Characteristics, Formulation Tips, and Recipes
Shea Butter: creamy, smooth, hydrating, protecting. Shea Butter is ubiquitous in skincare; synonymous with luxurious hydration. This holy grail ingredient is not only high in nutrients Vitamin E and A- it is full of essential fatty acids needed to achieve healthy skin. Because of its natural ability to moisturize, protect, and nourish, shea butter holds one of the top spots in the natural beauty world as an all-time favorite skin savior. Primarily hailing from West Africa Shea Butter plays an important economic role in many rural communities. The Shea Butter we love to use in soaps, lotions, deodorants, and creams must undergo countless steps at the hand of skilled artisans to transform into the product we are familiar with.
Shea butter is a complex fat that in addition to many nonsaponifiable components (substances that cannot be fully converted into soap by treatment with alkali) contains the following fatty acids: oleic acid (40–60%), stearic acid (20–50%), linoleic acid (3–11%), palmitic acid (2–9%), linolenic acid (<1%) and arachidic acid (<1%). In other words, Shea butter is full of essential fatty acids, which are necessary to keep skin healthy and supple. Essential fatty acids are imperative for a healthy skin membrane, and our bodies love the fatty acids present in plant-based butters like Shea. Shea butter melts at body temperature, which makes it a popular ingredient in hydrating recipes such as body butters and lotions. Proponents of its use for skin care maintain that it absorbs rapidly into the skin, acts as a "refatting" agent, and has good water-binding properties. Read: healthy, moisturized and glowing skin!
Shea Butter Harvesting + Processing
Shea Butter is obtained from the nuts of the shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa), which grows naturally and abundantly in West African countries like Ghana, Burkina Faso, Sudan, and Niger. Large swaths of land in West Africa grow Shea trees with little to no human interference, with the Shea nuts harvest taking place only when they fall naturally from the trees. In some of these countries, Shea Butter is a top export and the processing of Shea nuts into Shea butter is an extremely important economic activity for the people of this region.
The harvest and subsequent processing of Shea nuts is a complex endeavor, consisting of several steps from start to finish. Before the Shea nuts can be transformed into the creamy, hydrating Shea butter we love to use in handmade cosmetics, several steps are undertaken at the hands of skilled craftspeople. This process begins when the shea fruit matures into the shea nut which has the shea kernel within it. The kernel is the source of the shea butter that is extracted through several hours of arduous processing, over 22 steps, to produce 1 kg of the butter. In Burkina Faso, an impoverished country, it is the exclusive prerogative of rural women who number from 300,000 to 400,000 (source). Once the shea nut is processed into shea butter through crushing, grinding, and emulsifying, it is then packaged for utilization in soap and other skincare products.
Fair Trade Importance
Based on the simple idea that the products we buy and sell are connected to the livelihoods of others, fair trade is a way to make a conscious choice for a better world. A choice for Fair Trade Certified™ goods is a choice to support responsible companies, empower farmers, workers, and fishermen, and protect the environment. In other words, it’s a world-changing way of doing business (source).
These principles are important to the Shea butter trade to ensure the skilled artisans crafting our Shea Butter are paid a fair market price for their product, resulting in stable communities and sustainable development. At Maker and Merchant, we are proud to be Fair Trade Certified™ and offer Fair Trade Certified™ Shea Butter sourced directly from Ghana.
Refined Versus Unrefined (Virgin) Shea Butter
There are a few different types of Shea butter available for use in the market, and it is important to understand what you’re trying to achieve with your formulation in order to choose the right variation. At Maker and Merchant, we offer two types of equally beneficial Shea butters: Refined and Unrefined (Virgin) Shea. The primary difference between these two different types of Shea butter is how much the natural Shea butter is processed.
Unrefined (Virgin) Shea nut butter is physically extracted from shea nuts and results in a butter with an off-white color and a characteristic aroma. Many people love Unrefined Shea butter because there are no additional steps involved in the processing, thus retaining the unique Shea scent and minor variations in color that can occur. Unrefined Shea can range from an off-white or ivory to slightly yellow. Typically, it is best to steer away from Shea that is bright yellow as it often has unnecessary additives incorporated to achieve that hue.
Refined Shea butter is physically extracted from the shea nuts, but goes through an additional step in the refinement process. Maker and Merchant’s Refined Shea butter undergoes a non-chemical processing step that results in a white and deodorized material while maintaining the essential fatty acids and nutrients. The resulting Shea product is stable, consistent, low odor, and uniform in color. This non-chemical processing step does not introduce harmful additives like hexane and does not strip the Shea butter from its valuable nutrients. Cosmetics formulators that require absolute uniform shea butter will often prefer their shea butter refined to ensure uniformity from batch to batch.
Both of Maker and Merchant’s Shea Butters are Organic and Fair Trade Certified™ by Fair Trade USA, ensuring a level of quality is delivered and sustainable practices are in place.
Maker + Merchant Favorite Recipes
Looking for a place to get started with Shea Butter? See some of our favorites below!
DIY Easy Vegan Whipped Body Butter- Hey Lila Hey
DIY Whipped Coconut and Shea Baby Butter- Hello Glow
DIY Lotion Bars- Food Fun Family
Gentle Hemp and Shea Soap- Humblebee and Me
To shop Maker + Merchant's Fair Trade Shea Butter, head on over here!