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N° 14 – Do As We Shea

Posted by Leila Janah on

Like any botanical, the qualities of Vitellaria paradoxa (formerly known as Butyrospermum parkii, commonly known as Shea Butter) vary immensely, especially when it comes to the purity and source. Just as an off-season, faded red, hybrid tomato may have a watery flavor, while a bright, non-hybrid heirloom may be delicious, all Shea is not created equal. 

First, beware that most Shea on the market is refined to make it more palatable for consumers. The refining process is meant to improve the raw product, but this isn’t the case. Manufacturers use chemicals like hexane to speed up the process of breaking open the nuts. Then they often bleach and deodorize the butter to remove the natural texture, odor and color….along with most of the beneficial properties of the original butter. So the practice isn’t ideal when effective, results-driven skincare is the goal. Make sure to read the labels of the Shea products you are purchasing…refined may look and sound nicer, but it is lacking in many important properties.

Then there is the difference between West African Shea and East African Shea. West African Shea is popular – more than 45K metric tons are exported annually, and cosmetic companies formulate with the ingredient all the time. It has a crumbly, cakey texture that requires some kneading to break down, so it isn’t ideal for pure application. When in its ideal state – unrefined – it has a potent odor that can be difficult to mask. Also, while high in many vitamins and acids, it is relatively low in Oleic Acid, a substance referred to as a “skin permeation enhancer” in scientific journals. This means that the benefits aren’t delivered all that deeply into skin’s surface. 

The LXMI team exclusively formulates with Ugandan “Nilotica,” a rare form of soft, delicately scented, luxurious Shea Butter that is underutilized in the cosmetic market, despite its superiority – particularly in regards to skin penetration and vitamin content.

The East African shea export market has not matured at the same rate as that of West Africa, for a variety of reasons:

  • A lower concentration of trees (about 7/ha v. 50/ha)

  • Local consumption of Nilotica as food and medicine

  • Higher transportation costs to the West

  • A lack of stability and security in the region

LXMI takes on these challenges to provide better, more effective, and organic skincare products that fight signs of aging naturally, and to #givework to the women producers keeping this market and this eco-diversity alive.

You may think you know Shea Butter as an ingredient, but that would be like trying American Cheese and claiming to understand Comté. The differences within the plant subspecies are plentiful, and we hope you discover what you’ve been missing.

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