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Shea butter and shea oil: differences, properties and uses

Natural beauty treatments

From the fruits of the Tree of Youth, a precious substance for your face and body

Authentic panacea for skin and hair and much appreciated in the field of cosmetics, both shea oil and butter are substances obtained from processing the seeds of Vitellaria paradoxa, a plant that grows almost exclusively in sub-Saharan regions.

This woody and high-trunk tree, belonging to the Saponacee family, is also known as the "tree of youth" right because of the great virtues attributed to its seeds.

 

Shea butter processing

 The fruits of the tree of Vitellaria paradoxa, similar to big nuts, contain fat-rich seeds.

The women of the local populations process the seeds in a meticulous way to finally get shea butter. The seeds are selected, hand washed, dried in the sun and then fragmented and ground.

The final product of this complex process is a thick paste, which is subjected to a further treatment to remove impurities: you thus obtain shea butter, with a characteristic mild and sweet odour, and a colour that varies from ivory white to yellow.

The natural properties of shea butter...

What characterises shea butter is the large concentration of unsaponifiable substances (which can also reach 15%), far superior to that of olive oil and avocado.

It is precisely this fraction, rich in pro-vitamin A and E (antioxidant) that provides the butter with its renowned virtues:

  • antioxidant

  • elasticising

  • emollient

  • regenerating

Shea butter can also boast good UV-shielding properties, and can be used as a natural sunscreen on naturally dark skin or already tanned and used to the sun.

 

... and of shea oil

Shea oil is the result of further processing of the butter, which is fractionated by removing some triglycerides with the highest melting point. Following this process, the oil loses a small part of the valuable elements contained in the butter and, with them, the "shielding" power, but it remains a product with high nutritional properties.

The properties of shea oil are primarily nourishing, regenerating, firming and softening both for the skin and for the hair.

Its consistency is also more "dense" than that of other vegetable oils, while being at the same time easier to absorb. These characteristics make it an excellent carrier for the essential oils and, consequently, a very valuable massage oil.

Since oil and shea butter are very similar from the "nutritional" point of view, the choice between the two therefore depends also on the habits of the person or the type of skin to be treated.

In general, oil is certainly more convenient to apply and lends itself to a possibly faster application on extended parts. Butter, on the other hand, is ideal for localised applications, to regenerate cracked elbows, feet, hands or chapped lips and the eye contour area.

 

13 ways to use oil and shea butter

 As we have seen, shea and oil butter are extremely rich and versatile natural substances, which lend themselves to different cosmetic uses, to regenerate, nourish, protect the hair and the skin of the face and body. Let us consider some.

1) Regenerating mask face

Shea butter can be used for a rejuvenating face mask on dehydrated skin. Simply warm up the butter in a double boiler, or hand knead the quantity of a teaspoon, spread the butter all over your face and leave on for at least 15 minutes. To your liking, you can add to the Shea a couple of drops of essential oil of lavender.

2) Nourishing cuticles and nails

Shea butter can be applied in small doses and massaged on dry cuticles or nails that tend to flake to regenerate them. Even in this case, you need to melt the shea in a double boiler and add a few drops of lemon essential oil.

3) Body elasticising and anti stretch marks

In the evening, after having a bath or or a shower, you can apply shea oil on the still slightly damp skin, possibly flavoured to taste with an essential oil, to deeply nourish it. The constant application also promotes skin elasticity and may help prevent stretch marks.

4) For the softest lips

Shea butter can be applied directly on the lips (as a sort of natural lip balm) to soften them or to deal with any cracking. Alternatively, you can create a true "lip balm" by dissolving a teaspoon of shea butter in a double boiler, then adding very little olive oil and half a teaspoon of honey. The obtained cream, once cooled, will make you have the softest lips.

5) To relieve a chapped nose

In the case of a cold, or because of intense cold weather or a sunburn, you can get a red nose or cracked nostrils. To soothe the skin, you can apply with your fingertips a bit of shea butter on irritation area.

6) Hair pack

Oil and shea butter are excellent pre-shampoo packs to restore vitality to damaged hair. With dry hair, simply apply shea butter (melted in a double boiler) or oil over the entire length, or, if you wish, only on the damaged tips. Hold on for at least 20 minutes and then proceed to shampooing as usual.

7) Protecting your hair on the beach

Especially in summer, when you spend a lot of time at the beach or at the swimming-pool, sunlight, chlorine and salt can dry out your hair: shea oil, applied on the lengths, protects and nourishes the hair, keeping it healthy and shiny!

8) After Sun Replenishing

Prolonged exposure to the sun dehydrates the skin and can lead to premature ageing. Shea butter with its richness and its nutritional properties is ideal for restoring the skin after sunbathing or after a tanning lamp and preventing unsightly peeling.

9) Remedy for dry feet

Especially in summer, when you often wear open shoes, showing dry feet and cracked heels may be rather unsightly. To prevent dry, cracked skin of your feet and in particular of your heels, you may locally massage a small knob of butter shea after softening it by rubbing it between your hands. To facilitate the absorption, you can apply, on wet feet, an exfoliating product to remove dead cells.

10) Exfoliator for face and body.

To promote skin brightness you can do a once-a-week natural exfoliating treatment: simply combine oil shea (or butter melted in a double boiler) with a teaspoon of brown sugar, then apply it all on clean facial skin with gentle circular movements. For a little more intense effect, on the body you can use sugar instead of kitchen salt.

11) Pamper your baby's skin

Pure shea butter is absolutely delicate and can also be used to moisturise the skin of children. In particular its emollient and regenerating properties are ideal to address small diaper rash and skin irritation or dryness.

12) Massaging with essential oils

Shea oil does not only nourish the epidermis but it is easily absorbed and can therefore also be used for massaging the body with essential oils. For an anti-cellulite massage you can add to the shea essential oils of rosemary, cypress or sage.

13) Soothing after-shave

Running the razor blade on the skin when shaving can cause minor irritations on the skin. Again shea butter can help: simply apply a little of this substance locally, to refresh the skin due to its soothing effect.

 

Shea butter ... even in the kitchen!

In sub-Saharan countries, where shea butter is still produced according to ancient traditions, this substance is considered precious and traditionally it is also used in the kitchen; indeed, in Burkina Faso "it is the basis for cooking Tô, the traditional dish par excellence, a porridge of millet, sorghum or corn. Served with vegetable sauces made with manioc leaves or baobab" (B. Bertoli, Geografia della bellezza: Giro del mondo alla scoperta delle tradizioni cosmetiche, Roma 2015).

 

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