Learn all about shea butter in this second installment of Alpinia’s blog series: Skincare Close-up! (In case you missed it, catch up on the previous article covering frankincense.)
Each of these articles “zooms in” to take a closer look at one of our natural products’ main ingredients and its health benefits for the skin. In this post, we’ll be looking at shea butter, the luxurious, ivory-colored nut butter beloved by skincare aficionados worldwide.
What is it?
Shea butter is the fat extracted from the nuts of the shea tree, which is native to dry grasslands and savannas in Africa. The shea tree’s natural habitat spans a far range, from Senegal in the west all the way to Ethiopia in the east . The shea nut and shea butter are deeply embedded parts of many African cultures, even though it’s a long, labor-intensive process to go from shea nut to usable shea butter.
First, the wild shea nuts are gathered from under the trees. The nuts are then cleaned, boiled, roasted, and left to dry in the sun for a few days. At this stage, the fat to make shea butter can either be extracted industrially or by hand, with the latter being much more difficult and time-intensive. The traditional extraction process involves cracking and shelling the nuts, and then grinding the kernels into a paste. This paste is then boiled and churned, which allows the oils and fats to float to the top. The fat is collected, and the process is repeated a few more times . And then you have shea butter!
One reason the tradition survives is that the shea nut’s extracts have so many uses. For example, shea butter is used as a cooking oil, in soap-making, and as a medicinal. Its use as a natural cosmetic and skin lotion dates back thousands of years  and shea butter remains popular for skincare to this day.
Shea butter is highly concentrated in hydrating fatty acids and nourishing vitamins. In addition, it has a pleasantly smooth texture and rich consistency, so it’s no wonder shea butter is so widely used to condition and care for the skin. Read on to learn more about shea butter’s numerous benefits!
Benefits of Shea Butter
Shea butter has so many beneficial properties that it’s hard to pick just a few! Here are some of the top ways shea butter helps your skin look and feel its best:
It’s highly moisturising.
This shouldn’t be too surprising, as shea butter is mainly composed of various fatty acids. What makes shea butter extra special as a moisturiser, however, is that it rehydrates your skin without leaving behind an oily residue. This is because shea butter has high levels of linoleic acid and oleic acid, which balance each other out and ensure that your skin fully absorbs the shea butter . Also, any shea butter you apply to your skin effectively acts as a shield between your skin and the outside world, locking moisture in and keeping irritants out.
It contains antioxidants.
Oxidative stress* can damage your skin, leaving it dull and prone to premature aging. Fortunately, shea butter has high levels of vitamins A and E, both of which are strong antioxidants that help fight and prevent oxidative stress.
*Read more on oxidative stress and its harmful effects.
Like frankincense, shea butter contains plant esters that are anti-inflammatory . Shea butter’s anti-inflammatory properties make it an excellent soothing agent, which is great news for sensitive, dry, or itchy skin prone to inflammation or irritation. Some research even suggests that shea butter could be as effective as medicated creams in relieving eczema symptoms . Plus, since shea butter is fast-absorbing, it may be a quick way to relieve your skin during flare-ups.
It promotes youthful skin.
Research suggests that the triterpenes in shea butter boost collagen production . As you might know, collagen is what helps skin retain its plump, wrinkle-free, and youthful appearance.
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