Shea butter has received rave reviews from the cosmetic industry in the recent past. What makes this butter so potent in our skin care products? First things first. Shea butter is a vegetable fat extracted through cold pressing of the shea nut which comes from the shea tree. The shea tree has two subspecies; the Vitraella paradoxa and the Vitraella nilotica which grow in the savanna of West Africa and in East Africa respectively. The West African shea butter has more stearic fatty acid making it more solid compared to the Nilotica which is semi liquid at room temperature because the oleic fatty acid is higher. The oleic fatty acid is what makes vegetables oils for example olive oil, palm oil and sunflower oil liquid at room temperature. Vegetable oils are widely available, however, vegetable fat (stearic fatty acid is in limited supply). It is only present in animal fat (tallow) and cocoa butter and shea butter (plant-based). Hence, are solid at room temperature. We can call it the sauce. So let’s see how this butter works its magic.
Shea butter has 16 saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The main four are stearic,oleic, linoleic and lauric. When applied to the skin they form a protective layer that prevents loss of moisture. Hereby, the increased hydration makes the skin smooth, soft and supple.
2.Treating dry skin
There has been an increase in dryness of skin caused by internal and external stressors. Factors such as air pollution, extreme temperatures either hot or cold, low humidity, using harsh soaps, stress and poor nutrition can cause dry skin. Skin is classified as dry when the stratum corneum SC has< 10% moisture. The SC is the outermost layer of the skin made up of intercellular lipids (ie ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids).When these lipids are damaged the skin becomes dry. So, how then do you restore these skin lipids back to health? By applying shea butter which is rich in fatty acids that are easily incorporated into the skin will put the skin in motion to regenerate these lipids and nurse the skin back to good health. Consequently, the skin will have improved elasticity and smoothness.
Let’s do some revision of our science class. What is an atom? An atom is the basic building block of matter. As human we are made of atoms that join together to form molecules which then make up you and me. An atom is made up of protons, electrons and neutrons. When an atom is missing an electron it is called a free radical. To make it whole the free radical “steals” an electron from a healthy atom. This then sets a dominos effect where the one which has been stolen from steals from another healthy atom. If this goes on unchecked skin aging sets in. Where do these free radicals come from? The main suspect is the sun in cahoots with age, and smoking. However, if we cast the net wider we may nub poor lifestyle choices such as unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, side effects of medication and environmental pollution. How then do we stop an invasion? The answer is antioxidants. Vitamin A and E (tocopherol) which are in shea butter act as antioxidants and will donate an electron to the free radical so that it does not “steal” from the healthy atoms. In combination with vitamin C the results are amazing. Eventually, the skin has improved appearance of wrinkles, dark spots and fine lines. Also, there is increased collagen production that keeps the skin vibrant, youthful and glowing.
Skin diseases like exzema, psoriasis, hives and itchy skin can be treated through topical use of shea butter. The common treatment of skin conditions like exzema is usually steroid creams. Unfortunately, most of them are not effective and cause further irritation than relief. Vitamin A which is present in shea butter acts as an anti inflammatory. It aids in relieving redness, pain, heat, itchiness and soreness. When combined with a healthy diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids the relief is considerable. Furthermore, when mixed with other anti inflammatory oils like hemp seed, pomegranate or eucalyptus it can relieve pre menstrual tension (PMS), period pain and arthritis. Coughs and colds, muscle aches and rheumatism can also be relieved.
One of the major concerns among women during pregnancy is stretch marks. Understandably, the skin will stretch to accommodate the growing baby and stretch marks are inevitable. To have an improvement of how the skin appears during and after pregnancy one can apply shea butter. In combination with oils, particularly, essential oils like carrot oil and geranium there is marked improvement on their appearance. To consolidate the gains made it is prudent to continue application even after pregnancy for greater results.
Unfortunately, most commercial sunscreens have been linked to skin cancer. Some of the active ingredients are etinyl palmitate and oxybenzone that cause cell damage that may lead to melanomas. It is estimated that one in five Americans will suffer from skin cancer at some point in their lifetime. One may consider natural products like shea butter which has an SPF of 6-10, depending on where it is sourced, with the Western having a higher sun protection factor than Nilotica. It can offer low levels of protection from UV rays when there is low risk of sun damage, for example during a cloudy day. However, you can improve its protective quality by blending it with carrot oil which has a SPF of 30 in case of high risk exposure to the UV rays of the sun.
Who doesn’t want silky soft kissable lips? And how about smelling fresh and clean all day. By applying shea butter on the lips not only will you treat dry and chapped lips, but will also moisten them to be soft, lush and kissable. When mixed with baking soda and fragrant essential oils it will keep you smelling good. So, you don’t have to worry about sweating like a pig and smelling like a fish. While still caring for yourself, shea butter can be mixed with sugar or sea salt and used as a skin scrub or exfoliator. It can also be used as a makeup remover and for nail strengthening. Furthermore, it can be used in the preparation of soap that is mild compared to commercial brands.
Finally, to have all these benefits of shea butter, it is good to back it with healthy habits. Importantly, eating a balanced diet, exercising, drinking 8 glasses of water in a day and having enough sleep.