Shea Butter is extracted from the nuts of a tree only found on the continent of Africa. Shea Butter is extracted from the nuts of the Shea-Karite tree.
Pure Shea Butter differs in the methods of extraction used to get it from the nut. Also, Shea Butter is often graded.
Raw or unrefined- This Shea Butter will be extracted using only water. The color will vary based on the nuts used. The color will range from a cream color or slightly off-white to an actual yellow or yellowish gray. This is the original form of Shea Butter. It will also usually have a distinct nutty aroma.
Refined- is more highly processed. It may be filtered and deodorized. Many of its natural components are still in there. But, some of the natural coloring and aroma will have been removed.
Highly refined or processed- In this case something other than water is used to increase the amount of butter that can be taken from a bath. A solvent like hexane will be used. The color of this product will be pure white.
DEMAND FOR SHEA BUTTER
Why is Shea butter in such demand? Western countries are just beginning to recognize the considerable health and beauty benefits of Shea butter, something Africans have known for thousands of years. Shea butter has been used to help heal burns, sores, scars, dermatitis, psoriasis, dandruff, and stretch marks. It may also help diminish wrinkles by moisturizing the skin, promoting cell renewal, and increasing circulation. Shea butter also contains cinnamon acid, a substance that helps protect the skin from harmful UV rays.
Shea butter is a particularly effective moisturizer because contains so many fatty acids, which are needed to retain skin moisture and elasticity. The high fatty acid content of Shea butter also makes it an excellent additive to soap, shampoos, anti-aging creams, cosmetics, lotions, and massage oils—its soft, butter-like texture melts readily into the skin.
Shea butter protects the skin from both environmental and free-radical damage. It contains vitamins A and E, and has demonstrated both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Shea butter is already added to many cosmetic products, but you can also purchase 100 percent pure Shea butter at most health food stores and from online distributors. Unrefined Shea butter is superior in that it retains all its natural vitamins, especially vitamin A and vitamin E. However, the natural smell of Shea can be a bit off-putting (stinky), though the aroma does disappear after it has been applied to your skin within minutes. You can also buy ultra-refined and refined Shea butter. Both of these types are have a more pleasing scent, color, and consistency, although the refining process may diminish the vitamin potency.
Many online distributors sell Shea butter in various sizes, containers, prices, and types, but make sure to do your research before buying them—not all Shea butter products are created equal, and some products contain a significant amount of potentially irritating additives and very little real Shea butter.
That said, one hundred percent natural Shea butter is a handy thing to have around the house. It can be used as an all-natural hair conditioner, moisturizer, and makeup remover, or as a treatment for burns, cuts, scrapes, sunburns, and diaper rash. Shea butter may also help treat skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis; however, keep in mind that you should always consult a physician or dermatologist about serious or persistent skin problems. Shea butter is not recommended for people with nut or latex allergies.
Burkina Faso, women have traditionally played a central role in the extraction of Shea butter, from the stage of collection of Shea nuts to its final processing into Shea butter.
However, the improved economic conditions of the Shea trade had not permeated to benefit them and as result their participation had remained restricted to their local markets, while the men had garnered the large export market to Europe for the cosmetic industry; the wide disparity in returns to the local women is reflected in the fact that a tonne of unprocessed Shea nuts which sold in 1997 locally for CFA700,000 (US$980) and exported at CFA1,000,000 (US$1400) sold at CFA1,048,000 (US$2072) once processed into Shea butter; a kilo of butter which sold locally at only a paltry equivalent of 60 cents to the women was worth two to three times as much in the international market.
The export earnings were boosted due to Shea butter’s use in cosmetics (for lotions, creams, soaps and other products) by well-known firms such as L’Oreal, The Body Shop and L’Occitane en Provence.
These exports were monitored by UNIFEM to ensure benefits flowed directly to the local women involved in the industry; the L’Occitane purchase was engineered directly, bypassing middlemen, through the Union des groupements Kiswendsida (UGK), a network of more than 100 Shea groups set up in Burkina Faso.
As a result, Shea butter exports for L’Occitane alone recorded an increase from 60 tonnes in 2001 to 90 tonnes in 2002, with greater share of the spoils reaching the women who produced it. The women were also trained in the trade to produce better quality product, as quality had declined in the recent past.
This women empowerment process has imparted “a certain sense of self-respect among the workers. It has also helped the women producers earn the respect of their family and the right to speak out in the community.”
Bark of the tree is used to cure ailments in skin treatment in children and treat minor scratches and cuts. Shea unsaponifiables are used as anti-inflammatory treatment for arthritis and a topical treatment for eczema and other skin conditions including herpes lesions. A patented product “nutraceutical” is a Shea product that has been developed for lowering cholesterol in humans. Its use as a base for medicinal ointments, has been claimed to have anti-inflammatory, emollient and humectant properties.
“Wild Shea Tree Benefits, Burkina Faso: Women Engaged in Shea Sector Gain from Trade In ‘Shea Butter’”. Gender and Trade: Commonwealth