Shea butter is a solid fatty oil that is extracted from the nuts of the Karite tree which is most common in the western and central regions of Africa. It has been used in beauty regimens since ancient times. This versatile product has gained popularity in the last decade with the increased demand for natural and organic products for black hair types.
Shea butter has a high content of beneficial fatty acids such as oleic, stearic, and linoleic acids. It is also rich in vitamins, flavonoids, and minerals.
Thanks to its wide array of benefits, Shea butter has many uses. This single substance can be used to heal, protect, and moisturize the skin, even serving as SPF. It is great for use as a lip balm, keeping chapped lips at bay. It helps heal cuts, scrapes, and even wrinkles and stretch marks. Those who struggle with growing and maintaining a healthy head of hair can look to Shea butter as their solution. This is not even to mention the fact that Shea is an essential ingredient in chocolates and wonderful when used in recipes of all sorts. In many households, it is considered a staple that must be kept in supply.
Benefits for Hair
Unrefined Shea butter is loaded with vitamins, healthy fatty acids, and other phytonutrients that can provide many benefits to your hair and scalp. One of the greatest advantages of using Shea butter as a hair treatment is that it can be used in its most natural form without any further processing. Shea butter nourishes the scalp and hair without potentially harmful chemicals. Many hair care products include Shea butter as an ingredient, but users of such products miss out on benefiting from all that Shea butter truly has to offer. Some of the potential benefits of using Shea butter for the hair and scalp include:
Keeps moisture in the hair: People with curly and coarse hair textures use Shea butter as an emollient to seal in the moisture and keep it inside their hair. Black hair is the driest hair type due to the texture. Shea butter soothes dryness and has restructuring effects on dry and fragile curly hair. When applied to the strands, it forms an outer protective coating that protects hair from moisture loss. It absorbs quickly without leaving the hair feeling greasy or heavy.
Shea butter acts as a sealant on the hair, not as a moisturizer. That means moisture must first be present so that the Shea butter can seal it in. If the hair is dry, applying Shea will only seal the moisture out, resulting in the hardness and dryness so many complain about. Instead, be sure to wet the hair first. Water is sufficient for this. In fact, it would be best to apply Shea butter directly after washing the hair, while the hair is still damp.
Supports hair grow: Studies have found that Shea butter possesses remarkable anti-inflammatory properties. It can penetrate deeply into the skin to help reduce inflammation. It helps restore weakened hair follicles, providing a healthy environment to support hair growth. When administered to the scalp twice a week Shea butter has been shown to improve overall scalp health and to promote healthy hair growth.
Tames frizzy hair: Dry and coarse hair tends to get frizzy, especially in humid weather. Shea butter will coat your strands, creating a thin, non-greasy film. This helps smooth down flyaway hair, reduces frizz and gives your hair a healthy sheen.
Using shea butter on the hair is very simple. Just put a tiny amount of the product onto the palm of your hands and rub your hands together until it melts. Then you can easily apply it to your hair.
Protect hair from the elements: Prolonged sun exposure can dry out your hair and reduce its natural elasticity and strength. Too much sun can also damage hair follicles and cause hair color to fade. The cinnamic acid found in Shea butter has the capability to absorb some of the harmful ultraviolet radiation. With its natural SPF of 6, it provides a mild to moderate protection from sun damage. When applied to the hair before swimming, Shea butter protects your locks from damaging effects of salt and chlorine. It also acts as a barrier against air pollutants.
Soothes scalp irritation: Unrefined Shea butter is loaded with vitamins, healthy fatty acids, and other phytonutrients that are needed for healthy hair and scalp. When applied to a dry scalp, it helps replace natural oils lost due to harsh detergents in hair shampoos.
It has soothing and anti-inflammatory properties that can provide relief from scalp conditions such as dandruff, itchy scalp, dermatitis, eczema, and flaking due to dryness.
The product is easily absorbed into the scalp without clogging pores or leaving hair greasy. Another convenience is that it can be easily washed off afterward.
Rub a quarter-sized amount of Shea butter on your hands and massage into scalp and hair. Cover the hair with a plastic shower cap and wrap your head in a towel to lock in the heat. Wait at least one hour before washing or leave overnight to refresh your scalp and keep it free from infections. Shea butter can be mixed with coconut oil and other hair oils to make this scalp treatment even more effective.
While shea butter is quite safe it is not recommended for people who are allergic to nuts.
Choosing the Right Product
It is important to understand the difference between refined and unrefined Shea butter, as this greatly impacts the benefits received.
For maximum benefits, it is best to choose the natural product over the bleached and de-scented one. Raw or unrefined Shea butter is processed without using chemical solvents and it is preferred over refined one, regardless of intended use. Since unrefined Shea butter has been extracted by the pressure, it is not deprived of bioactive nutrients and its natural healing properties. Raw Shea butter has a yellow or ivory color and comes either in blocks or in jars.
The refined Shea butter has been extracted using high heat and chemicals to make the color and texture more appealing and to eliminate its characteristic smell. The process often involves adding additives, such as perfumes or chemical preservatives to maximize product shelf-life. However, chemical processing affects some beneficial properties Shea butter is known for. The refining process adds toxins while removing vitamins, fatty acids, and other bioactive nutrients.
Raw Shea butter has a strong earthy scent that many people find irritating, but this characteristic smell is actually a sign of a good quality product. The product is categorized into grades labeled from A to F. Class A is the purest form of the butter, with a high content of healing ingredients, while class F is pure quality butter that may be also contaminated with harmful ingredients. To ensure that the product has passed proper safety and quality laboratory testing, purchase only Certified Premium Grade A Shea Butter.
To receive all healing benefits, make sure that you use the product before the expiry date. The shelf life of raw Shea butter is about 18 months. Its healing power declines with time, so that very old product is not as beneficial. To avoid it going rancid, it is advisable to buy the product in small quantities.