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Agbanga Karite

Shea Butter History

Shea butter has been used for centuries on the African continent and is completely enmeshed within the history and culture of the West African wooded savanna. Shea butter is mentioned in almost all African historical documents, including a reference as early as Cleopatra's Egypt, which mentions caravans bearing clay jars of shea butter for cosmetic use. Funeral beds of kings were carved in wood of old shea trees, and shea butter has always been a staple of African pharmacology.

Shea butter is the oil from the nuts that are gathered from wild trees scattered throughout the fields and forests of the wooded savanna. Shea butter has many useful properties and has been used for traditional hair and skin care, as a cooking oil, and as a lamp fuel. However, the protective and emollient properties of shea butter are most valued for skin care. Shea butter is a main ingredient in local soap production, and is applied to the skin and hair directly to protect them from drying out in the harsh African environment. Scientific observations in the 1940s verified that occurrence of skin diseases was scarce in populations using shea butter (Pobeda 1999).

Shea butter is an important natural resource for the savanna nations. Until recently, Europeans have controlled all shea butter for export by purchasing the shea kernels and chemically extracting the oil using hexane. Most of this shea butter is sold as cocoa butter equivalents in western nations, but some is also sold in the cosmetic market. Chemically extracted shea butter, however, does not retain all the healing and moisturizing properties of traditionally, mechanically produced shea butter.

Shea butter is a slightly ivory colored butter that consists mostly of triglycerides and unsaponifiables, including Karisterols, Parkeol, Lupeol, Butryospermol, Katitene and cinnamic esters. It is a very versatile active ingredient for skin and hair care products,which has excellent anti-aging, soothing and moisturizing properties. A recent article published in Global Cosmetic Industry recommends shea butter for oil free formulations especially, since it has good spreadability and quick rub-in properties (Pobeda 1999). Our shea butter is produced using traditional techniques that preserve the healing and moisturizing properties.


Pobeda, Michel. 1999. Shea butter: the revival of an African wonder. Global Cosmetic Industry April 1999: 34-41.

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