This week's ingredient spotlight shines on shea, an amazing butter from sub-Saharan Africa. We include it in lots of our skin care products and we love it so much we thought it deserved a little extra focus!
Common Name: Shea
Botanical Name: Vitellaria paradoxa (formerly Butyrospermum parkii)
Parts Used: Seeds
At La Vida Low Tox, certified organic shea butter can be found in the ingredients of quite a few of our products:
🌰 Organic Day Face Cream
🌰 Organic Night Face Cream
🌰 Organic Hand Cream
🌰 Organic Deodorant
🌰 Organic Body Cream
🌰 Organic Body Lotion
Plus it can be found in our gorgeous Balm Range:
🌰 Breathe Free Balm
🌰 Muscle Balm
🌰 Inner Bliss Balm
You can find ‘em all here:
Want to learn some more about shea? Read on! 👇🏼
Shea trees grow naturally in the dry savannah of the African continent from Cameroon to Uganda. On average, the tree grows to a height of 7-15m, but may reach 25m with a trunk diameter of 2m. Shea trees start fruiting between age 10-15 years old, with full yield achieved between 20-30 years old. One tree can produce fruit for up to 200 years. The fruit takes about 4-6 months to ripen, with an optimum yield being around 45kg per tree. Furthermore, 1kg of fruit gives approximately 400gm of dry seeds. The fruit portion is mostly pulp with one seed. The flesh is typically removed to retrieve the seed (sometimes referred to as a nut).
Shea butter is highly cherished for its use in cosmetics, pharmaceutics and chocolate making. To process shea, the fruit pulp is removed (and used for food. The seeds are then boiled and later sun (or kiln) dried. Sun-drying may take 5 - 10 days. The seeds are milled into smaller pieces, and then roasted. Then they are ground to a thick brown paste, which is then kneaded for about an hour. The kneading process changes the consistency to a light paste (a little like a mousse). Then cold water is poured over the paste, which separates the shea butter to the top of the bowl. The shea butter is then skimmed from the top and boiled down to an oil. It is then left to cool, and then filtered to remove any impurities. During cooling, it is stirred constantly to give it a smooth texture.
Shea butter is composed of five main fatty acids:
With about 80-95% being stearic and oleic acids. The consistency of shea butter depends on these two fatty acids, and the ambient temperature where it is grown. The stearic gives the butter a solid consistency, while the oleic acid influences how soft or hard it is.
🍃 Another fun fact: Shea was formerly classified in the genus Butyrospermum, meaning “butter seed”.
Shea nut collection and processing contributes up to 12% of the total household income for women in Burkina Faso, providing a valuable source of cash income to females in poorer households who otherwise have very few income possibilities. Harvesting and processing are time consuming and generate low returns for the amount of time spent.
Finally, there are lots of uses for the entire shea tree including medicinal, cooking, confectionary, cosmetics, soap, candles, food, gums, glues, building materials, furniture and making into charcoal.
Bup, D. N., Mohagir, A. M., Kapseu César, & Mouloungui Zéphirin. (2014). Production zones and systems, markets, benefits and constraints of shea (vitellaria paradoxa gaertn) butter processing. Oilseeds and Fats, Crops and Lipids, 21(2). https://doi.org/10.1051/ocl/2013045
Gaertn, C. F. (2020). Vitellaria paradox. Retrieved from https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Vitellaria+paradoxa
Global Mamas (2012). Shea Butter Production Process [video] retrieved from https://youtu.be/pYe1lqKSuVM
Pouliot Mariève. (2012). Contribution of "women's gold" to west african livelihoods: the case of shea (vitellaria paradoxa) in burkina faso. Economic Botany, 66(3), 237–248.