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Shea Butter: Know the Difference

Over the last decade, shea butter has become a "must-have" ingredient for both low- and high-priced cosmetics and lotions. In fact, the next time you are in the grocery store or mall, look at the ingredients list of most lotions and you will likely find shea butter listed among them. Pure, handmade, African shea butter is indeed a miracle substance that can used to treat a variety of skin ailments, beautify the skin and hair, and even be used as a cooking oil. It is this near mystical reputation that has created a global frenzy for shea butter, with most consumers considering all forms of shea butter to be of the same superb quality. 

Of course this is not the case. Did you know that 80% of Africa's shea exports are currently sold as raw nuts that go to large industrial processors in Europe? Because of shea butter's recent popularity in cosmetics, global demand for the product is being met through industrial means. We can't say this is a "bad thing" because it is simply the way supply and demand works in a global economy. However, the mass export of shea butter nuts from Africa does mean that 1) pure, unrefined, naturally made shea butter is more difficult to acquire and 2) African women's livelihoods are being affected. 

For generations, women in Ghana, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and many other African countries have passed down to their daughters the techniques for manually harvesting and processing shea nuts into a butter that retains all of its nutritive properties. The process of making shea butter is intensive and involves cracking the nuts with rocks, crushing the pieces with giant mortars, roasting the nuts in small batches while constantly turning them so they do not get too hot, grinding of pressed or roasted nuts, clarifying the oil with spoons, and finally collecting and shaping the butter. 

Industrially, elsewhere in the world, a mechanical sheller is used and the refined butter is extracted with chemicals such as hexane. What is hexane? Besides being a constituent of gasoline, hexane is used in the formulation of glues for shoes, leather products, and roofing. Hexane is also used to extract cooking oils from seeds, for cleansing and degreasing a variety of items, and in textile manufacturing (Source: Shea Butter Wikipedia and Hexane Wikipedia). 

In other words, yuck! Personally, this blogger does not want to be rubbing hexane on her face, but I - and you if you are reading this blog - do have access to the real deal: 100% pure, naturally processed African shea butter. Purchasing real African shea butter is also crucially important for many rural women who depend on shea butter for income. In fact, shea butter is such a critical form of income for many African women that is commonly referred to as “women’s gold.” 

Okay, enough preaching. We just started carrying a fabulous line of shea butter from West Africa and wanted to share some of our pics from our recent trip. Hopefully you can see the hard work and traditional techniques that make this shea butter a cut above anything you can buy in a grocery store or even the most expensive European and American skincare products. Thanks for reading!


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