Shea butter has been used for centuries by Africans to protect and moisturize their hair and skin. This rich moisturizer can relax dry, frizzy hair when used alone or as an ingredient on a quality hair product. Shea butter’s nourishing components can soften and relax unruly hair and provide other benefits to your locks, too.
Shea butter comes from the African shea butter tree, which can live as long as 300 years. The tree produces its first fruit when it is about 25 years old and is in full production at about 40 to 50 years old. Fruits from the shea tree resemble large plums and contain nuts from which the fatty substance -- shea butter -- is derived.
Shea butter is considered a “superfood" for the hair skin because of the nutrients it contains, according to NaturePurity.com. It contains a natural chemical compound called allantoin that is a nourishing ingredient. Shea butter also contains essential fatty acids; phytosterols, which are compounds found in plants; and vitamins A, E and F.
Shea butter is sold in refined and unrefined formulas. Refined shea butter is chemically extracted, leaving a white odorless substance that unfortunately may lack most of the nourishing properties for the hair. Unrefined shea butter has a golden hue, is extracted manually or mechanically, and retains all of its beneficial components, according to NaturePurity.com.
Shea butter can moisturize, relax, shine and smooth your hair. It provides moisture from the roots to the tips, adding luster to hair, according to TreasuredLocks.com. Shea butter can prevent hair from breaking, fading or thinning, and can be effective in protecting your hair from heat sources such as the sun and blow dryers.
To use, take a nut-sized portion of shea butter and thoroughly massage it into the hair, then wrap your hair in a warm towel. Wait for 20 to 30 minutes before shampooing your hair. After shampooing, apply a a shea butter conditioner or more shea butter for more relaxing effects.
Buying and Storing
You can buy shea butter that comes from either East or West Africa. East African, or Ugandan, shea butter is considered the most valuable because it is easily absorbed by the hair and scalp, according to TreasuredLocks.com. When buying shea butter products, look at the product date; shea butter that has been on the shelf too long is less effective. Read labels to ensure that shea butter is a prominent ingredient. Some shea butter products may contain only a small fraction of shea butter combined with inexpensive ingredients. Shea butter can be stored in a cool place -- but not as cold as the refrigerator -- for as long as two years.
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Jan Millehan has published articles relating to health, fitness and disease on various websites. Her publishing history includes health-related articles on blogs and online directories, as well as an essay published in the Bridgewater College journal, "Philomathean." Millehan received a Bachelor of Science in elementary education from Bridgewater College.