Rich in fatty acid, natural Shea Butter is made from the nuts of the African Shea tree, which can be found in twenty sub-Saharan African countries situated in the western and central regions. It is also referred to as the mangifolia tree, karite nut tree, and bambuk butter tree. This centuries-old species of tree grows slowly, remaining short in height for many years. The African Shea tree does not begin to produce nuts until after its fifteenth year in existence (typically, the twentieth year). This tree does not reach full maturity until it is forty-five years old. It can continue producing nuts for as long as two centuries after reaching full maturity.
Traditionally, the making of Shea Butter is a timely process that involves many hours of labor completed by the women of the area. Called "women's gold," because it provides an income for rural women living in many African villages, Shea Butter/the African Shea tree is considered a local resource since it can be used for wood. The processing of Shea Butter involves a great deal of wood for fuel, straining the economic resources of the area. Fortunately, methods have been improved, creating a smaller impact on the local economy.
Held in great reverence, the African Shea tree has also been referred to as the tree of life, and nothing is wasted. The bark, roots, and nuts of this tree are not only used for commercial reasons, but also for medicinal purposes, as well as the making of soap and as a food source. Nearly half of the Shea Butter produced remains in the local area. If it has been processed properly, it will keep for several months. Dried Shea nuts hold up well in storage as long as they are kept clean and dry. While modern processes can be used to extract Shea Butter from the nuts, traditional methods are valued due to their ability to retain the majority of medicinal, skin care, and nutritional benefits.
Fully ripened nuts (provide the greatest quantity of oils) are collected after they have fallen to the ground. They are carefully stored to avoid having them get wet or develop rot. Nuts that have already begun to germinate are not used since they will produce bitter butter (used instead to process soap). The nuts are peeled, washed, and boiled until the inside no longer has the consistency of a sticky goop. The nuts are then dried in the sun. It may take as long as two weeks for the nuts to thoroughly dry out. At this point, they are cracked open, and the nuts are removed, washed, and dried in the sun again.
In ancient times, Shea Butter was placed in jars for use as a beauty cream by Egyptian queens. It has been used for centuries to safeguard the skin from the harshness of the wind and sun. It contains cinnamic acid, a substance that acts as a natural sunscreen. It has also been used medicinally in bathing water to protect against jaundice, stomachaches, and headaches. In fact, it has proven effective for the treatment of congestion and sinus problems when placed around the nostrils. Shea butter has commonly been used to treat wounds. Today's medicinal uses include soothing rashes from insect bites and poison ivy, healing cracked or peeling skin, and relieving pain from rheumatism and muscle aches by stimulating the reduction of toxins within the muscles.
Shea Butter contains allantoin, phytosterols, five essential fatty acids, and essential vitamins, A, D, and E. It is beneficial in healing skin irritations, neutralizing free radical damage, and enhancing collagen production. It has exceptional moisturizing capabilities and is used to create ultra-rich lotions, creams, and gels to soften the skin. Shea Butter is included in anti-aging and anti-wrinkling formulas designed to reduce the incidence of premature facial wrinkling, chapped lips, fading scars, and dark spots. Since Shea Butter contains phenolics, an important element of polyphenols, it provides unique anti-aging capabilities that are like those delivered through the use of Green Tea. It is included in shaving formulas to reduce the incidence of bumps and dry skin and in hair formulas to soothe the scalp, eliminate dandruff, and improve hair texture, moisture, and growth. Since Shea Butter is 100 % natural, it is gentle enough for daily use.