Hair Oil Series: Shea Butter –The Benefits
Whether it’s because of the nutty smell, yellow, buttery texture, or its many benefits for hair and skin, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t love shea butter. Having already established itself as an excellent way to treat scars and stretch marks, shea butter also can benefit natural hair.
Shea butter is derived from the nuts of the shea karite tree. After the nuts are harvested, they are pounded, grilled and boiled. During the boiling process, curds separate from the nut puree and rise to the top of the boiling pot–this is what creates the butter. It possesses versatile qualities as a moisturizer, conditioner, protectant and even as a sunscreen.
Shea butter is rich in linoleic, oleic and stearic acid. In particular, it contains 30-50 percent stearic acid, giving it almost the same composition as animal fat. Because of this, shea butter is easily absorbed into the body and can act as a “refatting” agent–a substance that can restore lipids to the skin, moisturizing it. Shea butter also contains vitamins A, E and F and has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The anti-inflammatory characteristics are what make it so good for healing abrasions and burns.
Shea butter is very thick and heavy, which makes it the perfect product for protecting natural hair from outside elements. With a low SPF, it can protect hair from the harmful effects of sunlight and UltraViolet rays, and can also act as a barrier between hair and harmful materials like water and chlorine if you decide to hit the pool. Your hair is also safe against the weather and even heat styling with the help of shea butter. CurlyNikki recommends melting it down and combining it with grapeseed oil or another oil that has a high smoke point and applying it to the hair before using heat styling tools. Shea butter also helps with producing collagen, which keeps the skin elastic and slows down the aging process.
The oils present in shea butter are also excellent for keeping hair moisturized and soft. Its anti-inflammatory properties can also help with dry scalp as well as skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and others that can cause dandruff, flaking and scars. Moisturizing not just the scalp but also individual hair strands will diminish breakage and over time increase growth of healthy hair. In addition to adding moisture, the thickness of shea butter helps it to double as a sealant. Shea butter retains moisture by acting as a barrier to drying elements. According to Coils and Glory, this barrier is beneficial for porous hair in particular because it slows down the hair’s moisture loss.
When using shea butter it is best to not use too much as over saturation of the hair can lead to it being weighed down and greasy as opposed to feeling moisturized and soft. Unrefined butter is also better for the hair. One way to tell whether your shea butter is unrefined or not is by the characteristic smoky smell, if that smell is missing or different, it is possible that your butter has been chemically altered. While unrefined shea butter may contain remnants of tree nuts, simply melting it down and running it through a strainer or cheesecloth can filter the hard bits out. Shea butter melts and spreads at body temperature and should not be used by people with tree nut allergies since there is no evidence to confirm that it will not cause reactions.
When it comes to giving your hair some good, old fashioned TLC, almost nothing beats shea butter. Just a small amount can have your tresses feeling pillow soft and strengthened. With its moisturizing, healing and protecting qualities it doesn’t matter what season you use it, shea butter can take your hair from frizzy to fresh in no time!