Shea tree, scientific name Vitellaria paradoxa, is a plant of the Sapotaceae family very common in Africa. From its seeds, improperly called shea nuts, the famous shea butter is obtained, which is solid at room temperature. This butter is used both as a condiment in the African tradition and as a basic ingredient in various cosmetic products after removing all impurities. Today we talk about the uses of shea butter in cosmetics.
Shea butter, cosmetic properties
Shea butter is emollient, repairs the damaged skin barrier, is nourishing, moisturizing and antioxidant thanks to the content of tocopherol, vitamin A and phenols (Megnanou et al, Springerplus, 2015). Shea also contains fatty acids such as oleic, stearic, linoleic and palmitic acids that nourish the skin. Not only that, this butter has an important anti-inflammatory and healing action thanks to substances, called triterpenes, of which shea is rich. Triterpenes stimulate tissue repair by reducing the time it takes for a wound to close (Tzu-Kai Lin et al, Int J Mol Sci, 2018 - Maranz et al, J Agric Food Chem, 2004).
Shea butter, how to use it on the skin
Shea butter, as we will see, is beneficial for all skin types, both mature skin with wrinkles, but also acne-prone skin and sensitive skin. This butter helps the skin to remain elastic, soft, it acts as a prevention of wrinkles and stretch marks. Shea butter, once applied on the skin, is a powerful protection against external agents such as wind, sun rays and cold thanks to the protective film it forms. Therefore, thanks to these characteristics, it is useful for lips, hands, feet and areas of the body that tend to crack but also in case of wounds, small pimples and irritation, such as the area around the nose that reddens due to a cold. You can apply shea butter directly on the area affected by wounds, burns, scalds or irritations but you can also prepare a mask, also useful to hydrate the skin and nourish it. Simply spread a generous layer on the face and leave on for about fifteen minutes (Carayanni et al, BMC Complement Altern Med, 2011). You can add 2-3 drops of an essential oil, such as carrot oil in case of mature skin or blue chamomile oil if the skin is irritated. After the shower or bath you can apply a small amount of shea butter on the body, like a real body cream, but you can also use this butter as an aftershave. Finally, shea butter also proves useful in countering, or at least reducing, eczema, psoriasis and atopic dermatitis (Nisbet et al, Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol., 2018 - Del Rosso et al, J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. , 2011).
Shea butter for hair beauty
Shea butter is also useful to treat brittle and dry hair, also if damaged by salt or chlorine. Moreover, shea butter is among the ingredients capable of fighting seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp (Del Rosso et al, J Clin Aesthet Dermatol., 2011). You can apply it as a mask on the scalp and all hair lengths and leave on for a quarter of an hour by covering the head with a plastic wrap, then rinse with shampoo.
Shea butter, also useful in case of pain
In addition to these properties just seen, shea butter is also analgesic and, together with the anti-inflammatory action, acts to give relief in case of back pain, muscle and joint pain (Verma et al, J Complement Integr Med, 2012 - Kao et al, PLoS One, 2016). Heat the shea butter in a double boiler and apply it on the painful area by making slow and circular massages.
Grainy shea butter, is it a problem?
It often happens that shea butter appears grainy. Or even that some cosmetics like lip balms or shea-based ointments lose their soft consistency after a while and present many granules. This does not mean that the product has gone bad, on the contrary, you can continue to use it without problems. In fact, the granules, in contact with the skin, will melt. The formation of the granules is due to the fact that, as we have seen, shea butter contains different types of fatty acids, each with different melting points. When the butter, or the product that contains it, is subject to temperature changes, for example when the external temperature rises and then goes down again, some fatty acids dissolve and solidify again before others, that's why they form granules.