Much of shea body butter’s topical benefits come from fatty acid content and phenolic compounds. The shea nut contains catechins, a type of natural phenol, flavonoid and antioxidant. The phenolic structure is similar to green tea and virgin olive oil, but the shea nut’s catechins are higher than ripe olives. Shea butter contains palmitic, stearic, oleic, linoleic, and arachidic fatty acids. Linoleic acid is an essential unsaturated fatty acid the body cannot produce. Studies indicate that linoleic acid is an anti-inflammatory, acne reducer, and has moisture retentive properties. The combination of shea butter’s compounds make it one of the best whole body skin treatments. Just rub it in!
You might not be getting the benefits you thought! It is important to use unrefined or raw shea butter for more benefits, which is also called Grade A. Grade A will keep its smokey nutty aroma, while other grades lose the aroma. Many retail store products use lower grades and add chemicals or use hydrogenation. It is important to understand the additional ingredients whenever using a blended product. Some shea body butters add other beneficial ingredients such as coconut or kokum oils. Some may add palm oil or tumeric for yellow coloring. It is important to have an honest and knowledgeable supplier with high standards! However, some people just don’t read the label. Some products include just enough shea butter with their soaps, creams, or lotions to use “shea butter” on the label, but are still made up of mostly less expensive chemical and processed ingredients. Some may use Grade B or lower grades, which will not smell as nutty. Read the label!
Different regions in Africa produces different phenolic content percentages in shea butter. Some studies show shea butter in eastern Africa has a higher oleic acid content, which makes it softer and could account for a more yellow color. Shea butter from Burkina Faso (just north of Ghana) has a higher average stearic acid content, which makes the butter harder.
The difference in harvesting techniques also makes a big difference in benefits. Traditional and cold-press extraction methods are believed to retain higher phenolic levels than mechanized extraction. The length of parboiling time can also play a factor.
What about color? There is much controversy about the color of unrefined shea butter. Raw unrefined shea butter is normally a shade of ivory to slightly yellowish. Rarely, it can even have a green tint in the ivory color. The subspecies Vitellaria Nilotica is more likely to be a more yellow butter. The subspecies Vitellaria Paradoxa can vary from ivory to slightly yellow. Many believe the color of both subspecies is affected by regional differences in weather, soil, and plant stress. Some believe the color is affected by how far the harvest gets into the rainy season. The extraction method can affect the color shade. Generally, using a crushed cold-press method in extraction will create a lighter colored butter. Some think a traditional extraction by hand will usually be more yellow (left image).
Some bulk suppliers may combine extracted shea butter from multiple farmers (and trees) into larger containers. This can cause some different color strains in larger packaging until it is whipped. Aging will bring out even more color differences. Raw shea butter will not be bright white. Lower benefit refined shea butter is often pure white. However, a longer whipping time of raw shea butter can lighten the color somewhat without losing benefits, but will still not get bright white. Refined shea body butter will lose its nutty aroma. The main clue for quality is it should smell nutty. In some blended products with high quality Grade A shea butter, other ingredients will completely change the color and smell of the product. For example, a good blended body butter may have unrefined shea butter, virgin coconut oil, and virgin kokum oil. The product may look whiter and the nutty smell will be more hidden. Look for unrefined, organic, or virgin for each of the ingredients.
Some believe yellow shea body butter is more attractive to Americans, because it looks more like cocoa butter. Some feel the more yellow Vitellaria Nilotica with a higher concentration of oleic acid is better. For both reasons, rumors have been circulating for a long time that some use small amounts of harmless palm oil or tumeric to attain a more yellow coloring , but we haven’t found any testing to prove this. On the other hand, some feel Grade A ivory colored shea body butter has more benefits because of phenolic content, plus the color tampering would be a non-issue. However, ivory colored shea body butter should have a nutty smell and not be bright white.
Can we eat shea butter? First, whenever eating anything organic, you have to know and trust your source! You want to know for sure it is pure. Shea butter is mainly sold as a topical product in the U.S., so standards as a food product may not be used. This is especially true if it is called “shea body butter”. Shea butter is eaten in several places around the world, but raises some concerns for regular consumption due to the high content of fatty acids. Shea butter contains palmitic, oleic, and linoleic fatty acids in larger quantities compared to most foods. Although palmitic acid is one of the most common fatty acids also found in milk, cheese, butter, and meat, consuming or eating foods high in palmitic acid has been known to increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases due to its trans fat categorization. Consuming oleic acid is noted for being able to lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure, but is being studied for its relationship with the risk of breast cancer. Linoleic acid may be linked to obesity by promoting overeating, plus possible damage in the brain’s hypothalamus.
Where is a good place to buy shea body butter? For an easy to use whipped high quality 100% Grade A shea body butter, AllNaturalSheaButter.com is a great place for 4 oz., 8 oz. and lip balm. They have high product standards, plus can be trusted for handling and facility hygiene. The owner lived in West Africa and understands fatty acid and phenol differences, parboil times, regions, and suppliers. They normally use a ivory colored butter for their body butters. They also offer scented versions with vanilla, lavender, lilac, jasmine, honeysuckle, and rose. For something different, they also offer key lime pie, Japanese cherry blossom, and Caribbean piña colada scents. Their very attractive containers and multiple scents make their products a great economical gift idea to get people started with a high quality shea body butter. No messy packaging! They almost always have a coupon or special in addition to good prices. They ship with an insulated wrapper in warmer seasons.