Monday, 14 December 2009

Science Snippet: Shea Butter

Shea butter is certainly a popular topic and I get a lot of questions about it. I have done a previous post about it (see here) but the questions keep coming!

Unfortunately there isn't much research about shea butter (meaning real tangible stuff like the way coconut oil has been studied for hair applications) but I have really great questions - for example Dorothy asked, what is the difference between East African and West African shea butter?

Dorothy details her experience with the product saying the East African butter seems to be less greasy while the West African butter can sometimes feel hard and less absorbent.

Science has to play catch up! There are no references that I could find to directly explain this but East and West Africa certainly are two very different climates. There is evidence that the vitamin E content varies in shea butter from these regions (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, pp2934 -2937,2004). I would even say on the basis of Dorothy's observation, certainly the types of oil that make up the butter could vary in amount.

So, the best answer to this one probably comes from those who have tried the different types of butter. Tell us, do you prefer East to West or vice versa? Tell us why!

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  1. i did not even know there was East African shea butter. i'm totally clueless, i'd love to hear what other people have to say. i honestly thought shea butter was a strictly West African product.

  2. I've only tried shea butter from West curious to see what other people have to say.

  3. To be honest I am not sure which was east or west I just know I had one lighter in texture but still unrefined and the other deep yellow color also unrefined.

    In terms of hair and skin, I have found that the yellow one appears to be much heavier and more potent. It kept my hair moisturized much longer and its anti-aging properties and skin clearing ones were more apparent after having used each about a month and half. With it being much thicker I did notice an increase in black heads LOL but my skin was softer,more supple and even. My hair mixture comes out smoother and leaves my hair if possible more hydrated. Its a little hard to explain but my hair just responded better, it would actually spiral more and the elasticity of my strands "appeared" to increase. That could also be due to me changing my hair styling/handling methods but it overall was just better.

    I've read on a random comment on youtube that it was supposed to be more mature and thus more potent. Not sure but using myself as a guinea pig , I can attest to it being better :-)

    >_> I love my shea butter darker in color is that racist LOL

  4. I've never tried east since it's pricey-er than west where I live. I've HEAD though that east has a lighter sent, is less greasy and softer than west.

  5. Yes there is East African shea butter mostly from Uganda. It is supposed to be lighter in consistency - like Jaded and Alice have described


    I have heard some debate about this. It doesn't matter to me. It doesn't really matter as long as you're not treating something serious. It is more preference.

  7. I prefer 'Nilotica' Shea butter from the East, ever since I started wearing my hair 'out,' the regular West African one has been too heavy and gave my hair a greasy film. I love the scent, its smells like ghee!

  8. In general, the look, feel, and behaviour of an oil is determined by the mix of fatty acids that make it up.

    The fatty acid content of oils changes with variations in climate and soil, so an oil from one region can be very different from the same type of oil grown in another region.

    Oils from a single climate can also vary from growing season to growing season in response to changes in temperature, rainfall, etc.

    Shea butter is composed primarily (80-90%) of stearic (solid) and oleic (liquid) acids. West African shea tends to have a higher stearic acid content and is harder than East African shea with a higher oleic acid content.

    There are a number of resources on the web to this extent, but a quick one is:
    Another is:


  9. So is shea butter a hair moisturizer or used to seal in moisture? Can it be used as a sealer and moisturizer like coconut and olive oil.

  10. There is no research to say that shea butter penetrates into hair like coconut oil. It is an oil however and therefore can help to retain moisture in hair - see the moisture bumper issue for more details on how oil can help water.

  11. I have been wondering, if you were to mix water and oil, or a butter into a spray bottle, will it still be moisturizing, or should you apply the oil after your hair is moisturized? I would like make a shea butter mix, but since it's inconclusive whether or not shea butter is moisturizing, I've wondered if using oil and water at the same time makes it harder for water to get in, or if it doesn't matter. Hope that's not too confusing.


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