By Sue Shekut, L.M.T. ACSM P.T., Certified Wellness Coach
Years ago a client gave me a Crabtree & Evelyn hand cream as a holiday gift. I tried the cream and could not believe how well it lubricated my hands–AND did not leave my hands greasy. I went to the Crabtree & Evelyn store to get more and find out what this amazing ingredient was. The salesclerk told me that the amazing ingredient in some of their creams was: shea butter.
However, I was not a big fan of the smell of the Crabtree cream (or it’s price). I have since found many other sweeter smelling creams and lotions with shea butter. For massage, shea butter is a great cream because it gives just enough lubrication for massage therapist’s hands to glide for effluerage strokes, but just enough friction for deep tissue work.
Now I find that shea butter has another benefit that would not immediately come to mind: As a nasal decongestant! I am the first to admit, some wellness people tend to tout the benefits of products far beyond what is realistic (not everything cures cancer, prevents hair loss or keeps your skin looking young forever). I am fairly skeptical about product clams from product manufacturers. But I looked into this claim and it is backed up by clinical research.
Put Butter in My Nose? C’mon, You Must Be Joking
According to a study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, shea butter does relieve nasal decongestion, actually better than conventional nasal drops! Now, it’s just one study. But my experience of shea butter is that it’s pretty amazing butter and lubricating dry nasal passages when I have a stuffy nose makes sense. But, don’t just take my word for it.. Read the study here.
So What is Shea Butter?
Allafia is a company that sells unrefined Shea Butter. According to their website, “Shea Butter is the oil from the nuts of wild Shea trees (Vitellaria paradoxa) scattered throughout the wooded savanna of West and Central Africa. Shea Butter has been used for centuries in Africa as a decongestant, an anti-inflammatory for sprains and arthritis, healing salve, lotion for hair and skin care, and cooking oil. However, the protective and emollient properties of Shea Butter are most valued for skin care.”
What Does it Matter if It’s Refined or Unrefined Shea Butter?
According to Alaffia: Most Shea Butter available to the general public outside West Africa is white and odorless: in other words, it has been “refined” to remove the natural scent and color of natural Shea Butter. In the process, the majority of the effective agents are also removed.
In addition, refined Shea Butter has usually been extracted from the shea kernels with hexane or other petroleum solvents. The extracted oil is boiled to drive off the toxic solvents, and then refined, bleached, and deodorized, which involves heating it to over 400 degrees F and the use of harsh chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide.
Shea Butter extracted in this manner still contains some undesirable solvent residues, and its healing values are significantly reduced. Antioxidants or preservatives such as BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) or BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) may be added as well. The end result is an odorless, white butter that may be aesthetically appealing, but lacks the true moisturizing, healing, and nutritive properties of true traditional Shea Butter.
Refined Shea Butter is often hard and grainy, not smooth and creamy like pure, unrefined Shea Butter. Refined Shea Butter has an extended shelf life, a white, uniform color, no odor, and greatly reduced therapeutic benefits from the Shea Butter. All of the Alaffia butters are handcrafted and unrefined so they retain their natural healing and moisturizing properties.
Where Do I get Some Unrefined Shea Butter in the U.S.?
Whole Foods Market carries Allafia products as well as many other shea butter based creams and lotions. I like Affalia because they do not refine their shea butter and their pricing is reasonable. (A little jar of shea butter last a long time!) Affalia is also a fair trade company.
What is Fair Trade?
Fair trade means paying a fair price or wage in the local context, providing equal employment opportunities, engaging in environmental sustainable practices, providing healthy and safe working conditions, being open to public accountability, and reducing the number of middlemen between producers and consumers. Fair trade is environmentally, economically and culturally sustainable and gives local communities the opportunity to self empower.
Buying products from producers that are fair trade certified means you can feel good about the product you are buying. A fair trade product means the actual people toiling away in the fields of far off Africa are getting paid a fair wage for their work and are able to support themselves and their families from their own labor.
The founder of Aliffa, Olowo-n’djo Tchala, grew up in poverty in Togo. He dedicated his life to empowering communities in Africa. He chooses to promote indigenous African natural resources that are culturally, spiritually, economically and ecologically sustainable. Traditionally handcrafted shea butter fits these criteria. It is a renewable resource of African origin; shea trees are wild, requiring no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Furthermore, it is an integral part of many savanna communities and, consequently, there is a wealth of local and traditional knowledge of making shea butter. The fair trade of our handcrafted shea butter and shea butter skin care products is bringing income to and empowering our communities in Togo, while making indigenous, sustainable and effective skin care available to the global community.
Give Gifts Friend and Family Will Love And You Will Feel Good Giving
To give some great holiday gifts this year, why not give those you love a product that not only helps their skin feel good but in this cold and flu season, may help them breathe better if they get congested?
Does Working Well Massage Get Anything From Promoting Alaffia or Shea Butter Products?
Nope. No money, no free stuff, no kickbacks. What we do get is the satisfaction that we are telling our clients and readers about great products and helping in some small way to promote fair trade in a far off country. And that is worth more than a few dollars!