've probably seen many conditioners and body moisturisers with added shea, especially those for dry hair and skin. In particular, many L'Occitane products are shea based, Palmers have a shea range along side their cocoa butter ranges, and Burts Bees and Organix both have shea conditioners. Those of you with a sweet tooth might be interested in knowing that shea is a possible component in chocolate, replacing cocoa butter.
I came across shea butter in a cosmetic capacity when I was researching natural alternatives to body lotion, as part of an attempt to reduce the number of unnecessary man-made chemicals I come into contact with. I was interested in a raw and unrefined body moisturising product, and shea was one of the few available, along with coconut oil and Aloe vera gel. I purchased a bag or fair trade, organic, unrefined shea butter from an eBay seller for a reasonable price to try it on my skin which is a little bit fussy. (Note-natural products are just as likely to irritate the body as man made and refined chemicals are. Think hay fever.)
What hit me first wasn't the sight of the rough cut, pale yellow, creamy chunks of seed fat, but the smell when I opened the bag. There is a very distinctive, and slightly off putting, nutty smell. It's musty and sweet, and not entirely pleasant. This scent isn't found in the aforementioned products containing shea and I've learned that's because most shea products use refined shea and not the raw unrefined shea I had received.
The scent can be masked using essential oils: you simply melt the shea in the microwave or by immersing the bag in hot water, and then add a few drops of essential oil, mix or shake it up, then pour into a container to set. The first time I did this I added so much lemongrass oil (because I couldn't smell it over the shea scent) that I've "overdosed" on lemongrass and the vaguest hint of it makes me feel quite ill...
I've since learned that the shea scent doesn't linger on the skin when rubbed in, so if it's a scent you dislike, fear not you can still use unrefined shea if you can bare the initial rub in! You can also buy refined shea which lacks the scent and colour, but there is a general belief that refined she lacks some of the vitamins and useful properties of unrefined.
Because shea melts at around body temperature it makes a decent moisturiser. Rubbing it into the skin melts it quickly and it easily spreads and sinks in. I've found that my skin is particularly soft and smooth. It is incredibly rich: shea works as well as the most expensive and indulgent body butters I've ever used. It doesn't clog pores, which is an important feature because I am prone to clogged pores, especially under the arms and many skin treatments amplify this. And it is a fraction of the price of a body butter if bought unbranded. L'Occitane do a 100% shea product but it costs £5.50 for 8ml (7g), compare that with £5 for 250g unrefined or £5 for 200g refined shea on eBay...
Shea can also be "whipped" into a light and fluffy mousse which is a little easier to use. This is achieved by melting and whisking as it cools and sets. After 10 minutes it resembles marshmallow whip. You could also mix in coconut oil which is scentless an unlike the name is solid below body temperature. I've found a 50/50 mix significantly reduces the scent of the shea. Other oils could be used, a particular favourite of mine is almond oil.
Is shea better than other moisturisers? I'd say it is about as effective as the body shop body butter for very dry skin. Its benefits are price, a lack of artificial scent (cause we all know that coconut doesn't really smell like the body shop!) and no added ingredients, which for someone like me who likes to know exactly what goes in or on her body is important. Another strength is despite it's richness it is effective on any skin type, from dry to oily, without making the skin greasy. It is generally considered an "organic" product when harvested traditionally in Africa.
If you are interested in trying shea, I'd recommend two things. First: BUY IT FROM EBAY! Better prices and many are fair trade. Second, when you get it, whip it, or buy it pre-whipped. It's a lot less intimidating for first time users than a rough cut chunk or set in a jar. Oh, and if you live in a warm climate, keep it in the fridge or it will melt to an oil.