Get to know your kɔɪli butters (Part II): Shea Butter

 2016-05-31 08:47 AM by
Get to know your kɔɪli butters (Part II): Shea Butter

In Part II of the 'Get to know your kɔɪli butters' series we look into one of our core ingredients - shea butter. We discuss its origins, composition and various benefits for skin and hair. 



Shea Butter - or Ori as it is known in Nigeria, Si'i in Mali and Ghariti in Senegal -  is indigenous to the tropics of East and West Africa and has been used for cooking, pharmacology, cosmetics and even lamp fuel for centuries. It is derived from the nuts of the Shea tree, a hardy and thick-barked structure with dense foliage that grows up to 20 meters in height. Its fruit initially resembles a small avocado which hardens into a nut with a central kernel from which the butter is derived.


The butter has a soft pasty texture at room temperature and its color ranges from ivory to a deep yellow depending on how it has been processed. It has a shelf life of approximately 2 years.  It is derived by  boiling the nuts in large pots, manually pressing the butter out from the nuts and collecting this into large calabashes for storage and shipment. This is unrefined shea butter that contains the most natural goodness but can also have a strong nutty aroma.  It consists mostly of triglycerides and unsaponifiables (components of fat mixtures that do not form soap when mixed with sodium hydroxide) including Karisterols, Parkeol, Lupeol, Butryospermol, Kaitene and cinnamic asters. This unique blend surpasses the qualities of conventional lipids meaning that in addition to being a superb moisturiser, it has several healing and medicinal properties. Once refined by using chemical solvents such as hexane to extract, it loses a lot of these qualities. 

It is no wonder then that unrefined shea butter has been used for years on African skin for soothing of sprains and strains, for treatment of eczema, arthritis and rheumatism and for accelerated healing of the umbilical cord and circumcisions. It absorbs quickly and protects the skin from harsh climates and UV rays, prevents wrinkle formation, soothes irritated and chapped skin and moisturizes the epidermis. It has even been used as an effective nasal decongestant by applying into nostrils. 


For hair, it can be used to soothe dry scalp and dandruff and serves as a great moisturiser for dry or damaged tresses. It locks moisture into hair without leaving it greasy or heavy and also absorbs quickly into the scalp and doesn't clog pores. Because it coats your hair, it can also serve as a heat protectant and a shield against UV rays from the sun. It helps hold your hairstyle without making it hard or brittle but rather softening over time.  


Shea butter is traditionally made by rural African women and the income made is used to support families and provide an economic resource for the villages from which they are often sourced. It has become an important component of African trade that is sold both domestically and internationally and has also been used as a substitute for cocoa butter in the production of chocolate ( interestingly, up to 95 per cent of production currently goes into the making of confectioneries). However, the sustainability of the shea butter industry is being negatively affected by felling and desertification of the savannah. Because the tree takes up to 20 years to bear fruit and does not reach maturity till 45 years, many are discouraged from plantation planting-further worsening the situation. 

Our aim at kɔɪli is to ensure that our shea butter is ethically sourced so that it contributes to the economic and social well-being of the women that harvest and prepare it for our use. In the not too distant future, we hope to be able to give back by planting these trees in endangered zones so that even when we are gone, others can enjoy their natural and economic benefits.