Shea Butter: A New and Exotic Cosmetic Ingredient

Shea Butter: A New and Exotic Cosmetic Ingredient

BY VICTORIA ONWUCHEKWA, Ph.D.

The pervasive trend to the natural look and to natural sources for raw materials has made a commercial impact on most consumer products including cosmetics. Presently, certain oils traditionally used for edible purposes are being used to an increasing extent in the formulation of cosmetics.

Many oils and fats extracted from fruit and vegetable seeds possess very desirable physical properties for use as topical cosmetics. They are light and of low viscosity, characteristics which render them less occlusive than hydrocarbon oils. They have excellent carrying and penetrating properties and may also provide nourishment and essential fatty acid to the skin. The reliability of these bases has been further enhanced by the availability of very effective antioxidants to protect the vegetable oils against atmospheric oxidation. All these and also the significant trend to natural products has made the use of liquid oils and fat from fruits and seeds in the manufacture of cosmetic products increase dramatically.

As formulators become aware of the reliability of these bases it is anticipated that the demand will increase still further. It is logical then to expect than manufacturers will search new sources. A potential source of cosmetic oil is the seed of the Shea fruit-Shea Butter. Shea Butter or Karite Butter is a plant fat extracted from the fruit of a tree widely distributed in Central Africa, and West Africa. The Shea Tree (Butyrospermum Parkii) grows particularly in silicate clay soil. From its berries of almonds, one extracts a slightly greenish butter. There are several varieties of Shea Butter. The Mangifolia variety from the North of Ivory Coast and Ghana stands out, by its exceptional amount of unsaponifiable material contained in its butter. Shea Butter is a fat that is greatly appreciated by the locals. It is logical population in Africa who use it for food and for body care. It is well known
to pharmacology and nutritional chemists in Europe where it has been used to replace cocoa butter to enhance food texture and also as a component in chocolates. The toxicity of Shea Butter is nil. For some years now, the cosmeticians’ interest has been attracted to this plant material to which the Africans attribute so many virtues. A number of studies show that Shea Butter possesses particular properties of softness and oiliness as well as high cleansing and softening power. From its high content of unsaponifiability Shea Butter draws its traditional medicinal properties of protection of skin against weather and sun activation of wound healing and elimination of superficial irritations.

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