Saturday, December 31, 2005

Shea Butter (Skin care)

Shea butter aka Karite or African butter, is one of those wonderful, little known products that has become quite popular in the last few years. It is one of my favorite natural ingredients to use on my skin--it is highly nourishing for the skin, and is great for all skin types (except, perhaps, extremely oily skin). It is very healing for rashes, scars, and blemishes, and forms a breathable barrier on the skin (so helps hold moisture to the skin, without clogging pores). It is safe to apply to sensitive facial skin--in fact, it's wonderful to use all over the body, especially achy feet, as it also relieves stiff muscles. It is also good for wrinkles and stretch marks. Additionally, it provides some sun protection. Since the consistancy is a bit thick, be sure to warm it slightly in your hands before applying. Apply a small amount (1/8 teaspoon) to damp facial skin, or massage into your face with a little hydrosol, aloe, or toner. It can be applied to the body skin directly (no need to warm in hands or apply with hydrosol/aloe/etc, though if your skin is dry, apply directly after shower or bath to seal in moisture).

I discovered Shea Butter about two years ago. It's really balanced out my skin (dehydrated skin, meaning it is finely textured with small pore size like dry skin, but can produce adequate amounts of sebum, and become both flaky/dry and oily). Most shea butter is from the Karite tree (Butyrospermum parkii) in West Africa, though some companies sell shea butter from a second species, Vitellaria nilotica, that grows in East Africa.

Be careful since many companies sell refined shea butter. I like to use unrefined, since it contains more vitamins/nutrients, and many businesses refine it with synthetic solvents (hexane), but some people don't like unrefined since shea has a slight odor (I actually like the natural smell of shea but some people don't). You can get it at health food stores like Whole Foods but many brands sold there are usually refined, and quite pricey. I've found that shea is cheaper online, even with shipping!

I don't really know how to decribe the smell of unrefined shea; it is a fat--like cocoa butter. I can't think of any similiar smell off the top of my head. I don't think it's a bad smell--some people just don't like the smell, similiar to how some people don't like how unrefined cocoa butter smells (chocolate), since it can overpower any other scent in the cream or whatever product. Anyways, though it does have a scent, the smell dissipates a few minutes after you put it on, so there is no lingering smell.

An interesting note: some people use it to cook! It is quite popular as a dairy butter substitute in Japan.

Here are some of my favorite places to buy pure 100% shea.

Mountain Rose Herbs, unrefined/expeller pressed. 100% natural. High quality. They also sell herbs, essential oils, carrier oils, hydrosols, etc. Great price!

Shea Terra Organics sells shea and a whole line of shea and other African products. The shea is 100% natural and organic. They sell refined and unrefined, in a wide range of sizes (including bulk and wholesale). They sell both kinds of species of shea, that are supposed to be different textures. And they also sell shea mixed with essential oils. Their refined shea is not refined with synthetic solvents but through a natural process.

Nature's Gift sell a naturally refined shea, but they also sell an unrefined whipped shea that is supposed to be fluffy, and easy to apply. 100% natural. They also sell essential oils and hydrosols.

Terressentials. Their shea is a bit pricier than the other places I've listed but it is 100% natural and organic. They also have really nice skin care.

Divinity Vegan Natural sells fair-trade shea butter. I haven't tried their pure shea but I have tried their hempchocolate butter (a cocoa butter, shea butter, coconut oil, and hemp oil combination) which is awesome! I use it on my face, and it is wonderful--soaks directly in, and is not greasy at all like some other butter balms I've tried. I apply it with plenty of liquid of course! They are a bit pricey but the small jar of the hempchocolate butter I've used has already lasted me a couple of months and I use it a lot.

And I haven't tried Garden of Wisdom yet, but they sell it too. They also sell all kinds of carrier oils, essential oils, etc. This company has been much posted about on some of the forums I've visited, so I hope to try them soon!


Unknown said...

Hi Li,

Do you know anything about the difference between West and East african shea? I think they're differetnt species: Mangifolia tree/Karite (west) and Vitellaria paradoxa ssp. nilotica (east). Have you tried either/both?


Solarkat said...

Hi Tim

West and east are subspecies of the same plant (I originally thought that they were 2 different species but then found out that Butyrospermum parkii is a synonym of Vitellaria paradoxa).

I've tried both. I love using them for different things.

East shea butter is softer, easier to apply, has only a slight scent, and is more expensive because it is harder to acquire. Unrefined west has a more distinct scent; while it is still soft it isn't as creamy as east. Garden of Wisdom used to carry it but they are trying to find another supplier for it. The only other place that I know sells it is shea terra organics, but they only sell it through retail and no longer sell it in bulk or wholesale.