Shea butter has been used for centuries in the ghanaian culture. It is an African ancestral beauty product that has been passed down from generation to generation, mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter. Ghanaian shea butter is regarded as the “African liquid gold”.
Shea butter comes directly from mother earth, meaning it is 100% natural & it’s extracted by hand. Today we’ll take a look at the properties and uses of this amazing product.
The importance of Ghanaian shea butter
It comes from the nut of the Shea tree that grows in the Savannah region from West Africa to East Africa. A fun and interesting fact about the shea fruit is that every part of the fruit is useful!
The skin of the fruit can be eaten and is full of health benefits, the “meaty” part of the fruit (before you get to the nut) is very delicious to taste and of course the nut itself produces the almighty shea butter!
Step-by-step process of Ghanaian shea butter making
- Groups of local women from the Northern part of Ghana, are in charge of handpicking the nuts from the shea tree once these fall on the ground.
- The outer (harder) part of the dried nut has to be removed. This is done by cracking the nuts with any hard materials that are available.
- The nuts are washed and left to be dried out in the warm African sun for a couple of days.
- The nuts are crushed into small pieces with a grinding machine. In the olden days it used to be done with mortar and pestle.
- These crushed pieces are then roasted and grinded once again until they start to form a paste (something similar to a peanut butter paste).
- This paste is then put into very big basins, adding water gradually and whipping it manually with their hands (for approximately 1h) until the oil separates from the water. The process of whipping the shea is called “kneading”.
- The oil is removed and put into a bowl of boiling water under fire. When this oil melts, the women scoop off the fat that rises to the top.
- The liquid is finally strained to remove any impurities. It is then left to cool off and becomes hard. In other words, you have your shea butter!
As you see, it is a lengthy process that requires a lot of patience and physical work!
Different types of shea butter
We can distinguish between four different types of shea butter. First of all we have the traditional west African golden shea butter. This is one of the “basics” of shea butters, let’s put it that way. It is the one that follows the step-by-step process we described above.
We then have a shea butter which is yellow in colour. It follows the exact same process as the golden shea butter with one little difference, borututu root is added to it during the boiling process, the reason why it becomes yellow in colour. This root comes from the borututu tree (Cochlospermum angolensis) which is native to Africa.
It’s valued for its tonic and healing attributes, being served as an infusion or tea as a way to treat an assortment of health conditions. When added to the shea butter, it is especially good for people who have several skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
The third type of shea butter is the East African shea butter. This shea is lighter in colour and softer/creamier in texture. This is because East African shea butter contains more oleic acid (a fatty acid) than West African shea butter which has more stearic acid, hence why it is harder in texture.
Last but not least, and this is the shea butter to avoid, we have the refined shea butter which is completely white in colour. The refinement process removes the color and scent and in the process most of the natural healing properties.
Other things you must know about shea butter
The West African golden shea butter may also experience some slight colour variations. It may vary from golden/white to a more buttery yellow. The reason for this is due to several factors:
- The mineral content of the soil around the shea tree
- Harvest time. If the shea fruit is harvested young, the colour is more buttery yellow, whereas if it is harvested mature, the colour is not as yellowish
- Type of climate (sun, rain, etc)
- Age of the shea butter. The more time passes, the more it will lose its properties and at the same time change to a more white colour and may develop a rancid smell.
Uses of Shea Butter
This is the use that shea butter is most known for. Apart from being an excellent skin moisturiser, it is also great for people who have certain skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis (as we mentioned earlier, the yellow shea butter that contains the borututu root, is more advised for these cases).
Shea butter also doesn’t contain any water, this makes it feel a little “heavier” on your skin when applying. However, this is much more beneficial for your skin than a water-based product that absorbs “faster”. Yes, it may seem to absorb faster, but it is not really absorbing into your skin but rather evaporating.
The fatty acids that shea butter contains, absorb directly into your skin, creating a barrier in your skin to protect it from external climate factors ( great for harmattan season!) as well as aiding in boosting collagen production.
Hair and scalp
Shea butter is specially great for dry or frizzy hair. If you have dry ends, apply it as a leave-in conditioner after washing your hair.
Prevent cracked elbows, hands and feet: also amazing during winter time when maybe you experience your hands getting red and cracked (sometimes even bleeding).
Did you know that in the Northern part of Ghana they still use the unrefined golden shea butter for cooking? Instead of using sunflower oil or olive oil, you can try and use shea butter! A tip when using shea butter for cooking purposes, is to add some ginger or onion before, in order to remove the odour.
When babies are born, they are bathed in a traditional way. After the bathing, they are covered in shea butter. It is believed that the shea butter will protect and make their skin much stronger.
Shea butter used to prevent stretch marks by pre and post natal mothers. They also sometimes use it during the breast-feeding period to apply it on their nipples.
Many Ghanaians apply shea butter inside their nasal passages as a way to reduce mucosal damage. Also in cases of allergies, sinusitis or the common cold.
Benefits of shea butter
Did you know that shea butter contains cinnamic acid, which is a natural sunscreen, equivalent to SPF 6? Non-comedogenic which means that it doesn’t clog your pores.
Great product to take care of your tattoos! It has an intense moisturising ability. May help treat/prevent acne (not in all cases).
Shea Butter Production as Empowerment for Ghanaian Women
These Ghanaian shea butter cooperatives are so important because they aid women in becoming financially independent. Without them, many women live in a daily struggle to get by. Sometimes it is not enough to survive on agriculture because enough food is not produced to feed their family the whole year, let alone pay school fees for their children.
In cases like these, some women have to resort to very physically challenging jobs such as firewood collection, or in some cases leave their children in the village and come to a bigger city in hope to find better income, as is the case of the Kayayo girls.
Thanks to these cooperatives (which are many in the North!) women are able to learn a living through the whole year. Some cooperatives even re-invest a percentage of their earnings in training the women to be self-sufficient.
Buying shea butter not only is great for your skin and body, but you are also aiding in supporting a bigger cause!