Shea butter is a solid fatty oil that is derived from the nuts of Karite trees (also known as Mangifolia) predominantly found in Africa (grows wild in the equatorial belt of central Africa between Gambia and Sudan where oil palms do not grow because of insufficient precipitation). The Karite tree bears the fruits and the nuts inside the fruits contain shea butter. The nuts are then crushed, boiled and manipulated in order to extract a light colored fat, which is commonly referred to as shea butter. Pure shea butter resembles lumps of hard caramel ice cream. Being edible, shea butter is often used in food preparations, but it has gained huge popularity in the western world due to its widespread use in several beauty products such as lotions, cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners and many more.
What Is Shea Butter?
The main components of shea butter include oleic acid, stearic acid, linoleic acid and others. It gets absorbed quickly into the skin as it melts at body temperature. Shea butter may be refined or unrefined. Raw or unrefined shea butter is the purest form of shea butter which is most natural and least processed. Since it is extracted manually, it is able to retain its vitamins, minerals and other natural properties. Refined shea butter, on the other hand, is the processed form of butter.
Shea Butter Benefits For Health
Shea butter exhibits several health benefits particularly for the skin and hair. It is used in a variety of cosmetics and medicinal formulas in combination with other botanical ingredients. Some of the health benefits of shea butter are given below.
1. Healing Qualities:
Shea butter is known for its healing properties, which can be attributed to the presence of several fatty acids and plant sterols such as oleic, palmitic, stearic and linolenic acids. These oil-soluble components do not undergo saponification or convert into soap on coming in contact with alkali. Shea butter is more non-saponifiable than other nut oils and fats, thus imparting it a great healing potential for the skin. Raw unrefined shea butter is effective for curing skin rashes, skin peeling after tanning, scars, stretch marks, frost bites, burns, athletes foot, insect bites and stings, arthritis and muscle fatigue.
2. Antioxidant Qualities:
Shea butter contains plant antioxidants such as vitamins A and E, as well as catechins. The vitamins A and E protect the cells from free radicals and environmental damage. The cinnamic acid esters in shea fat helps in preventing skin damage from ultraviolet radiation.
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3. Anti-inflammatory Properties:
Several derivatives of cinnamic acid are found in shea butter which exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. Research has proved that in addition to its anti-inflammatory benefits, lupeol cinnamate found in shea butter prevents the development of tumours. Its anti-inflammatory properties render it beneficial for improvement of skin conditions.
Shea Butter For Skin
Being rich in precious constituents such as unsaturated fats with a large proportion of non-saponifiable components, essential fatty acids, vitamins E and D, phytosterols, provitamin A and allantoin, shea butter is considered a super food for skin. It has been used since time immemorial for skin care, baby care and for consumption. In fact, the legendary Egyptian queen Nefertiti owed her beauty secrets to shea butter which further demonstrates its goodness for skin. Given below are its various benefits for skin.
4. Sun Protection:
Shea butter acts as a natural sunscreen by providing protection against the ultraviolet radiations of sun though the level of protection offered may be variable. Shea butter is considered as the best skincare for winter and after-sun care as it provides the extra moisture, nutrients and protection needed by your skin during the cold season and summer.
5. Healing Agent:
Shea butter has amazing healing properties. It is often used as a base in medicinal ointments due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used since ages for the treatment of scars, eczema, blemishes, skin discolorations, chapped lips, stretch marks, dark spots and in reducing the irritation caused by psoriasis. Due to its high content of vitamin A, it is effective in promoting healing and disinfection; and soothes skin allergies like poison ivy and insect bites. Vitamin F acts as a rejuvenator for soothing and healing rough and chapped skin.
6. Anti-ageing Benefits:
Shea Butter is considered as one of the best anti-ageing and moisturizing agents for skin. It stimulates the production of collagen, the youthful scaffolding protein in the skin. The vitamins A and E found in this butter keep the skin supple, nourished and radiant and prevent premature wrinkles and facial lines. Shea butter penetrates the skin easily without clogging the pores and is effective for dry skin.
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7. Baby Care:
Shea butter is an excellent natural moisturizer which is devoid of chemicals. Thus, it is ideal for baby care as besides being gentle and soft on skin, it is specially adapted for delicate and sensitive skin of babies. It can be for after bath application on skin and as also for healing eczema or diaper rash on the skin of babies.
8. Lip Care:
Shea butter is easily absorbable and provides extra moisture and nutrients that are needed during cold season and dry weather. Thus, it acts as a perfect lip balm to protect your lips from cold and dry weather and is effective for treating dry and chapped lips.
9. Restores Skin Elasticity:
Non-saponifiable matter and vitamin F in this butter are vital ingredients for maintaining skin-elasticity. Thus, application of shea butter restores the elasticity of the skin and helps maintain an even skin-tone besides hydrating, softening and beautifying it.
Shea Butter For Hair
When we talk about the skin and hair benefits of shea butter, the list is simply unending. In short, one can say that it is considered a natural conditioner for hair, thanks to its moisturizing and healing properties. Some of the numerous benefits of shea butter for hair are given below.
10. Soothes Dry and Irritated Scalp:
Shea butter is effective in soothing a dry itchy scalp or dandruff. It possesses anti-inflammatory qualities and gets absorbed into the skin without leaving a greasy residue or clogging the pores. Being rich in vitamins A and E, it soothes dryness, repairs breakage and mends split ends. Hence, it is extremely effective in providing relief against dry scalp, dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis.
The presence of vitamins A and E makes shea butter an excellent moisturizer to moisturize your hair from roots to tips. Thus, it can be used as a natural conditioner. It is highly effective in locking in moisture without leaving the hair greasy or heavy. Shea butter has wide usage in curly hair treatments due to its emollient qualities. A number of chemical treatments like straighteners, perms, curlers etc are responsible for stripping off natural moisture from the hair. Shea butter can help restore this lost moisture.
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12. Hair Protection:
Shea butter provides protection to the hair against the harmful free radicals in the air and water and harsh weather conditions. Moreover, shea butter has low amount of SPF which is sufficient enough to protect the hair from sun damage caused due to exposure to ultraviolet radiation and repairs the damage that has already been caused by harsh weather and sun. This is largely due to the fact that once absorbed, shea butter coats the hair shaft so that it is protected from a heat tool or any other damaging material being passed along the hair. This is particularly beneficial for processed or colored hair. It also protects the hair against salt and chlorine when applied before swimming.
13. Hair Softener:
Shea butter is great for softening and revitalizing damaged and brittle hair. Due to its non-greasy nature, it helps to control and spread excess oil in the scalp. Massaging the hair with generous amounts of shea butter can give soft and silky tresses. This benefit of shea butter is applicable for dry as well as fragile curly hair. Shea butter should be applied twice a week for hair growth, improving hair texture and moisturizing the hair.
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Shea Butter: Nutritional Value
The healing properties of shea butter can be attributed to the nutritional value of this fat. It contains UV-B absorbing triterpene esters such as cinnamic acid and tocopherols. In addition to these, shea butter also has a high percentage of phytosterols, triterpenes and hydrocarbons such as karitene. The nutritional profile of shea butter is given below:
|Serving Size 5g shea butter kernels|
20 Servings per 100 g
0.2 Servings per 1/8 cup (30ml – 28g) *
|Energy per 5g serving :|
|Calories / Kilocalories||44 Cal / kcal||Kilojoules|
|Nutrients :||Per 1/8 cup|
|– trans fat||<0.03g(MAX)||<0.1g(MAX)|
|– polyunsaturated fat||1.4g||5.2g|
|– monounsaturated fat||12.2g||44g|
|Cholesterol||0 mg||0 mg|
|8:0 Octanoic acid||0.06 g||0.2 g|
|10:0 Decanoic acid||0.06 g||0.2 g|
|12:0 Dodecanoic acid||0.36 g||1.3 g|
|14:0 Tetradecanoic acid||0.03 g||0.1 g|
|16:0 Hexadecanoic acid||1.2 g||4.4 g|
|18:0 Octadecanoic acid||10.7 g||38.8 g|
|16:1 Palmitoleic Acid||0.03 g||0.1 g|
|18:1 Octadecenoic acid (Omega-9)||12.025 g||43.5 g|
|18:2 Octadecadienoic acid (Omega-6)||1.355 g||4.9 g|
|18:3 Octadecatrienoic acid (Omega-6)||0.08 g||0.3 g|
|Phytosterols||99 mg||357 mg|
|Minerals: (All)||0 mg OR µg(micro gram)||0 mg OR µg(microgram)|
|Vitamins: (All)||0 mg OR µg(micro gram)||0 mg OR µg(microgram)|
|Folate (total)||0 µg(micro gram)||0 µg(microgram)|
|Ingredients: shea butter|
- Fatty Acids: Shea butter basically comprises of five principal fatty acids namely palmitic, stearic, oleic, linoleic and arachidic acids with a higher proportion of stearic and oleic acids which together accounts for 85-90% of fatty acids. Stearic acid provides solid consistency, whereas oleic acid influences the hardness or softness of the shea butter.
- Phenolics: Phenolic compounds are known for their antioxidant properties. Shea butter contains 10 phenolic compounds – eight of which are catechins. Traditionally extracted shea butter has higher phenolic levels than that extracted with hexane. In fact, the catechin content of shea butter is higher than the total phenolic content of ripe olives. The overall concentration and relative percentage of shea kernels varies from region to region, depending upon the level of environmental stress endured by the trees.
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