Stop three in AFRICA moves us westward to another region of botanical bounty.
Shea Butter – Secret of the earliest beauty influencers
This wildly popular beauty balm is made from the edible nut of the fruit from the shea tree (vitellaria paradoxa), which grows in the grasslands of Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso and other West African countries.
Shea butter has been used as a cosmetic treatment in Africa for centuries by some its most famed beauties, including Cleopatra and Queen Sheba. Excavations in Burkina Faso unearthed fragments of shea nut shells in households dating back to 100 CE, and wood from the tree was used to make the coffins of early African kings. In most parts of West Africa today, destruction of the shea tree is prohibited due to its immense economic and health benefits. Beyond use in many purification treatments, many Africans rely on shea butter as an after-shave and hair balm – musicians even use it on drumheads to prevent them from drying and cracking.
Shea butter is made from shea oil, which is extracted from the kernel of the tree’s sweet, almond-shaped fruit. The traditional method of making shea butter from shea oil is time-consuming and usually handled by women. The multi-step process involves drying and boiling the kernel and kneading it to extract the oil, which is eventually made into a paste, or butter. While shea butter is still made this way in many regions, a mechanical process called cold-press extraction that involves less heat is now used to deliver a higher yield, increase quality and meet increasing demand. And while shea tree oil itself is also used as a beauty ingredient, its vitamins and amino and fatty acids lose potency during the extraction process, making it less beneficial than shea butter.
Cleopatra and Sheba likely just knew that shea butter made their skin soft and glowing. Now we know why: Shea butter’s many benefits derive from the anti-aging, antioxidant, moisturizing and emollient properties inherent in its high fat and vitamin (A, E and F) content. But shea butter is also an all-around super-healer. It reduces rosacea, soothes diaper rash, and helps ease skin irritations like psoriasis and eczema. And as a known anti-inflammatory, shea butter is used by many to alleviate muscle aches and arthritis pain.
Beauty tip: Shea butter and essential oils are a great combination! Mix shea butter with a few drops of your favorite oil for a creamy, all-natural emollient for face or body. My personal favorite with shea oil + Silktage’s Pure African Fusion Oil – I love the slight scent it adds to this super-moisturizer!