Shea butter is an ivory coloured fat extracted from the nuts of the shea tree. It is used widely in cosmetics as a moisturizer and sometimes used in the chocolate industry as a substitute for cocoa butter.
The use of shea butter has increased in popularity in the last few years with the increase in demand for more natural products for black curly hair types. Although its popularity in the west has only increased in recent years, in some parts of Africa it has been used for hundreds of years!
The best shea butter to use is the unrefined kind as all its healing properties are still intact. The refining process apart from adding different chemicals to the shea butter raises the temperature to about 400 degrees F which makes it lose some of its healing properties. Unrefined shea butter comes in blocks or can be bought already packed in jars. It is odourless if 100% pure or can be bought ready fragranced with essential oils.
Using it on the hair can be in a variety of ways.
o You can apply it straight to damp hair. It tends to be a bit hard in its natural state but will readily melt and be absorbed when it comes in contact with the skin or hair.
o You can also make shea butter easier to apply. Place the shea butter in a double boiler and melt it on a low heat. Add a natural oil to the shea butter e.g. extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil and stir until thoroughly mixed. The natural oil should make up about ¼ the volume of the shea butter. Pour the mixture back into a jar. Due to the addition of the olive oil, the shea butter will remain relatively soft when completely cooled and set and is easier to apply to the hair.
o Another way of using shea butter is to whip it with a few other natural ingredients and essential oils to make a homemade butter. A simple recipe is below.
Shea butter crème
1. 4 tablespoons shea butter
2. 2 tablespoon cocoa butter
3. 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4. A few drops of your favourite essential oil for fragrance
Melt the shea butter and cocoa butter in a double boiler over a low heat until melted and add the olive oil. Pour the oils into a bowl and at this point, add a few drops of the essential oil for fragrance. Put your bowl over another bowl filled with ice to allow the oils to set faster. Whisk vigorously until the mixture is light and fluffy (you may want to use an electric hand whisk for this. Spoon into a jar and enjoy!