The Science on Butters

Quite often people throw me a curve balls. Questions which require extensive skills beyond standard research tools. The problem is that unless it is published in a journal in the English language, I can't find it. Therefore some good research dies in a PhD thesis or foreign languages.

This research can only be found by the eminent power that is google!. One of these curve balls was a very intricate question about butters for hair from Lanolin Lover. I was about to throw in the towel and then I remembered that I am actually quite good at googling!!

Ok part 1 :Is Shea butter better than cocoa butter?

Shea butter and cocoa butter are actually quite similar. I have found though that the preference for shea butter may come from the fact that cocoa butter is comedogenic ( meaning it is likely to make your skin break out in spots - whiteheads/blackheads (comedones)) . (Journal of Dermatological Treatment, pg s15-s18, 1997).

With the skin on your face and head having the greatest number of sebaceous glands (oil producing glands), applying cocoa butter in that area may irritate the skin. There are quite a few good things to be said about both shea and cocoa butter. However, less is said about cocoa butter in hair.

So here are a few good things about shea butter (references are here and here)

1. A good emollient and moisturiser (Les Nouvelles Dermatologiques, p78-79,1988)
2. It can be added to lotions/shampoos etc to reduce irritation (for example due to SLS).
3. It contains fats known to absorb some UV light (sunscreen!!)
4. It contains chemicals known to be anti inflammatory

Ok - next question - Is there a superior hair butter?

Currently shea butter is being raved about which is good as more research will come up. I will however come up with a more conclusive answer after a cup of coffee, some sleep and a weekend of strawberry picking! Ok maybe skip the coffee :)

Cocoa butter does smell delicious though and I do like it for banishing those ashy legs. My mother has never liked it, she says people are not supposed to smell like food, I tend to disagree :)

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  1. i was just on the chemistry store website to trying to decide between avocado, mango or olive butter. I already have Shea and i love it.

    Seriously i need help deciding help me ladies.

  2. what are we using to define "superior"? i know plenty of ladies for whom shea butter just doesn't do it and others can't live without it. i think finding superior butter(s) for your hair is a personal preference because what works for someone won't necessarily work for you.

    i use a mixture of cocoa and mango butters, and i find it to be very moisturizing. i haven't had any scalp issues with the cocoa butter. i've only used shea butter in commercial hair products, and i find them to be less greasy than cocoa/mango butter. but, i have to apply shea butter products more frequently than homemade products i have containing cocoa/mango butter.

    i'm curious to hear others' thoughts!

  3. Coco butter can be over powering if you apply too much. I couldn't look at chocolate for WEEKS after over doing it!

  4. Keisha I think pure unrefined shea butter is much better to use than one in a commercial hair product as you get all of the nutrients. I love shea butter as it really moisturizes my scalp. I sometimes like to mix this with some other oils like jojoba oil or sweet almond oil. I hope this helps.

  5. @ Anonymous - I'm not sure I agree. Hair is essentially dead. There is no way to put 'nutrients' into hair by applying a product externally. I'll check and see if there is any support for this.

  6. Thanks anonymous. I found a local vendor for unrefined shea butter, so I think it's worth trying for $5. I'd likely mix it with oils as well, and make some homemade concoctions.

    Jc, I think if you apply butters to the scalp they can provide "nutrients" to the newest growth. I agree, though, that once expelled from the scalp, the hair is dead. Commercial products market ingredients that "nourish" the hair and make "damaged" hair "healthy". The terminology implies that hair can be living or at least resurrected from the dead if you will.

  7. Hi Keisha - I think I'll do a post on this. The only living part of hair is the follicle and that gets its nutrients from blood. Most things that you put on your hair are just'prophylactic' meaning they just help maintain hair in good condition (cuticles/moisture etc). You will notice that most companies will say ..... 'makes your damaged hair 'feel' healthy.'. The word feel is the get out clause. There are also companies who say 'nourish' in reference to wheat germ protein and ceramide which can build on hair. However again this is not 'nourishment' in an every day sense.

    I'll definitely do a post on this soon.

  8. Oh great! Thanks Jc. I think the marketing execs have done such a number on haircare terminology that it's hard to reconcile. I look forward to your post!

  9. so basically my question is when do you use butters for your hair? i know to use moisturizers when have is damp and i know to use oils to keep your hair from being dry thoughtout the day but what about butters, how can they help?

  10. is shea butter a sealant or a moisturizer or both? for example, after shampooing, can it alone be applied, and then seal with an oil...or do i need to apply a water-based moisturizer then put the shea butter as the final product? *confused* :S


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