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Shea butter in a small tin for cosmetic use.

Shea butter is a slightly yellowish or ivory colored natural fat extracted from the seed of the shea tree by crushing and boiling.Shea butter is widely used in cosmetics as a moisturizer and salve. Shea butter is also grade edible; used in food preparation as well as sometimes in the chocolate industry substituting for cocoa butter. It is an acclaimed natural butter derived from the Shea tree growing across Africa.

The shea tree produces its first fruit (which resemble large plums) when it is about 20 years old and reaches its full production when the tree is about 45 years old. It produces nuts for up to 200 years after reaching maturity.

The Shea tree is perennial and starts bearing 10-15 years after planting and full bearing is attained when the tree is about 20-30 years. Fruit takes 4-6 months to ripen. Average yield is 15-20 kg fresh fruit per tree, with optimum yields up to 45 kg. 100 kg fresh nuts gives approximately 40 kg dry seeds.

Many vernacular names are used for butter seed, extract - Vitellaria or Lucuma paradoxa including nilotica. The nomenclature history and synonymy of the shea tree followed a very tortuous perhaps sanguine evolution since the oldest recorded specimen collected by a EuropeanScottish explorer Mungo Park, who learned of the tree while exploring Senegalmarker.


Distribution of shea trees

The shea tree grows naturally in the wild in the dry savannah belt of West Africa from Senegal in the west to Sudanmarker in the east, and onto the foothills of the Ethiopian highlands. It occurs in 19 countries across the African continent, namely Beninmarker, Burkina Fasomarker, Cameroonmarker, Central African Republicmarker, Chadmarker, Ethiopiamarker, Ghanamarker, Guinea Bissaumarker, Côte d'Ivoiremarker, Malimarker, Nigermarker, Nigeriamarker, Senegalmarker, Sierra Leonemarker, Sudanmarker, Togomarker, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congomarker and Guineamarker.

A reflection of its extensive range of occurrence nearly 5,000km from Senegal (west) to Uganda (east) across the African continent.

The shea tree grows in Northern West Africa, over about 77,670 square kilometers in Western Dagomba, Southern Mamprusi, Western Gonja, Lawra, Tumu, Wa and Nanumba with Eastern Gonja having the densest stands. There is sparse shea tree cover found in Brong Ahafo, Ashanti, and the Eastern and Volta regions in the south of the country.

In the Guinea savannah the plant can thrive abundantly also in the Sudan.


Shea butter is known especially for its cosmetic properties as a moisturizer cream and emulsion . Some claim that it is also an anti-inflammatory agent. Shea butter is marketed as being effective at treating the following conditions: fading scars, eczema, burns, rashes, acne, severely dry skin, blemishes, dark spots, skin discolorations, chapped lips, stretchmarks, wrinkles, and in lessening the irritation of psoriasis. Shea butter provides natural ultraviolet sun protection, although the level of protection is extremely variable, ranging from nothing to approximately SPF 6. Shea butter absorbs rapidly into the skin without leaving a greasy feeling. In Nigeria, it is known to be very effective in the management of sinusitis and relief of nasal congestion. This is due to its hydrating properties which helps in relaxing the tension in the face skin thus easing respiration. Scarcity of supply results in an erratic market price 2005.


Shea butter can be found in many high end moisturizing personal care products. Shea butter extract is known for its skin softening effect, it is also used in hair conditioners to add and maintain moisture in dry brittle hair revitalizing; in addition to retaining softness and preventing breakage.

The fat is used as a cooking lard, illuminant, medicinal oinment, hairdressing and for soap. The oil is used in soap and candle making, water proofing wax, cosmetics, and as an ingredient in the fillings used for chocolate cream.

With regular use Shea Butter evens skin tone and returns skin to a natural luster, melting at body temperature, it absorbs quickly and completely into the skin without leaving a noticable oily residue. Shea Butter penetrates deep into the skin to rehydrate and promote cell growth.

Many carvers of djembe husks and other african drums used from zouk to soca music have traditional instrument gourds using shea extract to condition the wood for durability; butter oil extract is also used to condition the leather binds of these instruments.

Shea butter is a favorite among soapmakers it is typically used in small amounts (5-7% of the oils in the recipe). Shea butter extract is a complex fat that contains many non-saponifiable components (cannot be fully converted into soap.) Thus the shea butter leaves a small amount of oil in the soap, which seals moisture into the skin after washing.; the product is used in luxury end cosmetics as a moisturizer salve.


  1. Tella, A, Br (1979) "Preliminary studies on nasal decongestant activity from the seed of the shea butter tree, Butyrospermum parkii", J Clin Pharmacol, May;7(5):495-7.

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