"Shea butter is the skin's best friend," according to the American Shea Butter Institute (ASBI). Pure, unrefined shea butter is an all-natural cream that heals as it moisturizes, improving blemishes, wrinkles, eczema, and dermatitis. It also helps treat skin allergies, insect bites, sunburn, frostbite, and dry, brittle hair.
Shea's healing properties come from vitamins A and E, fatty acids, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. According to the ASBI, unrefined shea butter also contains cinnamic acid, an ingredient that acts as a natural sunscreen. Closely related to cinnamon, cinnamic acid loses its natural sunscreen properties if sits on the shelf too long or is mixed with other additives.
Avoid pure white shea butter-this is a sign that the product has been highly refined and stripped of nutrients. The color should be buttery to reflect shea's natural vitamin A content.
NOW SolutionsShea Butter Lotion combines vitamin E, aloe, and meadowfoam seed oil with 10 percent shea butter to soothe dry, flaky, irritated skin. Citrus oils and vanilla extract leave a fresh scent.
AlaffiaAfrica's Secret Multipurpose Skin Cream mixes unrefined, fair trade shea butter with coconut oil, beeswax, African wild honey, neem oil, baobab oil, sesame oil, royal jelly, bee pollen, and bee propolis for a potent salve that treats scars, skin discolorations, and even the driest skin.
Out of Africa'sVanilla Hand Lotion is made with 10 percent unrefined, fair trade shea butter. This rich cream moisturizes hands without leaving a greasy film. Use daily to help prevent premature aging.
A few sprays of Shea Terra OrganicsShea Butter Quenching Hair & Body Oil-with certified organic, fair trade Ugandan shea butter and South African lavender essential oil-can help improve skin elasticity and protect against moisture loss. The spray also makes hair shiny and more manageable (great for brittle, damaged strands).
Out of Africa
Shea butter comes from the seed of the shea tree, also known as the "karite tree," which means "Tree of Life." The trees grow wild in the savannah regions of West and Central Africa. Shea butter is often referred to as "women's gold" because so many young women are employed in its production. And a portion of the proceeds from sales of fair trade shea products support community empowerment projects in Africa. "The shea tree and the African people have coexisted for thousands and thousands of years, depending on each other," says Alaffia founder and ethnobotanist Rose Hyde. "The tree survives as the dominant species in the savannah ecosystem because of its value to the people. And because the traditional techniques of harvesting shea by women remain true to the culture, there is a sense of pride that also elevates the women's place in the community."
Sherrie Strausfogel is the author of Hawaii's Spa Experience: Rejuvenating Secrets of the Islands. Writing about beauty, spas, health, cuisine, and travel, Strausfogel's work has appeared in more than 100 magazines, newspapers, guidebooks, and websites. She is based in Honolulu.