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Shea butter: a natural moisturiser that's food for the skin

Matilda Lee & Laura Sevier

1st June, 2010

The low-down on one of the best natural skin moisturisers and a guide to which products contain it

Shea butter is fantastically versatile, especially the raw unrefined variety. A real skin food, it is good for dry and sensitive skin, soothing for sore, cracked skin and its anti-inflammatory properties make it useful for sun burn, itchiness, insect bites, rashes and eczema.

It is rich in natural vitamins that promote healthy skin and cell repair. You can even use it in your hair before washing as a nourishing conditioner. And because a little goes a long way, one pot will probably last you all summer.

Derived from the nuts of the African karite tree, shea butter has been used as an African skincare and healing ingredient for centuries. Now a widely used cosmetic ingredient, it is an important resource and source of income for local communities.

Historically the women who gather shea nuts have received very little pay for their labour, particularly when the nuts are exported and processed abroad.

Increasingly however, shea butter is available to buy as a certified Fairtrade or as a ‘fairly traded' ingredient. One way of ensuring you're getting the good stuff is to buy it raw from suppliers who are involved in the entire processing chain.

In its most pure, untreated state, virgin shea butter looks like lumps of hard caramel ice cream. Just warm it up in your hands until it melts and softens and massage it gently into the skin. Two recommended online sources are at Akoma or Akamuti, which sell wildcrafted Virgin Shea Butter in a big tub (1kg for £22).

When buying branded body butters or creams containing shea beware: not all shea is the same quality. Most shea butter on the market has been extracted with a chemical solvent and 'refined' which not only removes the natural scent and color of natural shea butter but also many of its beneficial properties. The best shea is obtained using a traditional method of extraction, cold pressed without the use of solvents.

MOST RECOMMENDED (top quality shea)

These contain unrefined, pure shea handmade using traditional methods AND the shea is fairly traded

Neal's Yard's Geranium & Orange Body Butter £27.30 (200g), contains 40 per cent shea butter, sourced from wild-growing trees by women's cooperatives in Burkina Faso, and cold-pressed at a specialist oil processing facility in Kenya. 100 per cent organic ingredients.

Earthbound Organics Shea Body Butter £11.40 (120 ml)
Mixed with organic calendula oil this makes a rich body butter good for dry and sensitive skins, it will ‘prevent chafing, chapping as well as soothing dry skin, psoriasis and eczema'.

FOR MEN - Green People cool down moisturiser  £11.95 (125ml) is a value-for-money non-greasy, aftershave and after-sports moisturiser that includes fairly traded Shea butter

Tamu Organic Almond Brule Whipped Body Butter £15.95 (120ml)
A creamy body blend of cold pressed almonds, shea butter, and grape seed oil which smells of sweet almond and looks like whipped cream. Fairly traded, unrefined body butters.

Melvita shea butter £16.00 (100ml) is certified organic and comes in a variety of blends and sizes. It's recommeded as a 'repairing after-sun treatment', for dry lips, chapped hands and split ends. You can also put a small amount in your bath-water for smooth, soft skin.

REN's Grapeseed Jojoba and Shea Butter Body Cream £17, (200ml) is light and hydrating, with a fresh and inviting scent.

NEXT BEST

These contain unrefined, pure shea butter but don't say whether the shea is fairly traded or not

Ila Spa Body Balm for Feeding Skin and the Senses, £39.00 (200g). This luxurious, deeply nourishing balm based on argon oil, organic shea butter and organic beeswax has a heady, uplifting scent of rose. One pot will last you for months as a little goes a long way. Massage the balm gently into the skin and it'll glow with gratitude!

Nothing Nasty's Rose rich hand cream, £14.50 (50 ml) is seriously thick, smooth and long-lasting. Great for chapped and dry hands. Again, use sparingly: a little goes a long way.

Circaroma Softening Body Butter £25.08 (140g). Lemon zest and geranium flower are blended into this organic nourishing shea butter, along with vitamin E and almond oil to hydrate and replenish skin. Try using it before a bath or shower as the hot water will 'enhance skin penetration' of the body butter.


OTHER OPTIONS

Boots Extracts range Shea Butter Body Butter £7.50 (200ml) contains Fairtrade shea butter, but also contains a lot of other ingredients that you wouldn't necessarily want on your skin... such as parabens, silicones and synthetic colours.

Naked Coco de mer body butter  £4.99 (300ml)
Cheaper then the rest of the bunch and widely available in Boots, this '97 per cent natural' slightly pink body butter has coconut, shea butter and passionflower extracts, and claims to moisturise your skin for a full 24 hours. Signature ‘coco de mer' fragrance.

 

BEYOND SHEA: OTHER NUTTY TREATS

Akamuti Cocoa and Almond body butter £5.88 (60ml)
If you like chocolate, you'll love this, as virgin cocoa butter has a disinct smell of chocolate. The organic, unrefined cocoa butter is community traded with producers in Uganda. The butter is widely used by African women as a rich moisturiser to keep their skin healthy and smooth.

Weleda Amond facial oil with plum oil and blackthorn extract smells lovely and can be used at night or for cleaning. Takes a while to be fully absorbed into your skin (50 ml, £10.95). The alternative is Weleda's Almond Intensive Facial Cream, a creamy day moisturiser (30 ml. £9.95).

Nothing Nasty's Honey and vanilla lip balm (5ml, £6.50) contains cocoa butter and will keep your lips moisturised for a long time.

Laura Sevier is the Ecologist's Green Living Editor

Matilda Lee is the Ecologist's Community Affairs Editor

 

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