Oy Shea!

Sick of Dry, Chapped Skin? Get Your Shea Butter On.
One day I realized that nearly every beauty care product I owned was touting the magic properties of a singular ingredient: shea butter. Since I have been known to inadvertently stumble into trends before (pomegranates kept finding their way into my bath products not long ago) it could be that shea has secretly infiltrated beauty care aisles and inadvertently found its way into my shopping baskets in the form of shampoos, lotions and lip balms. But even if it didn’t begin as a conscious decision, it has evolved into one. I’ve become a full-fledged shea convert.

What is Shea?

Technically shea butter refers to the oil inside the nuts of the shea trees, which grow in the wild in Africa. The stuff has been softening skin for centuries, with Egyptians under Cleopatra touting its benefits. As a short primer from the company Everyday Shea explains, the really healing shea butter is the unrefined kind. Otherwise, they write, the shea oil is extracted with petroleum solvents “and then refined, bleached, and deodorized” leaving residues behind and stripping its positive skin agents.

Kids’ Stuff

For me, it started with the baby bath products. If you’ve ever been in the baby shampoo/body wash section of a Whole Foods then you know the true meaning of sticker shock. I was tired of ponying up $20 for a regular-sized bottle of the head-to-toe stuff and looking for an alternative. I found two. For my elementary aged daughter, and anyone else in the family, a big ‘ol bottle of pump-able Everyday Shea shampoo and conditioner. The stuff is paraben-free and fair trade-certified, contains no synthetic fragrances and is not tested on animals. The products support community enhancement projects in West Africa—and are very reasonably priced! A 32-oz. bottle of shampoo or conditioner (or the same size bubble bath for kids) is just $13.99, and often available for less.

The other baby hair/body wash I picked up at CVS while on vacation and have since become hooked on—the organic head-to-toe wash with Frankincense & Myrrh from Shea Moisture. It’s $9.99 at Walgreens at the moment, with a buy 1 get 1 50% off deal currently in place, and seriously leaves a baby soft and lovely smelling. People with sensitive skin rave about its properties as a face and body wash for grown-ups, too and it’s free of parabens, phthalates, sulfates, PABA, gluten, paraffin and synthetic fragrances. In addition to the shea, it has argan oil for softening the skin. For those of us looking to reduce the number of products we put on our little ones, a wash like this means forgoing the expensive after-bath lotion.

Winter Skin Solutions

Of course, winter is upon us and those of us in colder climes must face the after effects of cold wind, namely chapped lips and dry skin. Here again, shea butter comes to the rescue. I’ve been carrying a tin of Pure African Shea Nut Butter around in my purse, which, full disclosure, was sent to E for review. The two-ounce tin goes for $9.99 and seems to last forever. While it claims to be a salve for skin problems of all kinds, I find that it’s most useful as a lip balm, or really anywhere on the face that needs additional moisture. Vermont Soap apparently spent time interviewing hundreds of people in Northern Ghana in order to track down their organic shea suppliers; and they write on their site that they use a proprietary process for removing a naturally occurring latex from the shea.

For an after-shower lotion, check out Out of Africa—which can be found online from Amazon or other online retailers for about $7 for a 9-ounce bottle. With essential oils adding touches of lavender, vanilla, grapefruit or yes—pomegranate!—the line uses 100% unrefined shea butter, promises 12-hour hydration, supports women’s cooperatives in West Africa and is free of parabens and sulfates.