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Shea butter in cosmetics: a butter with a thousand uses

Shea butter in cosmetics: a butter with a thousand uses

We all believe we've already heard about the well-known Shea butter: but do we really know it?

First we find out what it is and how to recognize the plant from where it comes from. The Karité tree, known botanically as Butyrospermum parkii (in memory of the Scottish explorer Park who first brought its fruits to Europe in 1797), easily reaches 15 meters in height and one meter in diameter and is very widespread in Sudan, Senegal, Gambia, Togo, Nigeria, Gabon; it grows spontaneously on siliceous clayey soil and on debris-like bricks, but in order to bear fruit it needs the intervention of man who, starting and lightening the branches, cutting grasses and parasitic plants that surround it, allows full development and complete maturation of fruits.

Shea berries have the size and shape of a large plum with a diameter between 3 and 6 cm. They are round or more or less oblong. At maturity they have a dark green color. When the shea berries are ripe their pulpy sarcocarp is pleasant in taste and is used for feeding.

How is shea butter produced?

The berry contains a large seed, sometimes two or three, with a diameter between 2 and 4 cm. When it is unique, the seed is ovoid; when it is double, the seeds are flattened and are even more reminiscent of our local chestnut. The shell is woody and thin, the color brown and covers thick cotyledons, rich in fat, and it is from these cotyledons that Shea butter is extracted. Fat is about 50% of the total weight of the almond.

The extraction of butter from the shea core, as it is performed locally, is very laborious and not only leads to an unpleasant aroma product, but the yield is very low. Only later was the cold-pressing technology adopted.

Shea butter: the characteristics

Shea butter comes in a fairly consistent mass and in any case much higher than cooking butter (cow's butter). If raw it can have the most disparate colors, from greyish-white to pale-green to brown. If well extracted from selected and well preserved seeds, it is ivory white.

Of particular interest is the unsaponifiable fraction, both in terms of quality and quantity, and for the valuable properties it gives to Shea butter. On average, shea butter contains around 8%. A curiosity: the Karitene, present in the unsaponifiable, is known for its provitaminic function.

Shea butter, with an odor similar to cocoa butter, can be preserved, has one of the highest percentages of unsaponifiables in the vegetable kingdom; for these characteristics it is used, as we shall see, in chapped skins, such as eudermic and sun protective at 2-8%.

Shea butter: use and properties

Among the fundamental sectors in which shea butter is mostly used should be mentioned: those of sun protection, treatment for dry skin and for delicate skin of children, stretch marks, fissures, relaxation and sports massages, anti-fatigue and paramedicals. In the medical field, as reported by Vuillett, it is used for the treatment of rheumatism and cooling pains. Lots of less good shea butter are turned into soap or for other uses (lighting for example).

Shea butter is used in topical products for its nutritional, protective, elasticizing properties and is excellent for protection from wind and cold. Shea butter is even more protective than almond oil and also has a profound soothing action. It is rich in vitamins A, B, E, F and is particularly suitable for delicate and sensitive skin, such as those of newborns who need deep hydration. It is excellent for diaper irritations because it forms a microfilm that protects the skin. Dissolved in the hands and also applied to the face and lips moisturizes and protects.

Due to its soothing and re-epithelizing properties, shea butter is useful on burns and can be positively exploited in dermopharmaceutical preparations for the treatment of burns. In the cosmetic field this functionality is used in the "after-sun" but shea butter is also recommended on chilblains, fissures, eczema, irritations, punctures and itching, besides gingival.

Shea butter also has a photoprotective function (this is why it is used as a sun filter in sun products) and is also known for its conditioning, substantivizing and over-greasing properties: this is why it is used in capillary balms and rinsing creams, soap and foaming creams.

Shea butter: what we recommend

In Erboristeria Como you will find 100% pure shea butter, with emollient and nourishing properties that help prevent the appearance of wrinkles and stretch marks and excellent for very dry skin and skin that is often in contact with chemicals (eg detergents). Effective against sunburn, erythema, dermatitis. Lip balm. Excellent base for aromatherapy.

As a sunscreen you can find it in this 50% natural sun protection product, made in Como:

Shea butter in phyto formulations

Here are some formulas to realize the versatility of shea butter in cosmetics.

Massage ointment: shea butter 40%, beeswax 10%, jojoba liquid wax 20%, vegetable oil (eg soya) 20%, essential oil (10%)

Solar ointment: shea butter 50%, beeswax 10%, jojoba liquid wax 10%, vegetable oil (eg avocado) 20%, oily extract (eg walnut) 5%, UV B filter 4%, essential oil 1%

Lassar paste modified in a phytocosmetic sense, also useful for newborns: Shea butter 15%, beeswax 10%, vegetable oil 50% (or vegetable oil 25%, rice starch 25%), zinc oxide 25%.

Protective and emollient stick: beeswax or vegetable 20%, jojoba liquid wax 5%, vegetable butter (cocoa - shea butter) 20%, vegetable oil (castor - hazel) 50%, flavor and sweetener 5%.

Dr. Laura Comollo

Visit our aromatherapy department for any clarification or for more information.

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