Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Shea butter!

Shea butter is composed of 3 to 7% palmitic acid (C16), 35 to 45% stearic acid (C18), 40 to 55% oleic acid (C18:1), and 3 to 8% linoleic acid (C18:2). With all these saturated fatty acids and a ton of anti-oxidants, we get a soft butter with a great shelf life! (Please note, the region and climate in which shea butter is grown can affect the fatty acid profile and amount of polyphenols!)

You'll read all kinds of things shea butter can do - reduce irritation, reduce redness, protect skin, regenerate cells, heal wounds, moisturize skin, prevent premature aging, and act as a sun screen - but how much of it is true and how does it do it?

Shea butter contains a ton of Vitamin E in the form of tocopherol (100 to 150 ppm) and tocotrienols (110 to 175 ppm) that acts as a natural anti-oxidant for your skin and the butter, so it's softening to our skin. It contains at least 8 various catechin compounds, which offer anti-bacterial properties to shea butter.

The phytosterols in shea butter contain cinnamic acid esters (that's the pretty molecule above), which can act as a UV protectant (I've seen it said that 15% shea butter has an SPF of 3, although I don't recommend using it in this capacity). This offers some of the healing properties associated with shea butter because these esters can reduce superficial irritation and redness of the skin.

Shea butter contains allantoin, which is approved by the FDA as a barrier ingredient to temporarily prevent and protect chafed, chapped, cracked, or windburned skin by speeding up the natural processes of the skin and increasing the water content.

We find a lot of oleic acid in shea butter - 40 to 55% - which offers moisturizing and regenerating, anti-inflammatory, and softening properties. It is well absorbed by the skin.

We also find a lot of stearic acid in shea butter - 35 to 45% - which offers improved moisture retention, flexibility of the skin, and skin repair.

Shea butter melts at body temperature and is absorbed quickly by the skin. It acts as an occlusive to keep water in and prevent the elements from destroying our skin!

So does shea butter live up to the claims? Which ingredients contribute to the amazing qualities attributed to shea butter?
  • Reducing redness - Cinnamic acid esters.
  • Protecting skin - Allantoin, mechanism of occlusion.
  • Regenerating cells - Allantoin, oleic fatty acid, stearic fatty acid.
  • Healing wounds - Allantoin.
  • Moisturizing skin - Mechanism of occlusive, polyphenols, oleic fatty acid, stearic fatty acid.
  • Sunscreen - Cinnamic acid esters
  • Softening - Polyphenols (tocopherols and tocotrienols), oleic fatty acid.
  • Anti-bacterial - Polyphenols (catechins).
  • Irritation - Cinnamic acid esters.
  • Anti-inflammatory - Oleic fatty acid, cinnamic acid esters,
  • Flexibility of the skin - Stearic fatty acid.
Preventing premature aging is definitely a hard one to prove. I don't like this claim - it's subjective and can't really be measured the way we'd measure how much moisture leaves our skin or how long it would take for a wound to heal. So I'm going to call that one unprove-able (is that a word?) and leave it there.

Shea butter has about a two year life span - thank the tocopherols and saturated fatty acids for that! - and can be used at up to 100% in your creations. It is a greasy feeling butter, so if you're not a fan of the very oily feel, you might want to consider using it at lower levels. If you love an oily feeling butter, then shea butter is a great choice! Shea butter can be used in most - if not all - bath & body applications from lotions to hair care to bath bombs to anything you want, with the possible exception of surfactant based things like bubble bath or body wash as it will reduce the foam. (Or you can use fractionated shea oil...more about this soon!)

And why does shea butter go grainy in some creations? Shea butter fractionates when heated, meaning the various fatty acids separate. Given these fatty acids have different cooling points, some will harden more quickly than others, resulting in some fatty acids being solid while others remain liquid! This means we want anything containing shea butter to cool very quickly to ensure the various fatty acids solidify at the same time. So an ice bath, popping it into the fridge or freezer, or not melting it at all is generally a good thing for shea butter.

Join me tomorrow for some super happy fun formulating with shea butter!


gardeningAngel said...

Hi Susan,

I have a question on refined versus unrefined or raw shea butter. I've looked through all your posts - you have the most wonderful, comprehensive set of information on oils,butters,and lotion making ingredients I have ever read, and I read a lot. Anyway, I did not see a mention anywhere as to whether the shea butter you use is refined or raw. Personally, the smell of the raw makes me sick to my stomach, but I read so many things about raw having more "good for you" features than refined. Could you please explain to me? Thanks so much, Kathy

p said...

Hi Susan,

Do you know anything about the difference between our standard shea butter (Butyrospermum parkii) and nilotica shea or east shea (Vitellaria nilotica)? East shea is grown in Uganda and around, while regular shea is from west Africa. I think the plants are in the same genus (B. parkii also goes by Vitellaria paradoxa).

I first bought some nilotica shea a little over a year ago in Germany because I'd heard good things about it, and MAN it is AWESOME! It's softer and more spreadable than (regular) shea butter - it actually makes a pretty great facial balm as is - and it absorbs quite well, leaving skin silky, and it's less greasy than regular shea. And it shows no signs of going grainy, yahoo!

All this makes me wonder about its fatty acid composition. Must be rather different from regular shea! I was wondering if you might know about that as well as any other goodies (phytosterols, polyphenols...) that east shea may have to offer.

Nilotica shea is pretty hard to source. The only supplier I knew of (apart from Baccara Rose in Germany) is From Nature With Love, and up until recently their minimum order was 1 gallon! Fortunately now they're selling it in 16 oz: http://www.fromnaturewithlove.com/product.asp?product_id=butnilotica

I have a few other questions on basic ingredients....

Could you do a post on tamanu oil? That would be awesome! It seems to be a well-researched oil, but I can't seem to wade through the research like you can.

And can you write a bit about the use of liposomes in cosmetics? What's the deal with them?


Anonymous said...

Hi Swift,

Thanks for all the goodness in your blog! did you ever got a chance to respond to these post? I know these are from 2 years ago...i actually have the same questions (as I am experimenting with shea butter).
Happy Holidays!

a confused novice,

Nancy Newsom said...

Hi Everyone,

Thank you Susan for your amazing blog. What a treasure trove of information you have gathered here and such a wonderful resource to all of us who love to create our own products.

As for the shea nilotica, Lotioncrafter carries it and as a bonus it's also organic and fair trade. I don't think that it solves "graniness" issues but those can be worked around through handling it in specific ways. It's definitely my favourite butter for a really restorative balm.

Here's the blurb that Lotioncrafter writes about this product:

Shea Nilotica is a premium Fair Trade shea butter produced from the fruit of the Vitellaria Nilotica sub species of the Karite tree which grows across Northern Uganda. Softer in texture with a very mild aroma and a light yellow color, Shea Nilotica is one of the finest shea butters we've ever carried! Shea Nilotica has a significantly higher content of olein, a glyceride of oleic acid, making it softer and creamier than its West African Shea Butter counterpart. It is high in unsaponifiables, antioxidants and cinneamic acid, a natural sunscreen. Readily absorbed into the skin and hair, it will delight you with its buttery smoothness!

Happy crafting!

Carol said...

I am curious what is removed with the refinement of shea butter (what is the difference between fatty acid profiles of refined vs raw shea)? I assume palmatic acid and stearic acid are removed since it is less likely to go grainy, but want to confirm and see if you have any information on this? Thanks!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Carol. No, they don't remove the fatty acids because if they did, it wouldn't be a butter any more, it'd be a liquid. (And you can find liquid shea oil in many suppliers' shops.) There are different ways the shea can be refined, but mainly it's to remove bits of shells or leaves and things like that and to deodorize the product. Less refined shea has a smokey odour that many people - including me - don't like.

Here's a link that seems to be less fear mongering than other ones I found. Refined shea butter