Benefits of shea butter

The shea fruit grows on trees. The first fruits appear 15 years after planting a tree and after 25 years the tree is fully grown. It can produce fruits for up to 200 years. In West African countries the production of shea products is an important source of income, especially among many women and also a way to become financially independent. In some countries around 50 % of the population’s workforce is involved to a larger or lesser extent in the shea business.

The butter extracted from the shea nut (Vitellaria paradoxa) is commonly used in foods and cosmetics. The butter is a triglyceride and consists of stearic and oleic acids. The purest form is organic, raw, unrefined butter with the highest content of fatty acids. Lower quality products are processed and sometimes bleached.

To obtain the shea butter the seeds must be boiled and the shell has to crack. The seeds are then sun-dried. A paste is produced by roasting and grinding the kernel. The paste has to be pressed to extract the shea butter. Nutritionally the butter has only fatty acids and small amounts of vitamin A, C and E. Therefore, it is more common in Europe and North America to use it in cosmetics rather than food. In West African countries the use in food is spread wider. Similar to most other fatty products, shea butter is calorically dense with about 900 kcal per 100 grams. Shea butter is often mixed into creams, lotions and shampoos. However, it has to be mentioned that it stays the most effective if it is applied in its pure form. Shea butter is most known for the following applications:

  • Skin hydration: Fatty acids and antioxidants can get into deep layers of the skin and soften and moisturize it
  • Hair care: Shea butter is known to promote health and growth of hair and scalp – It is mild and thus prevents inflammation and reduces dandruff and hair loss
  • Skin problems: Here it helps reduce certain dermatological problems such as itchiness, acne, eczema and psoriasis
  • Anti-ageing: Oxidative stress leading to wrinkles and spots can be reduced as shea butter contains linolenic and linoleic acid
  • Stretch marks: These can appear after weight-loss or pregnancy – Shea butter can make the skin look brighter and thus reduce the visibility of the lines
  • Diaper rashes: Among toddlers it can prevent rashes caused by friction of diapers

Shea butter should be kept in a dry and cool place to avoid melting. The quality of the active ingredients in unrefined shea butter remains the same for up to 2 years of storage. It has to be said that allergic reactions may occur among some groups of people. Therefore, any kind of skin product must be tested individually for skin tolerance.


Written by: Benjamin Sydney Pretsch

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