A thick and rich ingredient like Shea Butter has the effect of almost insisting you put it on your hair. It’s buttery smooth texture warms up in your hands and just looks like a perfect consistency to put into your wet hair. Taking a deeper look into Shea Butter will give more insight into the appeal of the ingredient, beyond its appearance being extremely appealing!
Shea Butter: What Is It?
Shea Butter is originally sourced from Africa where countries in the “Shea Belt” produce a tree called Vitellaria paradoxa. More commonly known as the “Shea Tree” (or Karite Tree), Vitellaria paradoxa produces the nuts in which Shea Butter is extracted. These trees are native to countries along the “Shea Belt”, which extends from West to East Africa. The countries farthest west include Guinea Bissau, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. The most eastern part of the belt ends in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Even though She Butter from both regions have the same benefits and nutrients, there is a slight difference between the Shea Trees from West and East Africa. The trees from West Africa are the species Vitellaria Paradoxa whereas the trees from East Africa are a subspecies of Vitellaria paradoxa, called Vitellaria Nilotica.
Shea nuts from both Vitellaria Paradoxa and Vitellaria Nilotica are equal in effect and quality! The only difference that can be seen is in their texture. Shea Butter from West Africa tends to be more dense and formed. Vitellaria Nilotica Shea Butter is more creamy and soft. Even though Vitellaria Paradoxa Butter can be more dense, it is able to achieve a creamy consistency if whipped when a blender.
To extract the butter from the nuts of the tree, the nuts are pounded into a powder and then boiled in water. In this process, the butter rises to the top of the water and becomes solid, making it separable from the water. Sometimes the nuts will be roasted beforehand to enhance the secretion of oil from the Shea nut. This naturally yields a higher oil content in the butter and can make the butter richer in nutrients.
Now that we’ve gone over exactly where Shea Butter comes from, let's get into its benefits...
Shea Butter: Why Is It Good?
Some of the beneficial components of Shea Butter include…
- Stearic acid: Stearic acid is a fatty acid that can be found in various plant and animal fats. This waxy substance conditions the hair while coating the strands. Because it is known as an emulsifier, it serves as an agent to keep the water in a product combined with the oils in the product. This is why and how products are able to have oils as well as water together, and why you can add Shea Butter to wet hair without completely separating on the shaft. The good thing about Stearic acid is that it isn’t a heavy substance, so it will not weigh your hair down. When using Shea Butter, it being too heavy for the hair can be a concern due to how rich and buttery it is (due to its high oil content).
- Oleic acid: Another fatty acid derived from plant and animal fats, Oleic acid is good for controlling water loss on the strands. This allows for your hair to retain moisture better and for longer. This is also a useful fatty acid to have in such an oil rich ingredient like Shea Butter, since it can sometimes dry curls out if not used properly.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A aids in the scalps production of its natural oil called Sebum. This oil is responsible for keeping our scalps healthy, reducing flaking, itching, and breakage of the hair. This oil is essential for producing healthy new growth and maintaining the overall health of the hair.
- Vitamin E: With its anti-inflammatory properties, Vitamin E is great for leveling out any irritation on the scalp, making it a healthy environment for growth. With Vitamin E having antioxidant properties, it helps to reduce damage to the skin cells, making it perfect for protecting your scalp from things like intense dryness or harsh sun rays! When hair is dull, it can be attributed to its protective layer of Sebum being lost or diminished. Applying Vitamin E to your scalp and hair can not only help the production of Sebum, but also serve as that protect layer, restoring any shine loss. Vitamin E is also fat-soluble, like vitamin A, meaning these vitamins are absorbed with fats in the skin or body. This means that along with the fatty acids mentioned above, these vitamins will serve as a protective barrier, adding to the barrier of acids and oils. Because of this, it is very important your hair is thoroughly moisturized so when applying Shea Butter, you are locking moisture in instead of locking dryness in (and moisture out)!
- Vitamin F: Unlike the other vitamins, Vitamin F is composed of two separate fats (or more specifically - fatty acids) omega-3 and omega-6. The particular kind of omega-3 fatty acid is known as alpha-linolenic acid and the type of omega-6 acid is known as linoleic acid. This vitamin is also good for creating a barrier on the strands and protecting the scalp without weighing the hair down.
Now that we know the benefits of using Shea Butter, let's look into how we can use it…
5 ways to Shea Butter
Before getting into the 5 ways you can use Shea Butter on your natural hair, it’s important to note one thing: Shea Butter can behave like oils in the fact that they can be sealing to the hair cuticle. A sealant is an ingredient that encases the cuticles on the hair shaft. Encasing the hair strands and creating a barrier around the cuticles makes it so moisture within the hair strand cannot escape through the sealant. Just as the sealant blocks moisture from escaping from the hair, they also block any moisture from getting into the hair strand.
Not letting moisture escape the hair is good for keeping your hair moisturized by retaining the moisture (water) content. However, not letting moisture escape also comes along with keeping moisture out. This can be harmful if your hair is not adequately hydrated, leaving no moisture in your hair and preventing any moisture from getting into your hair to help with the lack of water in the strands. So when you have oil (or butter) on your hair, applying water or moisturizing products on top of that oil will make it difficult for the water or product to absorb into your hair. If the oil is unable to penetrate the hair strand and move past the cuticles (if the molecules of the oil are too large), then the oil must be removed by cleansing the hair. If the oil can be absorbed into the hair, it may be difficult to rehydrate the hair since water and oil do not mix. This leaves the oil absorbed into the hair to fight against mixing with the water that was just applied, making it so the water just sits on top of your strands instead of hydrating it. Because of this, cleansing the hair may also need to be used. This is why it can be helpful to use products and ingredients with natural emulsifiers, because they will allow the combination of water and oil without it separating. This makes it possible for water to be absorbed (or suspended) in the oil if it is already in your hair. Doing this reduces the chances of added water just sitting on top of your hair.
All of this just basically means it is imperative to apply Shea Butter to your hair while it is wet and properly moisturized. Failing to do so before applying Shea Butter, or any butter, would be counterproductive and could result in negative results like dryness and breakage. So when reading through the 5 applications of Shea Butter, keep in mind your hair should be properly hydrated beforehand! This even applies to the uses that are for the scalp, since anything put on the scalp will naturally travel down (or up) the length of your hair shaft.
- Hot Oil Treatment: This is another application having to do with the scalp. Adding Shea Butter to a carrier oil (like our Hydrating Oil Blend) and maybe even mixing some stimulating essential oil can create an extremely nourishing mixture. After making sure your head and scalp are completely soaked, apply the oil (warmed up) to your scalp. If your hair is tangled, you can also use it as a pre-poo in order to detangle the hair. This will not only feed your hair and scalp what it needs, but also will help to seal in the hydration of the water. If you use an extremely stripping shampoo, doing this treatment after cleansing would be beneficial in restoring the moisture content of your hair. Keep in mind that if you use this treatment before shampooing, the shampoo will wash away any excess oil from the butter that hasn't absorbed into the hair. Using a conditioning shampoo will work with the butter to lock in the moisture of your hair. We offer a Miracle Low Poo Cleanser that doubles as a shampoo and conditioner, making it extremely moisturizing even though it removes buildup from the hair! If your hair is tangled before shampooing, simply wet your hair before adding the treatment; not doing so would create a barrier on your dry, uncleaned hair, making it difficult for water to penetrate the strands and for any dirt or build up to be released.
- Itchy Scalp Remedy: With the anti-inflammatory property of Vitamin E and the nourishing effects of the other vitamins in the butter, Shea Butter can be used to reduce redness and irritation on the scalp. This is useful to any naturals who experience dandruff, eczema, or any other skin conditions. Aside from the scalp, Shea Butter can actually have the same soothing effects for conditions affecting the skin anywhere, not just on your head! Warming Shea Butter between your hands and applying it to your scalp will allow it to seep into your pores and provide your scalp with calming nutrients and fats needed to maintain the skin's health. Even though the butter is being applied to your scalp, it’s important to make sure your hair is properly moisturized. Doing so will prevent any Shea Butter that will travel from the follicle down the strand from sealing in dryness (due to your hair being unmoisturized). Moisturizing your hair beforehand will also help to moisturize your scalp, making it so water has been replenished on your scalp before applying the butter. The butter will help any oils in it attach to the water on your scalp (and hair), allowing the scalp and hair to remain hydrated for longer.
- Light Sealant: The tricky thing when it comes to using oils is that they tend to be heavy and weigh the hair down. Luckily, when it comes to Shea Butter, it contains lightweight protectants that will reduce the weight on the hair. Because of this, Shea Butter can be a good option for those who like to use oils as sealants when styling their hair. Applying the butter after using water along with a moisturizer, leave-in conditioner, or styling gel can help to lock in all of that moisture, allowing your hair to remain hydrated for as long as possible. Another great thing about butters (and oils) is that they also tend to be good for breaking up any flakes that may occur on the hair when mixing products!
- Moisture Spritz: As the week goes on, it is common for your hair to need a refresher, especially if you live somewhere with very dry heat (or dry air in general). Having a concoction made mostly from water with the addition of a little moisturizer and or leave-in with some Shea Butter can be a powerful tool. Simply spraying this mixture onto the hair before wrapping it up for bed can refresh your hair for the morning. Using this spritz throughout the day can be beneficial as well; you just want to make sure the water and moisturizer/leave-in content outweighs the Shea Butter content.
- Takedown Ingredient: Like mentioned before, butters and other substances that have oil in them are useful in breaking up flakes and promoting shine. Because of this, rubbing Shea Butter between your palms and making sure it coats your fingers is a good way to take down styles if you see flakes appearing. The butter will break apart any flakes and also leave a nice sheen on your hair.
Raw Shea Butter vs. Refined Shea Butter
Raw Shea Butter varies in color (typically yellow or orange in pigment) and also has a scent associated with it. Refined Shea Butter is white in color and also odorless. Refined Shea Butter normally has added chemicals and is produced from putting Raw Shea Butter through extreme heating processes, some nutrients can be lost in the refinement process. Because of this, Raw Shea Butter is the preferred option amongst naturals and skin experts.
Raw Shea Butter vs Whipped Shea Butter
Whipped Shea Butter is just Shea Butter (raw or refined) that has had air whipped into it. This creates a light, cloudy, creamy texture that makes the Whipped Shea Butter extremely spreadable and easy to work with. Because Whipped Shea Butter sometimes has more oil added to it, it’s important to know what could be in it if you haven’t whipped it yourself.
On the other hand, Raw Shea Butter will be harder in consistency and can take a little muscle work to break apart and spread. Raw Shea Butter is good for melting down into an oil treatment or in a spray. Whipped Shea Butter is best for simply applying to the scalp, as it’s easier to portion control (and see how much you’re applying).
We hope you found a few of these Shea Butter applications useful! Let us know below if Shea Butter is an ingredient you’ve used before!