Natural Skin Care Tips: Unrefined Organic Shea Butter Vs. the Refined, Bleached Version

July 01, 2006 (PRLEAP.COM) Lifestyle News
For centuries, dating as far back as Cleopatra, shea butter has been used for multiple purposes. It conditions the skin and hair and protects them from harsh dry climates. It is also traditionally used for soothing sprains and strains and for its anti-inflammatory properties. New research is confirming natural shea butter to be a versatile active ingredient for skin anti-aging, moisturizing and healing. Everything from wrinkles and stretch marks, to rashes, blemishes, and muscle aches can benefit from its use. However, according to the American Shea Butter Institute, when shea butter is refined and bleached by the use of heat and chemicals, like most shea butter products on the market are, it loses most, if not all of its healing properties.

The Shea Tree
Living up to two centuries, the karite tree (shea tree) is a hardy tree that bears fruit after 15 years and produces a full crop after 25 years. It grows thoroughout African Savanahs, blooms from June to July, and bears dark green fruits that fall to the ground when ripe. Each fruit contains a nut with a hard white kernel, which is the source of shea butter.

In the traditional method of extracting shea butter, the shea kernel (known as the karite nut) is picked, cracked, grilled and then pounded. It is boiled in water until the fresh butter rises to the surface, then it’s scooped into gourds and left to cool and set. This is all done by hand in a process that has been done for centuries. Often times an expeller-type press is used to crush the nuts which produces more butter and can save hours of time. These are both superior extraction methods as they are done without the use of dangerous chemicals and synthetic agents. The result is known as “unrefined”, “raw”, or “virgin” shea butter.

Chemical Extraction, Bleaching and Refining

When shea butter is extracted with the toxic petroleum-based chemical “hexane”, traces of the solvent may remain in the butter. Currently, the market is saturated with butters extracted with hexane. This process turns the butter a whitish color and takes out the distinctive natural odor – which provides a good way to detect if the product is processed. However, sometimes leftover shea butter from the expeller-press method is mixed in with the solvent method and sold as "unrefined shea butter". To get the best benefits from shea butter’s inherent healing properties, it’s important to use a source that has third-party verification of its purity, such as the “USDA Organic Certified” seal.

In the refinement process, shea butter is exposed to heat of up to 270 degrees in order to remove its characteristic nutty smell, and chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and sodium carbonate are mixed in and added to the shea butter. When shea butter is bleached, it goes through an acid treated filter at high temperatures. These actions remove the natural essential fatty acids, as well as valuable proteins and minerals.

Dr.Robyn Tisdale Scott, a Clinical Pharmacist and founder of Purely Shea® – which makes 100% pure unrefined USDA certified organic shea butter – found out first-hand the difference natural, organic shea butter can make. She says: “In my pharmaceutical work, I use a lot of harsh cleansers on my hands, which resulted in severe dryness and rashes. I tried many things, including some refined shea butter I got from a local drugstore, but nothing seemed to help. Then a friend gave me some pure, unrefined shea butter and the rash on my hand was gone within three days. I wondered why the previous shea butter didn’t work. Then I did some research and found out that the less the butter is altered from its original natural state, the more it retains its therapeutic benefits.”

In order to provide others with the same advantages she received, Scott founded Purely Shea – a unique skincare line that guarantees their customers therapeutic-grade, pure and unrefined, USDA certified organic shea butter. Purely Shea is significantly richer in vitamins, phytonutrients and UV absorbing factors than refined shea butter, and because it’s produced with traditional extraction methods, it retains its original time-honored natural healing attributes.

Psoriasis “Corrects Itself” with Unrefined Shea Butter
Charlene LeRoy of Shelby Township, Michigan had struggled with the itching, peeling, skin scales and rash of psoriasis for sixteen years. She says: “The psoriasis was so bad I couldn’t shave my knees without making the scabs bleed. When I used to put my elbow down, it would hurt because the skin was so chapped. I tried the shea butter at the drug store and it was fine as a moisturizer, but because it wasn’t natural, it didn’t help the psoriasis. A doctor had prescribed a cream with a steroid in it, but it didn’t work. Then my husband found Purely Shea online and I began to use it. It’s easy to apply and absorbs quickly into the skin. I used it consistently and the psoriasis seemed to correct itself and was actually healed – it took it right away. The built-up skin is gone and it’s very smooth – I can see my actual knee cap for the first time in sixteen years.”

Recommendations of the American Shea Butter Institute
The American Shea Butter Institute takes a definite stand regarding the “Refined Vs. Unrefined” contest. On their website they say: “In the U.S., some alter their shea butter in an attempt to give it a better fragrance and texture. Others alter shea butter for economic reasons. These alterations may disturb or in some cases destroy the natural integrity of the product. While altered shea butter may smell nicely, or when mixed with less expensive ingredients may cost much less, in many such cases it has lost significant properties…we now know that poor quality shea butter is ineffective in healing many of the skin conditions listed (on this site).”
They go on to describe the benefits of the “real thing”, saying: “Shea butter will provide improvement in all the conditions listed below…The amount of time required for optimal results with various conditions may vary with each condition. Wrinkles for example require 4 to 6 weeks of daily use. Itching is relieved immediately.”

These conditions include: “Dry skin, skin rash, skin peeling after tanning, blemishes and wrinkles, itching skin, sunburn, use with shaving cream for a smooth shave, small skin wounds, skin cracks, tough or rough skin on feet, cold weather, frost bite, stretch mark prevention during pregnancy, insect bites, muscle fatigue or aches, skin damage from heat, and skin allergies like poison ivy.”
Another happy user of the “real deal” is Lillie Hamberlin of Illinois, who discovered natural unrefined shea butter at a local fair. She says “I bought the Purely Shea product and now I use it every morning and evening – especially on my feet. I used to have severely dry, cracked skin on my heels, but not anymore. What’s unique about the shea butter is that it’s not oily – it just goes into the skin and keeps it moisturized. It’s a regular footstone that keeps my skin just beautiful.”

Studies Confirm Shea Butter’s Anti-Aging and Moisturizing Properties
For his PhD thesis, F. Renard conducted an intriguing anti-aging clinical study. Thirty volunteers aged 29 to 82 used shea butter as a daily massage and balm for 4 to 8 months. Within a few weeks, the rough aspect of a dull, grayish complexion was eliminated, giving way to smoother, clearer skin. Skin thinning was combated, creating an observable regenerating effect – due to shea butter’s ability to reactivate collagen synthesis. Wrinkles caused by prolonged sun exposure were visibly diminished in half of the volunteers.

In another study published in a French dermatology journal, a cream containing 5% shea butter was used on half of the participants and a placebo cream was used on the rest. The creams were applied daily to the lower arm of ten volunteers. Short-term moisturization was observed with the shea butter cream, which peaked after one hour and then persisted for eight hours. For all subjects using the shea butter, a daily application maintained very good moisturization of the superficial layers of the skin.

Shea butter is a versatile product bearing excellent anti-aging, soothing, healing and moisturizing properties, but only the certified organic, pure, unrefined natural form can deliver all of these benefits.

For more information about 100% pure, unrefined, USDA certified organic shea butter, visit Purely Shea at or call 1-877-ORG-SHEA (1-877-674-7432). A 3.5oz jar of their shea butter is available for $19.50.