Shea Butter Basics
Shea Butter, also known as African Karite butter, comes from the fruit kernels of the Karite Nut (Butyrospermum parkii) tree found in the savannahs of central Africa and has been used across the African continent for centuries.
Its scientific name, Butyrospermum parkii, is derived from the Greek words boutyron, which means "butter" and sperma, which means "seed."
Each summer, the tree bears a fruit the size of a plum, which contains a nut. Shea butter is the fat extracted from the seed that is removed from the shea nut. The Shea kernels look similar to a horse chestnut and are comprised of about 50 percent fat, 10 percent protein, and 30 percent carbohydrates. The pits of the fruit are picked by hand, allowed to sun dry, and then roasted in order to dehydrate the nut.
The dried fruit is hand crushed in order to remove the skin and then smoothed between two stones into a brown paste. The women of this region transform the brown paste into a soft white butter. Pure unrefined virgin shea butter undergoes no chemical processing and is free from bleaching agents, preservatives, and additives. It is still harvested and prepared using the same method practiced for thousands of years.
This method of preparing the virgin shea retains the natural goodness, vitamins, and minerals, and allows the nutty, smoky scent to be naturally preserved. The color of the butter ranges from off-white to gray to golden brown, to green, depending on the maturity of the nut.
All Shea Butters Are Not Created Equal!
At Chagrin Valley we use high quality, naturally extracted, unrefined, virgin shea butter. This butter commands a premium price, but you get an incredible product because it is less refined preserving more of the inherent nutrients. Shea butter is available in various forms; unrefined, refined, and ultra-refined. How the shea butter is extracted from the nut and how it is subsequently processed determines its final nourishing qualities.
Unrefined (Virgin) Shea Butter
At the high end of the shea butter spectrum, you have a natural, manual extraction process which leaves more of the wonderful raw ingredients in the Shea Butter. This shea butter can vary in color from yellow to gray to even a slightly green and has a smoky, nutty scent. Color, texture, and scent vary depending on the region in which the Karite tree grows. Unrefined shea is very sensitive to changes in temperature and can be difficult to work with. It is not uncommon for products made with this butter to have a bit of a grainy feel to them. Although the grainy part melts the second it touches your skin, you can see why cosmetic companies shy away.
To qualify as unrefined, shea butter must not have passed through any filtering systems using chemicals or other methods that would remove or reduce the natural nourishing components or change its natural properties in any way. Unrefined shea butter is passed through a cheesecloth filter to remove nut skins. As with all nuts, there is a skin between the nut and the shell which can and does, get into the shea butter as it is being pressed out of the cooked nuts. You may even see some of the nut skin pieces that escaped the cheesecloth in our shea butter products.
Refined Shea Butter
This shea butter has been passed through one or more filtering systems. It is often deodorized using chemicals, or other processes, to remove the natural nutty aroma. It may be bleached, either chemically or as a result of the filtering system used to make it whiter in color. It may have a preservative added to it to prevent it from going rancid since the natural antioxidants and vitamins that naturally keep it fresh have been removed. The quality of this shea butter depends on the refining system used and there is no standard in place.
Ultra-Refined Shea Butter
At the other end of the spectrum, ultra-refined shea is usually extracted using solvents, a cheaper, quicker and more efficient method of extraction. This shea butter has been filtered and re-filtered. It is deodorized, bleached to pure white, and further processed to produce a softer, smoother textured product that is easier for mass production machines to incorporate it into commercial lotions, which is why it is extensively used by the cosmetic industry. Even smaller companies making shea butter products will use this type of shea butter since is cheaper, easier to work with, produces a finer textured product. Ultra-refined shea butter will often have preservatives added since the natural antioxidants and vitamins that act as natural preservatives have been removed. This over-processed product does not retain any of the healing or nourishing properties that shea butter is known for, other than basic moisturizing.
If Unrefined Shea Is So Much Better . . . Why Would Any Company Use Refined?
Cost: The pure good stuff is always more costly. We could charge at least 20-30% less for she butter products if we used the refined stuff.
Scent: The smoky, nutty scent of unrefined virgin shea makes it difficult to scent. The aroma of scent blends is changed by the natural scent of shea. Essential oils are very expensive and more need to be used in a product made with virgin shea. Also, since essential oils, or any fragrance, has a limited skin safe amount that should be used, the smoky scent of virgin shea often still comes through.
Texture: Refined shea is processed to create a softer, smoother textured product that is easier to incorporate it into creams and lotions.
Ease of use: Unrefined shea is much more finicky and often difficult to work with. Products using virgin shea that has been melted may have small pearls or dots of shea that rise to the surface after it hardens back up and crystallizes. If customers see this as a flaw, skin care companies lose money.
We believe that if we simply take the time to educate consumers about the benefits of unrefined shea butter, they will understand its limitations.
At Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve, We Believe That Your Skin Deserves The Best!
The less refined, the more natural raw ingredients remain in the Shea Butter. A good analogy is bread. At one end you have a less refined natural whole wheat bread loaded with natural fiber, vitamins, and wheat protein. At the other end, you have white bread!
When purchasing a shea product from another company, be sure to ask, "What kind of shea butter do you use?"
Our Shea Butter Is . . .
- USDA Certified Organic
- Fair Trade Certified by Fair Trade USA*
- Made from the nuts of the (African Karite) Shea tree, growing naturally in Ghana without chemicals or sprays of any kind
- Hand harvested and gathered by the woman in the co-op
- Prepared by the cold press or a traditional kneading process without the use of added chemicals or preservatives
*Using Fair Trade Certified™ Organic Shea Nut Butter supports quality products that improve lives and protect the environment.
Unrefined (virgin) Shea Butter is a great emollient and easily penetrates the skin to moisturize.
Virgin Shea Butter has a high amount of Vitamin A and Vitamin E, as well as phytosterols, triterpenes, fatty esters, and phenolic acids. Vitamins A and E are important in helping to repair skin damage; phytosterols, and triterpenes aid in skin allergies; phenolic acids are good for cellular protection.
Virgin Shea Butter is widely used to protect skin from the sun’s UV rays, as well as soften and heal cracked and aged skin.
- Evens skin tone
- Absorbs quickly without leaving greasy residue like mineral oil based products
- Penetrates deep into the epidermal layer of your skin to help restore elasticity to maturing skin and prevent the cellular breakdown that leads to dry, cracking skin, and stretch marks
- Stimulates cellular activity, fights the effects of aging and repairs rough, damaged skin
- Returns natural luster to skin and hair
- Does not clog pores
- Revitalizes softens and maintains skin moisture
- Aids in the healing of wounds and may improve scars due to its anti-inflammatory properties
- Used to heal eczema, burns, rashes, severely dry skin, and to lessen the irritation of psoriasis
- Moisturizes after shaving to prevent irritation
- Has natural sun blocking powers and may protect skin from sun damage and environmental elements
- Nourishes the hair shaft
- Moisturizes dry, dull over-processed and heat-treated hair resulting in improved brilliance and manageability
- Helps prevent weak hair from breaking, fading, or thinning out and may promote hair growth
ALLERGY ALERT: Shea butter contains natural latex. Although it is not exactly the same as the sap-like latex extract from the Rubber Tree (Hevea brasiliensis), it is very similar in chemical composition. Although the quantities of latex in shea butter are small, this natural latex is responsible for the sealing property that shea butter has that may aid in protecting your skin and preventing sun allergies.
Persons suffering from latex allergies should do an Allergy Patch Test before using any shea butter product. Many people with latex allergies are not affected by shea butter, but some are, so it is better to be safe than sorry!