Monday, June 8, 2009

Every Woman's Guide to Shea Butter

Article by
L. Lee Scott

Confused by the many products on drugstore and department store shelves containing shea butter? Wondering what the difference is between pure shea butter, whipped shea butter and refined shea butter, and which, if any, is the right choice for you? You're not alone.

The people of central Africa have been using shea butter, which is actually fat that comes from the seeds of the nut that's inside the fruit of the karite tree, for centuries, if not millenia. Butyrospermum parkii is the scientific term for the Karite tree, from two Greek words, boutyron,
or butter, and sperma, or seed. In Africa, shea butter, or shea nut butter, is still processed the way it's been done for perhaps thousands of years. The fruit is hand-picked, then the nuts are extracted and sun-dried. After sun-drying, they're roasted to completely remove the moisture from the nut. The dried nut is crushed to remove the skin and get to the seeds. The seeds are ground between two stones until a paste is formed. Depending on how ripe the fruit and its nut were, the color of this pure shea butter can range from off-white to golden to green.

At this point, it has a smoky, nutty fragrance, and contains vitamins A and E along with other skin nutrients, such as triterpenes that can help skin allergies, and phenolic acids that protect skin cells, as well as the moisturizing properties common to nut oils and butters. Many cosmetic companies take this product and refine it, but the refining process removes the nutrients as it creates a white and odorless moisturizer. Further, if the refining process uses chemical solvents such as hexane, it may damage both your skin and the environment.

Unrefined or virgin shea butter is believed to have many excellent properties for skin, and they were studied by Frenchman F. Renard in the original research for his Ph.D. He found that shea butter clears the skin and evens skin tones, helps regenerate skin, diminishes the appearance of wrinkles and scar tissue, reduces sun damage from skin and helps protect the skin from UV rays, moisturizes, and reduces redness and inflammation. No wonder it's in such high demand from western women!

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