Shea Butter an Economic Gift From Nature

shea butter 2Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world but its natural resource, shea trees, made the country internationally famous for its shea butter. Thanks to its moisturizing and healing functions, shea butter is recognized worldwide as highly beneficial for the skin.

Burkina Faso, formerly known as Upper Volta, is a landlocked francophone country with an area of 274,000 sq km. It is located in West Africa and has boundaries with Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire in the south, Mali in the west and Niger in the east. Burkina Faso achieved independence from France in 1960.

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world with few natural resources and a weak industrial base. According to the U.S Department of State, in 2008, Burkina Faso had an estimated population of 15 million and a life expectancy of 57 years. In 2009, the estimated literacy rate was 26 percent. A significant number of the population in Burkina Faso is engaged in subsistence agriculture, which is vulnerable to periodic drought. The rest of the population is engaged in industry and commerce, services, and government.

shea butterIn 2009, Burkina Faso’s estimated GDP was $9.1 billion while the annual income per capita was $580. Burkina Faso’s natural resources include manganese, gold, limestone, marble, phosphate, zinc and uranium. The agriculture sector composes 37 percent of the GDP with products such as cotton, millet, sorghum, rice, livestock, peanuts, shea nuts and maize. The industry sector accounts for 24 percent of the GDP and composes mining, agricultural processing plants, brewing and bottling, and light industry. Major exports include cotton, gold, livestock, peanuts, shea nut products, which accounted for $404 million in 2007. The sheanut, which comes from the shea tree, constitutes Burkina Faso second largest export product during the 1980’s. Burkina Faso is part of the African shea tree zone. With more than 80 percent of the territory covered by shea trees, Burkina Faso is recognized as a shea butter hub.

The shea tree grows only in Africa and can be found in 19 contiguous countries across Africa from Senegal to Uganda and Ethiopia. These 19 countries are identified as the Shea Belt. The shea trees are valued for their fruits and the nuts by the rural communities. The shea tree produces a fruit about the size of a plum each summer. The fruit has a green-orange color when ripened with sweet custard content when eaten. It has a more vitamin C per gram than the orange.

Fruiting of the shea tree starts in December and January, seeds mature during March until May and the fruits are ready for pick-up from April to August. One fruit typically contains one seed, but occasionally has two or three seeds. The nut is a brow oval structure with a thin shell.  Shea butter is a fatty extract from the seed of the shea nut. Shea butter is known to contain a number of ingredients with biological activity which includes moisturizing abilities and the healing of minor skin ailments.

Refined and Unrefined Shea Butter

Shea butter comes in two forms: refined and unrefined. Both forms are excellent moisturizers. Refined shea butters are an excellent moisturizer but have little or no healing benefits. Unrefined shea butters, also call raw or virgin shea butters, are an excellent moisturizer and have an abundance of healing benefits useful for skin ailments.

Shea butter is refined by industries to remove odor and color. However, the process also removes the healing nutrients. More than 75 percent of the healing nutrients can be lost during the refining process.

Shea Butter Health Benefits

In comparison, the oil derived from various fruits, vegetables and nuts can be divided into two important fractions: the moisturizing fraction and the healing fraction. The healing fraction size in most oils is very small, often in the range of one percent or less. But, the unrefined shea butter healing fraction goes from five to 17 percent. This exceptional healing fraction sets shea butter apart from all other oils.

Shea Butter for Healing

Clinically, 100 percent pure shea butter is a superior moisturizer, containing remarkable healing properties for various skin ailments. Unrefined shea butter has the largest healing fraction and contains special natural ingredients that are ideal for healthier skin. Shea butter contains vitamin A which is necessary for healthy skin. In addition, Shea Butter contains several natural anti-inflammatory agents and a minor sunscreen agent. Those people who frequently use shea butter report a number of other benefits for skin ailments such as blemishes, itching, sunburns, small skin wounds, eczema, skin allergies and wrinkles. However, shea butter is derived from nuts growing on the shea tree so if you are allergic to nuts, please don’t use it.

Editor’s Note:  When looking for shea butter be mindful of where the product or raw material is sourced from.  Your dollars on beauty and health could be helping a micro business or community.

Written By Romaric Zongo