Shea butter is a slightly yellowish or ivory-colored fat extracted from the nut of the African shea tree. Shea Butter is also referred to as Ori. It is widely used in cosmetics as a moisturizer, salve or lotion. Shea butter is edible and is used in food preparation in Africa. Occasionally the chocolate industry uses shea butter mixed with other oils, as a substitute for cocoa butter, although the taste is different.
Butter extraction and refining
The traditional method of preparing unrefined shea butter consists of the following steps:
Shea butter is mainly used in cosmetics, such as lip gloss moisturizer creams and emulsions, and hair conditioners for dry and brittle hair. It is also used by soap makers, typically in small amounts (5-7% of the oils in the recipe), because of its property of leaving a small amount of oil in the soap.
In Africa, shea butter is used for cooking oil, as a waterproofing wax, for hairdressing, for candle-making, and also as an ingredient in medicinal ointments. It is also used by makers of traditional African percussion instruments to increase the durability of wood (such as carved djembe shells), dried calabash gourds, and leather tuning straps.
Shea butter is used as a base for medicinal ointments. Some of the isolated chemical constituents are reported to have anti-inflammatory, emollient and humectant properties. Shea butter has been used as a sunblocking lotion and has a limited capacity to absorb ultraviolet radiation.
In Ghana, shea butter, locally known as nkuto (Akan) or nku (Ga) is used as lotion to protect the skin during the dry Harmattan season.
In Nigeria shea butter is used for the management of sinusitis and relief of nasal congestion. It is also massaged into joints and other parts of the body where pain is experienced.