As natural beauty products go, few things can beat raw shea butter. Harvested from the nut of the karite tree and processed into a rich, crumbly hunk-o-antioxidants, shea butter moisturizes, helps skin heal and may slow down the aging process. That's due to its high levels of cinnamates and acetates with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also contains UV protectant caffeic acid, along with vitamins A, E, F, and rich unsaponifiable fats that moisturize without clogging your skin.
Notice that I specified "raw" shea butter above. Shea degrades over time, and when it is refined, many of its active components degrade as well. The mass-produced shea products you see on drugstore shelves are all made with refined shea! Not sure about your favorite product? You can tell by the color. Shea is naturally ivory or grayish-yellow. Pure white creams have been refined.
To get the most skin-brightening benefit, buy raw, unrefined grade A shea butter directly from its African distributors. You'll receive a crumbly, waxy substance. Here's how to turn it into your own homemade moisturizer -- a lovely luxury for yourself, and a wonderful gift too. This is my personal recipe, which I've used almost exclusively as a moisturizer -- face, hands, elbows, everything -- for over a year. Sadly, it has not yet reversed the aging process -- but my skin is noticeably healthier. That's good enough for me.
- 8 ounces (1 cup) of raw shea butter*
- 3 ounces of extra virgin olive oil, jojoba oil or another non-comedogenic nut oil
- 1 teaspoon of vitamin E oil
- Essential fragrance oils (I like almond and orange)
*If you're a curly girl like me, make a hair cream by halving the amount of shea and adding 4 ounces of coconut oil.
- Place the shea butter in a small metal bowl. Put the bowl into a pot of water and heat it slowly, stirring occasionally.
- When the shea butter is soft enough to stir but not melted (it will be lumpy), add the olive and E oils.
- Whip the mixture to high heaven with an egg beater. To speed it up, try whipping on high speed for five minutes, then putting the bowl in the fridge for five minutes. Continue until it cools to room temperature and is fluffy and smooth, up to half an hour.
- Fold in a few drops of essential oil, then spoon the cream into a container with a lid.
- Try to use it or give it away within six months to a year for best results.
Image: Jessica Reeder