Skip to main content

The Benefits of Pure Shea Butter. Plus, How To Tell If It's Real

Comfort Babatola is a Nigerian-American whose interests include travel, faith, cooking, sewing, decorating, wellness, and fashion.

Handcrafted Pure Shea Butter

Handcrafted Pure Shea Butter

Pure Shea Butter's Origin

Pure Shea Butter, next to Aloe Vera, can be found in most beauty product in the world today. This sought after natural butter has many health benefits, both as a beauty product, and also as a cooking ingredient. So, what is the source of this sought after beauty product?

Growing enormously in the wooded areas of the West Africa’s Savanna vegetation are the world most best kept secret of natural skin beauty, wild Shea trees, or Butyrospermum parkii, as it is called in the world of cosmetics. Shea trees are the source from which Shea Butter are made.

How Is Shea Butter Produced?

Shea butter is an oil extract from the kernel of the Shea nut of the Shea tree. The Shea Tree grows wildly in most of the countries in West African. The nuts are in abundance during rainy season, and are collected naturally by the hard working women of the region.

Note that, Shea Butter could be processed through the boiling of the Shea nuts, or by sun-drying the Shea nut. This sun-drying process is said to yield the best quality Shea butter.

Shea butter can also be produced by smoking the nuts over a fire. The smoking process is the least favored processing option as the Shea butter is said to be contaminated with the hydrocarbons from the smoke. This process is also noted to give the Shea butter an unpleasant smell.

The Boiling, Sun-Dried Process of Shea Butter Production. Most Preferred

Once the fresh nuts of the Shea Tree is gathered by the women, the nuts are washed to remove stuck-on dirt. The nuts are then parboiled to soften the outer shell in preparation for drying it in the sun. The boiled nuts are left to dry out in the sun for a few days after which the hard sun-dried shells are removed, washed, and dried again.

Once dried, the nuts are taken to the mill for grinding. The rest of the work is then done by the women. Women kneed dark paste for long back-breaking hours. The paste is then sifted to remove some stray shafts or shells. The result is a fine paste of wholesome Pure Shea Butter.

Boiled & Sun-Dried Shea Nuts, Ready for Shelling.

Boiled & Sun-Dried Shea Nuts, Ready for Shelling.

Worth Mentioning

The Shea butter is extracted through laborious processing, but often, the women who labors to produce this widely sought after butter gets paid the least due to wide spread exploitation from their own people (the middle-man) and the buyers, here in the west.

Common Uses of Pure Shea Butter

As a child growing up in Nigeria, I did not have an appreciation for Shea Oil/butter because of the smell. It has a mildly nauseating odor to it. I will always wonder how such a thing of beauty can also be so undesirable to the senses. Amazingly, it does wonders! Among its many uses are the following:

Pure Shea Butter As A Skin Cleanser

Pure Shea Butter is great for skin cleansing - When a baby is born, they usually have traces of fine hair called lanugo, and some greasy substance on their skin. In Nigeria, the baby gets wipe down from head to toe with pure Shea Butter, and sometimes palm oil. The baby is them washed down with pure black soap (another natural ingredient), or western processed baby soap as some today may prefer.

It is believed that this first bath is a necessary ritual that helps get rid of what can be a lifetime of bad body odor. It is also used for hair care, and of course as a remedy for a healthier, glowing skin among others.

Scroll to Continue

Pure Shea Butter As A Healing Ointment

Pure Shea butter has been used for centuries as a healing balm. It is very rich in anti-oxidants, helps to fight free radicals on skin It is great for sensitive skins as it has soothing anti-inflammatory properties. It is believed to help in removing stretch marks that results from pregnancy. It is also said to help with swelling and joint pain.

Pure Shea Butter For Cooking

Pure shea butter is used in some parts of the world for cooking. The richness of this all-natural butter-textured oil makes it easy to substitute it in place of butter for some African dish recipes. It can also be used as a spread on toasted bread.

The base in most traditional soup like egusi (a Yoruba specialty) is pure Shea butter. When used in cooking, pure Shea butter tastes good and odorless.

Shea Butter Makes a Great Vegetarian Substitute for Butter

Shea butter is extracted from the seed of the Shea tree. This makes this butter an all-natural plant product, and can therefore be substituted for butter or margarine in any vegetarian diet or recipe that calls for butter.

unrefined shea butter

unrefined shea butter

Unrefined Shea Butter. The Real Thing

After processing, the Shea butter emerges as an odourless, and nearly tasteless creamy paste, somewhat similar to firm butter. The Shea butter in its purest state has a yellow tint to it (see image above). This color is due to the Vitamin A content of the oil/butter. It can sometimes be a creamy off-white color depending on the boiling process, or whether the root or the nut's fat is used.

Shea butter in its purest form can be found in the regions of West and Central Africa and other tropical regions of the world. In countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and Togo, it is sold in the open local markets, often for less than $0.50¢ per pound. Import fees and transportation cost to countries across the Atlantic drives the price up, so a pound of pure Shea butter can cost you somewhere around $10 to $14 here in the United States and Europe.

Shea butter can be found or bought in its purest form from most health stores and African Markets. You can also buy Shea butter from online stores on Etsy, Amazon and other online stores.

Watch Two Local West African Women Make Pure Shea Butter

Shea Butter In Beauty Products. Not The Real Thing

Beauty conscious women and men alike will pay a lot of money for the purest of this natural oil/butter. But sadly enough, products that boast an inclusion of Shea butter in their ingredients almost don’t have enough of it, and sometimes even none of the Shea Butter needed to provide any of the benefit that pure Shea butter is known for. The reason for this is that for one to get the benefit of Shea Butter, it has to be in its purest form. That means; no additives, no coloring, and no bleaching. This is where beauty products manufacturers run into a problem.

Beauty product manufacturers are very much aware of the benefits of Shea butter in its purest form, but in other for Shea butter to be marketable here and in Europe, beauty products manufacturer introduces chemicals and additives to enhances the smell of the Shea butter, diluting and altering it in the process. Once tampered with, the Shea butter scents appeals to the senses, but lacks the moisturizing and healing properties of pure unrefined Shea butter.

So the next time you pick up a beauty product that boast Shea butter as one of its ingredients, beware! It may not be worth all that it's cracked up to be.


timonweller on May 10, 2011:

Nice topic, I use shea butter sometimes, but prefer emu oil.

Related Articles