For centuries, African women have been in on a beauty secret that keeps their skin soft and glowing: shea butter. In fact, it is believed that Cleopatra herself used this wonder product to keep her skin beautiful when she traveled in her caravan.
Shea butter is extracted from the nut of the Karité tree, which is found in 19 countries across a large swath of the African savannah. The tree grows indigenously with little effort or care and starts bearing shea nuts within 15 years, but the older the tree, the higher the quality of the butter produced.
The traditional extraction process is arduous, requiring several steps that include sun drying and shelling the nuts, crushing the kernels into a paste and separating the fat so it can be used for cosmetic, nutritional, or medicinal purposes.
Now, I know I just made it sound easy, but the work is back-breaking and can take anywhere from 20-30 hours to produce one kilogram of butter. And while there are easier (i.e. commercial) processes to extract the butter, doing so in the traditional way reaps the shea’s highest nutritional benefit.
Shea butter is rich in Vitamins A and E, the powerhouses that repair and protect your skin from the effects of aging. A recent study found that shea butter had similar anti-oxidant properties to green tea and it’s anti-oxidant profile was most closely related to virgin olive oil. As with many of nature’s beauty miracles, shea butter’s benefits are numerous:
- Moisturizes skin and fills lines
- Protects the skin from harmful UVA rays (even so, don’t forget the sunscreen)
- Evens skin tone and discoloration
- Fades scars, acne and the bane of womanly existence–stretch marks!
- Soothes allergies and insect bites
- Reduces muscle aches as it removes toxins from the body
- Alleviates skin conditions like psoriasis and contact dermatitis
With benefits like these, it’s easy to understand why shea butter is an African beauty staple! If you’re ready to try it, raw, unadulterated shea butter is best and whenever possible, please help support fair trade. There are organizations, like Shea Yeleen, that help ensure production is sustainable and the African women who make the shea butter are properly compensated.
As always, please share your experiences with other beautiful bohèmes!
The African Beauty Balm