Shea butter is well-known as a beauty product, one that can help dramatically moisturize the skin. It also makes a great natural alternative to all of the chemical-laden products out there.
At the same time, unrefined shea butter benefits do extend beyond the skin and there are even some advantages to consuming the shea butter.
In this post, we take a look at exactly why shea butter is so powerful.
At the same time, we highlight ways that you can take advantage of shea butter’s benefits.
An Introduction to Shea Butter
Shea butter is made from the seeds of the tree Vitellaria paradoxa, which is commonly known as either vitellaria or shea tree. The species is indigenous to Africa and is a key component of the natural food supply.
One of the reasons for this is that the shea fruit is full of nutrition and the seeds are rich in oil. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how shea nut butter can be relevant for the body and also for the skin.
Indeed, in its raw or unrefined state, shea butter is also edible
The butter itself contains five main fatty acids, with the most common being oleic acid and stearic acid. The precise ratios of fatty acids vary depending a range of factors, including the individual tree the butter is sourced from and the location it is grown (1).
Because of this variation, some trees result in relatively hard shea butter, while others give butter that is softer. But, there are still significant benefits of the butter regardless.
The fatty acids are a key reason for interest in shea butter, as this helps make the product luxurious for the skin. At the same time, there is a significant number of plant-based phenolic compounds present and these are antioxidants (2). As such, the compounds are also highly relevant when it comes to health benefits.
Now, generally speaking, shea butter comes in two forms, refined and unrefined.
Overall, unrefined shea butter tends to have more natural compounds and, as such, offers greater health benefits overall. At the same time, many people want to avoid products that are chemically processed, making unrefined shea butter a better choice overall.
Later in the post, we’ll talk about the actual differences between the types of shea butter. But, for the moment, let’s look at why this product is so significant.
Unrefined Shea Butter Benefits
Shea butter is most well-known for the benefits that it offers the skin. Indeed, this is the main reason for using shea butter in the first place.
Shea butter offers a large range of potential advantages in this area – partly because of the fatty acid profile and the nutrients that it contains. At the same time, shea butter mostly consists of nonsaponifiable components. This means that the butter doesn’t convert to soap when exposed to an alkali (3).
As a result, shea butter is incredibly versatile and can be used to create a wide range of homemade beauty products. This aspect also gives shea butter greater potential to benefit the skin and be absorbed more effectively.
Components of shea butter have also been linked to reducing symptoms of eczema, partly through this anti-inflammatory component (6). The vitamin A present may also offer skin benefits, helping to promote the production of collagen, which has many implications for skin health and appearance.
The antioxidant properties in the product also mean that shea butter could be powerful in fighting some of the symptoms of aging.
If you’re interested in trying shea butter out or using it regularly, Wellness Mama has an amazing list of shea butter benefits and uses. This can be a fantastic place to get to get started and there are fascinating discussions on the topic within the comments as well.
Additionally, shea butter is also often used in combination with essential oils.
Doing so helps you create a range of homemade products, such as body butters and creams. This lets you take advantage of the health benefits of the shea butter, along with any benefits the individual essential oils offer.
For example, frankincense essential oil is sometimes used to create balms and creams to reduce inflammation and pain. You could do so simply by adding a few drops of the oil to some shea butter.
To learn more about this, you can check out an article at Shea Butter Guide, which goes over the basics of making scented shea butter cream. Our beginner’s guide to essential oils is also useful for insight into what essential oils you can use and the benefits that they offer.
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Shea Butter Nutrition
It’s easy to ignore shea butter nutrition, simply because most people don’t consume the product. But, unrefined shea butter is edible and many companies will make this clear with their marketing as well.
Nutritionally, shea butter is valuable. For one thing, it contains high levels of healthy fats, particularly oleic acid, which is also found in both olive oil and avocado oil. Indeed, that fatty acid may strongly contribute to the health benefits of olive oil.
At the same time, shea butter is a key source of antioxidants, along with nutrients like vitamins E and A. This is another reason to consider consuming it or using it on your skin.
Nevertheless, relatively few people actually include shea butter in their diet.
One reason is simply the taste, as many people find shea butter fairly bland or simply unappealing. At the same time, there is no shortage of other types of healthy fat. In fact, a common alternative is cocoa butter, which tends to have a more attractive flavor.
Additionally, shea butter is on the expensive side. Because of this, many people rely on it for external uses instead – because the benefits of doing so are more dramatic.
Nevertheless, if you do want to include shea butter in your diet, it is a healthy ingredient. Plus, you may find that you like the flavor. There is an article at Leaf.tv that offers further insight into doing so.
You can also turn to Mark’s Daily Apple, which has a fascinating discussion about cooking with cocoa butter and shea butter, along with the implications of doing so.
Shea Butter Refinement
So then, what are the differences between types of shea butter?
Well, with unrefined shea butter, the shea is extracted from the seeds by manual methods. In particular, the seeds are boiled and then pounded to break them open. Once they have been opened and the broken shell removed, the inner seed is typically beaten and boiled.
In many cases, unrefined shea butter is sold as-is, so there are often visible impurities present. However, the butter can also go through cheesecloth or a commercial strainer, which reduces these impurities.
Both methods are considered unrefined because the processes involved are mechanical.
In contrast, refined shea butter takes advantage of chemicals. These can help to break open the nuts and also make the process of separating out the fat much faster.
The chemicals used have impacts on the finished product as well. For example, they can help to make the shea butter smooth and remove any odor. Some companies may also add in their own ingredients, such as preservatives and perfumes.
Because of the processes, unrefined shea butter tends to have a nutty natural scent, is generally beige and often isn’t entirely smooth.
Needless to say, the physical and chemical approaches have different impacts on the chemical properties of the butter. Specifically, chemical refinement may destroy some of the nutrients present. As such, there is less potential for health benefits overall.
There is also concern that chemical refinement could leave behind residues in the shea butter. If that is the case, then it is another reason to choose the natural version.
Raw, Unrefined and Refined Shea Butter
For the most part, labeling shea butter as refined or unrefined is adequate. But, there are additional classifications to consider.
In particular, the term raw is sometimes applied. Typically, this means that the shea butter has gone through the least amount of processing. As such, this type of shea butter will have the strongest nutty smell, more texture and will be yellower.
On the other hand, unrefined shea butter may have been through more processing. So, it may have had some filtration or may be whiter overall.
In theory, the less refined shea butter is, the more potential for health benefits. With that in mind, raw unrefined shea butter would tend to offer the greatest health potential.
Beyond this, there is also a grading system for shea butter, which can be useful for determining what you are getting.
Under this system, there are grades A, B, C, D and E. These break down as follows:
- Grade A: Raw/unrefined – extracted using water
- Grade B: Refined
- Grade C: Highly refined – extracted using solvents like hexane
- Grade D: Lowest grade without contaminants
- Grade E: Has contaminants
Of these grades, only Grade A has the characteristic nutty smell of shea butter and can range in color from cream to grayish yellow.
Notably, this grading system doesn’t distinguish between raw and unrefined, and companies will define them differently as well. It’s also worth noting that the classification system has been suggested. So, companies don’t have to follow it.
All of these patterns suggest that the greatest health benefits come from raw unrefined shea butter. But, you are likely to get similar (if not identical) benefits from shea butter that is simply marketed as unrefined as well. In many cases, the products may even be the same, just using different marketing techniques.
Choosing High-Quality Shea Butter
So then, with all this in mind, how do you pick the best shea butter?
One important factor is to find companies that are transparent. In particular, some companies will tell you everything you need to know about where the shea butter comes from and how it is extracted.
In contrast, others won’t.
One particular product that we highly recommend is Ivory Shea Butter from Molivera Organics.
The shea butter is very reasonable in terms of price but the company also has a strong emphasis on making sure their shea butter is as unprocessed as possible. The company itself also has a positive reputation and produces a wide range of other natural products for personal care and beauty.
Another option to consider is the shea butter from the company Rise ‘n Shine. Of the two, this shea butter isn’t as popular but it is still a high-quality product.
At the same time, this company is very good at customer service, particularly in terms of responding to issues and queries that people have. This can be a key advantage in many cases, especially if this would be your first time using shea butter.
There are other options out there too but both of these examples can be good places to start. If nothing else, the products would help you figure out what you think of shea butter and whether it is right for your needs.
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