Shea butter is derived from the nuts (seed kernels) of the shea tree, Butyrospermum parkii, which grows in Africa from Guinea in the west to Central Africa in the east. The tree produces an edible fruit that ripens during the summer months and then drops to the ground where local women quickly gather and prepare them. Each fruit contains 1-3 pecan-sized seeds, containing roughly 50% shea butter. It takes roughly 4 pounds of kernels to produce 1 pound of shea butter.?
While the fruits of the Shea tree offer a nutritious treat for the body, the nut produces a wonderful product for the skin. Shea Butter has been used for centuries to moisturize the skin, especially during the dry season, and to treat minor scrapes and wounds. Local villagers would massage the oil into their skin and hair for protection against the harsh exposure of the African climate.
Most of us are all too aware of the skin damaging effects of the ultraviolet B (UVB) component of the sun's rays. We take appropriate steps to minimize harm by avoiding direct sun exposure during the most intense hours of the day and by wearing hats, eyewear and sunscreen. Cinnamic acid esters, which are abundant in shea butter, are one of the most common organic UVB filters used in sunscreen products. Shea butter is also extremely rich in naturally occurring antioxidants, such as tocopherols (compounds with vitamin E activity), which have well-documented beneficial effects for the skin. The combination of UVB protecting compounds and antioxidants makes shea butter a prime ingredient in skin care products designed to reduce sun damage and premature skin aging.
Shea butter stimulates cellular regeneration and repair explaining, in part, its traditional use in caring for minor wounds and skin abrasions. The anti-elastase activity of shea butter helps maintain supple, yet firm, skin. While there is no scientific research to validate the claim that shea butter helps reduce the development of stretch marks, the anti-elastase activity of the oil certainly suggests that it might.
The abundance of vitamins, naturally occurring oils and UVB protecting substances in shea butter makes it a wonderful choice when looking for skin care products that moisturize, nourish, soothe and protect the skin.