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Shea Butter - African Gold

We use Fair-Trade, non-child labor Shea Butter suppliers who use traditional techniques that preserve the healing and moisturizing properties.

Shea butter is a fat extracted from the nut of the African shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa). It is usually yellow in color when sun-dried, with Shea butter being ivory or white in color when roasted. Shea butter is a triglyceride (fat) derived mainly from stearic acid and oleic acid. It is widely used in cosmetics as a moisturizer, salve or lotion. Shea butter is edible and is used in food preparation in Africa. Occasionally, the chocolate industry uses shea butter mixed with other oils as a substitute for cocoa butter, although the taste is noticeably different.   

Shea butter is a slightly ivory colored butter that consists mostly of triglycerides and un-saponifiables, including Karisterols, Parkeol, Lupeol, Butryospermol, Katitene and cinnamic esters. It is a very versatile active ingredient for skin and hair care products, which has excellent anti-aging, soothing and moisturizing properties. An article published in Global Cosmetic Industry recommends shea butter for oil-free formulations especially, since it has good spread ability and quick rub-in properties (Pobeda 1999).

Shea butter has been used for centuries (perhaps millennia) as a skin treatment in Africa, particularly for newborn infants. Although the clinical data often referred to by the cosmetic companies that market shea butter are hard to locate, recent scientific studies support its alleged therapeutic value in treatment of certain skin disorders. The bioactive substances in shea butter reside in the unsaponifiable fraction – the oil-soluble constituents that would not react with alkali to form soap – which is a by-product of the CBE/CBI production process. They include anti-oxidants such as tocopherols (vitamin E) and catechins (also found in green tea). Alander and Andersson (2002) and Alander (2004) identified other specific compounds such as triterpene alcohols, known to reduce inflammation; cinnamic acid esters, which have limited capacity to absorb ultraviolet (UV) radiation; and lupeol, which prevents the effects of skin aging by inhibiting enzymes that degrade skin proteins. Shea butter also protects skin by stimulating production of structural proteins by specialized skin cells.

It is rich in vitamins and minerals and not lacking in protein. Inside the fruit is a seed rich in the mixture of edible oils and fats known as shea butter – a crucial nutritional resource for millions of rural households.  The shea tree grows very slowly, yielding its first fruit harvest after 15 to 20 years. Mature trees are preserved during land clearance for farming and thus form part of the indigenous farming system.

Most of the shea nuts collected each year are processed into shea butter for home consumption and to meet local market demand. However, since the first half of the twentieth century there has also been an export market for shea nuts as a cheap raw-material source of vegetable fat. Over 90 percent of shea nut exports serve the food industry; shea butter is industrially extracted, mainly in Europe, and subsequently separated into a vegetable fat fraction (stearin), sold for formulation into cocoa butter equivalents or improvers (CBEs/CBIs) and margarines, and an oil fraction used as a low-value base for margarines and as a component of animal feeds.

At the top of the market pyramid, cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications form a relatively small but fast-growing and potentially high-value market niche for shea nuts and shea butter. In recent decades, shea butter has become a valued ingredient in the finest natural cosmetics (Fintrac Coporation, 1999), and even small amounts in a formulation can earn a prominent display on the label. The cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries consume an estimated 2 000 to 8 000 tons of shea butter each year, and this figure is growing with demand in new markets.

These therapeutic uses of shea butter’s constituent compounds could considerably enhance the already significant interest in shea butter – since few products, natural or synthetic, can be credited with slowing or reversing the process of aging. However, there is the question of how much this interest will benefit the producers. Companies such as Karlshamn, a Swedish company that is another of the major players in the international shea industry, have moved to protect their investment in research and development of new uses for the un-saponifiable content of shea butter through patents on the processes by which these useful substances are isolated and enriched from their natural form. In terms of intellectual property rights, it is hoped that the ownership of shea genetic resources will be respected and legally protected for the benefit of the people of the shea-producing nations (Posey and Dutfield, 1996).

The traditional method of preparing shea butter consists of the following steps:

Separating/cracking: The outer pulp of the fruit is removed. When dry, the nut, which is the source of shea butter, must be separated from the outer shell. This is a social activity, traditionally done by women elders and girls who sit on the ground and break the shells with small rocks.

Crushing: To make the shea nuts into butter, they must be crushed. Traditionally, this is done with mortars and pestles. It requires lifting the pestles and grinding the nuts into the mortars to crush the nuts so they can be roasted.

Roasting: The crushed nuts are roasted in huge pots over open wood fires. The pots must be stirred constantly with wooden paddles so the butter does not burn. The butter is heavy and stirring it is hot, smoky work, done under the sun.

Grinding: The roasted shea nuts are ground into a smoother paste; water is gradually added and the paste is mixed well by hand.

Separating the oils: The paste is kneaded by hand in large basins and water is gradually added to help separate out the butter oils. As they float to the top, the butter oils, which are in a curd state, are removed and excess water squeezed out. The butter oil curds are then melted in large open pots over slow fires. A period of slow boiling will evaporate any remaining water.

Collecting and shape: The shea butter, which is creamy or golden yellow at this point, is ladled from the top of the pots and put in cool places to harden. Then it is formed into balls.

Industrially, a mechanical sheller such as the universal nut sheller may be used. The refined butter may be extracted with chemicals such as hexane or by clay filtering. This a pure, white clumpy looking product that is smooth and creamy.  Natural shea butter is like play dough in texture.

Product quality of both shea nuts and shea butter depends primarily on postharvest processing, such as parboiling of shea nuts at the start of the season to prevent the seeds from germinating and to dry them more quickly. Sun-drying of shea nut provides better quality than smoking nuts over a fire, which contaminates them with hydrocarbons.

Shea butter is mainly used in the cosmetics industry for skin- and hair-related products (lip gloss, skin moisturizer creams and emulsions, and hair conditioners for dry and brittle hair). It is also used by soap makers, typically in small amounts (5–7% of the oils in the recipe), because it has plenty of un-saponifiables, and higher amounts result in a softer soap.

Some artisan soap makers use shea butter in amounts to 25% – with the European Union regulating the maximum use around 28%, but it is rarely the case in commercially produced soap due to its high cost against oils like palm oil. It is an excellent emollient for people who suffer dry skin conditions. No evidence shows it is a cure, but it alleviates the pain associated with tightness and itching.

This is why our Shea Butter Soap is 80% butter with remaining ingredients being RSOP Palm and Organic Castor Oil for hardness and cleaning.  We believe in Quality Ingredients for a Quality Product.™

In some African countries such as Benin, shea butter is used for cooking oil, as a waterproofing wax, for hairdressing, for candle-making, and as an ingredient in medicinal ointments. It is used by makers of traditional African percussion instruments to increase the durability of wood (such as carved djembe shells), dried calabash gourds, and leather tuning straps.

Shea butter can be an ingredient of organic broth. In the UK and other countries, it is incorporated into assorted tissue products, such as toilet paper.


Shea butter is sometimes used as a base for medicinal ointments. Some of the isolated chemical constituents are reported to have anti-inflammatory, emollient, and humectant properties. Shea butter has been used as a sun-blocking lotion and some of its components "have limited capacity to absorb ultraviolet radiation".

In Ghana, shea butter, locally known as nkuto (Akan) or nku (Ga), is applied as a lotion to protect the skin during the dry Harmattan season.

In Nigeria, shea butter is used for the management of sinusitis and relief of nasal congestion. It is massaged into joints and other parts of the body where pain occurs, but there is no evidence of this being used in pain management.

Shea butter adds great benefits to African-American hair, without leaving it greasy and heavy (based on the amount that is used).  Shea butter restores moisture to hair that has been damaged from chemical hair treatments, blow dryers, straighteners and other hair tools that cause damage. It has also been known to heal bald spots when mixed with Jamaican Black Seed Oil.

Some Ideas & Recipes

Because Shea Butter is solid at room temperature it can be used as a lip balm.  Due to its natural nature, make sure you use a sealed container as it will melt if left in your car or in your pocket.  Your natural body temperature will melt the butter.

Shea butter can be used as a rub on baby’s diaper change to combat diaper rash.

Shea butter is extremely thick and rich so I wouldn’t recommend as a facial moisturizer.  We have Organic Women’s Face Oil and Face & Beard Oil for Men which is more specialized.

Shea butter can be used as is as a natural lotion which is especially good for elbows, knees and heels.  Our Moisturizing Lotion includes Tallow for a doubly-rich emollient.

Shea Butter Hair Mask

3 tbsp Shea Butter

1 tbsp Argan Oil

2 drops of Rosemary Essential Oil

3 drops of Lavender Essential Oil

Glass Bowl

Hand Whip

Glass Jar

Using microwave, melt your shea butter in 5 second intervals until it liquefies. Slowly stir to help cool down.

Add Argan Oil and Essential Oils. Mix well to combine. Carefully whip to keep texture smooth.

In about 10 minutes it’ll start to harden with a creamy texture.  Carefully scrap out into glass jar.  To avoid waste, use what’s on the whip and bowl (like the cake mix when your mother used to bake cakes as a kid!).

Start in one section of your hair and apply to scalp and strand.  Pin your hair up with a clip as you work. 

Cover with cling film or shower cap and your body temperature will help it penetrate for about 30 - 40 minutes.

When the time is up, use your sulfate-free shampoo or our Nubian Goddess Poo Bar. You may need to wash your hair several times to prevent any oily residue. You may not need to condition after shampooing since the mask itself is very conditioning!

Shea Butter Hair Growth Mix

4-8oz of Shea Butter
2 tbsp of Cupuaçu Butter
1 tbsp of Jamaican Black Castor Oil
3 to 5 drops of Essential Oil (Lavender, Peppermint or Chamomile or blend of all three)

Start by melting the Shea Butter and Cupuaçu in a double glass bowl in microwave; 5 second increments. Then let it cool slightly before adding the Jamaican Black Castor Oil and essential oil(s). Mix well with hand whip.

With clean hands apply to scalp and strands and work by sections with your fingertips.  Wrap your head with cling film or a shower cap for about 30 minutes.

When the time is up, use your sulfate-free shampoo or our Nubian Goddess Poo Bar. Gently rinse ends with Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) with the “mother” still inside the bottle. 

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