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Zoom on shea butter

You probably know that Comme Avant’s philosophy consists of rethinking cosmetic products with short formulas. But what you probably don’t know is that we make sure that each and every one of our products are made out of at least one ingredient which has been used for millennia in the world. For our cream bar, we decided to choose shea butter. This butter comes from a tree, the Butyrospermum Parkii, which only grows in the wild, mainly in Western Africa (the one we use comes from Ghana).

We are going to tell you more about this butter, which is both fascinating and mysterious. 

 

Where does shea butter come from?

To obtain quality shea butter, many specific steps are required, which need to be fully respected. It is women who have always been in charge of making shea butter and this expertise is then passed on from one generation to the next.  

The first step consists of picking shea fruits, generally between the months of June and September, when the fruits are ripe. They need to have fallen to the ground before picking them. Once picked, only the best fruits are selected. Shea trees can live up to three centuries. Once it is 25 years old, it can produce on average 20kg of fruits per season (with 20kg of fruit, around 1kg of shea butter can be made).

The pulp around the fruit’s pit then needs to be removed, by hand or with a machine. It is the pits that contain the butter. Once again, the women who sort the pits only keep the best, those without any visible imperfections. These pits are then washed in water to remove any impurities and roasted at a precise temperature for about one hour. The roasted pits are left to dry in the sun and then crushed to obtain a paste. Traditionally, this step is done with a big pestle, but this is time-consuming and requires considerable energy and strength. Many shea butter producers have therefore invested in mechanical mills. The mix is then churned to break any lumps. 

The paste is then diluted in water and left to rest until it hardens (usually overnight). The women add tepid water to separate the butter from any other residue. This operation is repeated a couple of times to obtain a butter with the least imperfections possible. The butter is considered as ready once the paste, originally brown, becomes whitish. The paste is heated one last time to remove the remaining water, the oil is filtered, packed, and the butter is ready! 

Adding tepid water to separate the butter from residues is considered as the traditional method. Shea butter extraction has now evolved as this method slightly alters the butter’s quality. African women have therefore found another method which consists in extracting the butter with a press, without heating it. This technique allows to obtain high-quality butter. However, the amount obtained is reduced and this is why this butter is very expensive. A third method exists: by using a solvent. After being crushed, the pits are mixed with hexane which evaporates while removing any residue. This method offers a very good output but considerably alters the butter which will therefore have fewer benefits. This method is mainly used for butter for the food industry (to make chocolate or chocolate sweet for example). 

 

What can you do with shea butter?

Originally, shea butter is used African kitchens, to cook or prepare food and sauces (it is always cooked). It is also largely used because of its health benefits. Shea butter is anti-inflammatory for joint problems for example. It is used in massages, for sprains and aches. It also prevents stretch marks for pregnant women. 

Shea butter is now mainly known for its use in cosmetics. It has long been used by African women on their whole body for its moisturising properties. We will come back to this a little later. Last but not least, it is used both to nourish or to style hair.

 

What are the benefits of shea butter?

You will have understood, shea butter can be used for many different purposes. In this article, we are going to specifically talk about its virtues in cosmetics for you to understand why we chose it as one of our ingredients in our cream bar. Thanks to its vitamins A, D, E, and F, shea butter has genuine effects on skin and hair.  

First of all, shea butter is very moisturising and nourishing. It leaves the skin supple, more elastic, and is a great ally for dry areas such as feet, knees, or elbows. Chapping, cracking, scars and stretch marks better watch out! It can also be used by sensitive and mature skin. Its nourishing property acts on the creation and depth of wrinkles. Shea butter also reduces skin irritations and can sometimes have a positive impact on skin illnesses. Of course, if you have skin problems, we recommend seeking your GP’s advice before using our moisturising cream. 

As mentioned previously, shea butter is anti-inflammatory, so ideal to soothe any muscular problems. It also protects the skin from any external aggressions such as the cold, pollution, but also prolonged exposure to sun (it isn’t a sun protector, but rather an aftersun). Raw shea butter contains a large amount of unsaponifiables which have an action linked with the sun. Shea butter is therefore very efficient after sun exposure, whether it be on tanned skin or skin damaged by sunburns.

Shea butter is also ideal for hair. It deeply moisturises and nourishes hair fibres without leaving them greasy. It brings back hair shine and redefines curls. It is also a good scalp moisturiser and can be a great ally for irritations and dandruff. 

  

Shea butter seems very attractive… what are the downsides? 

Just like anything, shea butter has negative aspects (it can’t be perfect…). The main one is the refining step. After shea butter has been extracted, it has a particular smell and colour which may not please everyone. Some industrials therefore prefer to refine their butter in three steps: the neutralisation (removing fatty acids which are susceptible to oxidizing), deodorisation and bleaching (to obtain a white product). Nothing serious at first glance, but as the butter undergoes high temperature during this process, it is therefore altered and loses many vitamins and unsaponifiables, responsible for all its virtues. At Comme Avant, we were of course particularly cautious to choose raw shea butter which hasn’t been refined in our cream bar so you can enjoy all the benefits of this ingredient.

Unfortunately, most cosmetic firms use refined shea butter for it to smell nice and to be whiter than white. This wouldn’t be dramatic if they didn’t praise the virtues of this ingredient. The amount of shea butter can sometimes be minimal in the product even though it is widely highlighted on the product’s packaging. Shea butter products are being sold even though they hardly contain any, and refined shea butter doesn’t really have any real benefits for the skin. We discussed in this article (LINK) the notion of greenwashing. We aren’t even mentioning the environmental impacts of refining which is a very polluting method… 

 

How to choose a quality shea butter? 

It isn’t easy to distinguish raw and refined shea butter, even less in an end product. The INCI name stays the same (Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter), the butter can be organic, whether it be refined or not. The organic certification here is therefore not the only seal of quality, especially as many small producers aren’t able to afford it. It is therefore very important to learn how to distinguish refined from raw shea butter. 

We are going to list four characteristics which are specific to raw shea butter:

The texture: raw shea butter is solid (like cooking butter) and melts easily when in contact with skin, whereas refined shea butter has difficulties penetrating the skin and leaves a grainy texture, a sign that it has been exposed to too much heat.

The colour: shea butter varies between off-white and light yellow according to the country in which it is produced. If it is white, this means it is refined, and if it is dark yellow, this means a vegetable oil has been added to the shea butter.

- The smell: shea butter has a light small of cocoa which fades away after a couple of minutes once the butter has been applied on the skin. If it doesn’t smell or if the smell is too strong, this means that the pits chosen for the butter were of low quality or that the butter has been refined. 

- The taste: this technique is only valid for raw shea butter (don’t try to eat your cream, we haven’t done any tests to check if it is edible!). This helps to evaluate the amount of fatty acid in the butter. A good quality shea butter shouldn’t sting the tip of your tongue.

Last but not least, raw shea butter is inevitably more expensive than refined butter. The price is therefore also a good quality indicator.

 

Just like the majority of natural ingredients in cosmetics, shea butter is very beneficial for skin and hair, providing you chose a quality butter. With the rise of natural cosmetics these last decades, abuses are more and more present, and we can only recommend doing some research on the ingredients in your favorite cosmetics and their manufacturing methods. Our shea butter is raw, organic-certified, and comes from Ghana. 🙂