In the over-commercialized Christmas marketing blitz that smothers North America every year, we often forget that there are products that make a positive social impact on impoverished peoples all over the world and at the same time, can provide natural skin benefits for healthy skin and provide relief for a host of inflammatory-related skin conditions. One of those gifts is the gift of natural handmade soap with African shea butter.
Conscientious handmade soapmakers often use the emollient, nutrient-rich shea butter to enhance the properties of the products they make from creams, to lotions, to soaps. In fact, shea butter has been used for centuries with history recording jars of the rich butter being used for skin and hair as far back as Cleopatra and the Queen of Sheba!
What Exactly is Shea Butter?
Found primarily in Africa as the seed fruit of the Karite (shea) tree, shea butter is a skin superfood, melting quickly and readily absorbed into the skin. It is rich in vitamins A and E (that protect and repair the skin) and also contains essential fatty acids such as oleic acid, stearic acid, and linoleic acid (that boost collagen production resulting in anti-aging properties). Additionally, the butter has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and emollient properties so beneficial to the skin and hair.
It even has a natural SPF of 6!
The miracle of using shea butter in handmade soap making is that it doesn’t undergo saponification or turn into “soap” when it comes into contact with alkali used to turn other oils into soap! The shea butter in soap remains … shea butter … ready to heal skin, soothe rashes, and even treat acne on the face!
Shea butter is so natural that it can be eaten and is often used mixed with palm oil for cooking in third world countries. Some chocolate makers use shea butter as an alternative to cocoa solids to alter the taste of their confections.
Grades of Shea Butter
When shopping commercially for products containing shea butter it is important to note that there are grades of shea butter that correspond directly with their innate ability to improve skin health and treat various inflammatory skin conditions.
- Grade A: Premium Shea butter, raw or unrefined, extracted from water and rich in cinnamic acid (necessary for scar reduction)
- Grade B: Refined Shea Butter (this grade and below have had the cinnamic acid reduced to lower levels or removed)
- Grade C: Refined using solvents like Hexane
- Grade D: Lowest uncontaminated grade
- Grade E: Contains contaminates (leaf particles, ash, dead insects, etc)
Benefits of Shea Butter for Skin
While shea butter is not a necessary component to use in making natural handmade soap and increases the raw cost of making the soap, the best soapmakers often incorporate it into their bars to assure their final product provides skin benefits to the user. A 2010 study from the National Institutes of Health found that high levels of triterpenes in shea butter provides anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor-promoting properties that can improve skin conditions like dermatitis and eczema.
Is Shea Butter found in Commercially Prepared Soaps?
Not commonly. Read the label.
But you say, Brand “D” contains ¼ cleansing cream. Take a look at the list of ingredients and see if you find shea butter listed! Quite often companies selling products shaped as soap bars will explain that its bath bar is not a “soap”, it is a beauty bar. A search of Unilever’s SmartLabel ingredient listing program for common bath care items will reveal that what you may have referred to as “soap” has been named “beauty bar” or “body wash”. Also notice the number of petrochemicals (not natural) components of what you may have thought was going to cleanse your skin safely. Many of these are now known to cause other inflammatory reactions after years of use.
When, in fact, mass manufacturers claim to use shea butter, the butter used in commercial preparations are subject to the economy of production and common sense would suggest NOT Grade A or even Grade B are being used in the manufacture. Look at the shelves of stores with SHEA BUTTER emblazoned on the commercial label. Do the math. Which grades of butter do you think are used in a commercially-produced product?
Where Can I Buy the Best Shea Butter Soap?
Fortunately, the art and science of natural soapmaking is far from dead and relegated to the past. The Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetics Guild is a trade association for the handcrafted and cosmetic industry. They estimate there are at least 200,000 artisans making handcrafted soap and cosmetics. This is important because products are made quite often by certified handcrafters in small, handmade batches which take advantage of processes and ingredients that are unworkable in large, commercial manufacturing. To find the best shea butter soap, search for a handcrafter near your location or a certified soapmaker online who will ship beautiful gift-ready bars either to your door or to your recipient!
So this Christmas, give a gift that gives twice and more. A gift for the recipient and a gift to hard-working women and their chidren in Africa. Every sale means the women can make more and earn more to improve the quality of life for their families; the direct impact on these children, families, and communities is huge. We know you want to buy good, natural products that benefit the recipient and make a positive social impact. Shea butter containing soaps are a unique, socially conscious, natural and healthy gift to gift anyone on your Christmas list. Natural handmade soap made with African Shea Butter are amazing products with incredible impact…for the giver, the recipient, the handcrafter and the gatherer.