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The Sacred Shea Trea

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image9The Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta was the first to tell the importance of shea butter in African culture in “The Fabulous Journey of Ibn Battuta”. It was in the fourteenth century and at that time, the shea butter used for culinary, therapeutic and cosmetic purposes was present in each stage of the life of an African person and played a key sociocultural role.

In the nineteenth century, Mungo Park used the story of Ibn Battuta to start exploring Africa and revealing the value of shea to the world… Since that “discovery”, the INCI name of shea butter is Butyrospermum Parkii in Tribute to Mungo Park. Too bad for Ibn Battuta, and too bad for African women !

We do not intend to rewrite the History, nor withdraw this tribute to Mungo Park, but we must draw a lesson from this fact : If the name of a natural resource is linked to the name of the man who declares that he discovered its properties, then it is time for African voices to be heard. It is time for new generations to dive into their history to rewrite it according to their point of view. At this point, what we believe in is simple : supporting the education of each African girl and boy.

The development of shea international trade began at the end of this period. It is mainly based on the export of shea nuts whose treatment by industrial and chemical process in Europe provides a refined white butter for the food industry. You can find the largest shea refineries in the Netherlands and Denmark.

For the past twenty years, with the awakening of the cosmetic industry to restorative properties of shea and the development of fair trade, some companies are involved in the direct purchase of shea butter from women producers. On the contrary, some European companies have installed “counters” for trading and refining shea in populated areas to reduce costs shea butter production and benefit from cheap labor.

Whatever the type of importing structure, or the process of transforming shea butter, the butter used in care products and cosmetics, praising the shea properties, is a mix of refined shea butter, some extracted with hexane and in store for food industry (candy, puff pastry, margarine,…).

The end-consumer has no idea whether it is natural, or industrially refined through chemical or physical process. To bring more transparency in the shea sector, a Shea non-profit organization was launched in 2011 at the seminar Global Shea 2011 in Ghana.

The goal : to gather shea players from multinational companies and women producer groups to finally bring to the foreground fair and transparent trade rules for upstream (producing rural areas of Africa) and downstream (consumer) actors in the sector .

In 2014, the French Natural and Organic Cosmetic Association COSMEBIO delivered a Guide (in French) to help the consumer better understand the differences between natural and authentic shea butter and industrially refined shea butter.

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The mystery of shea butter constitutes its principal advantage : it is organic by nature, cannot be cultivated, encourages the development and protection of organic soils, and can feed and care for several generations for three centuries.

Shea only grows on the soil of 17 countries under the Sahelian climate, with a pluviometer that can reach 1000 mm. From the border between Senegal and Guinea to Sudan, through Mali, the north of Ivory coast, Burkina Faso, The north of Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria.

Shea tree cannot be grown artificially, it is however protected by rural populations.

Twenty to twenty five years will have to go by before a tree can provide with its first fruits and enable to produce 2 to 4 kgs of butter a year, and that for the next 300 years!

Shea tree barks are renowned for medicinal properties, but careful to those who will attempt to cut the tree to profit from its virtues. The shea tree forces will storm on him or her! Only the male shea, which output is very low (see below) can be cut to make a “djembe”, sculptures or fire wood.


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While the availability of shea almonds are not an issue currently, Image12[1]shea will ultimately become a rare resource. That is why it is necessary to protect it, via a durable and balanced resource management policy. This starts with the production of quality almonds, which will enable to produce a shea butter highly concentrated in repairing properties, that can be preserved longer without refinement.

To this day, both almonds and butter are bought in high quantity by traders from different suppliers and intermediaries, who don’t have any knowledge in the preparation techniques and storage conditions.

Their butter or almonds quality varying or being poor, refinement reveals itself to be essential, in order to extend the conservation of the butter, and dissimulate its true state.

In the best case scenario, almonds importers carry out a sorting to eliminate the germinated almonds : a vicious circle into which shea resources are definitely wasted.

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– The shea is a tree from the Sapodilla family, that can reach the height of 10 to 12 meters.

– The yellow greenish shea flowers enable the production of a strong flavored honey.

– The tree roots are said to heal liver cancer and to slow down stomach aches.

– The shea leaves are recommended in case of bloating, pink eye, and trachoma.

– The green shea fruits, 4 to 8 cm long, are said to be antivenin and anti-diarrheal.

– The shea tree bark is said to be antitussive.

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Shea has an effective root system that enables it to not too demanding, adapting to all kind of soils penetrating them rather easily.

Thanks to this rooting system, shea prevents erosion and encourages the association with other cultures.

Shea encourages the efficient mechanism of the fallow by safeguarding within its rhizosphere convenient species, that could suffer from repetitive cultures or challenging sunshine exposure and temperatures, in addition to offering a habitat and resources to disseminators and pollinators.

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A Pure Balm

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Image15[1]Shea butter is extracted from shea almond.

A plant oil rich in repairing properties and vitamins A.E.F, unrefined shea butter is most and foremost used as a therapeutic care in Africa.

Beyond its efficiency now generally recognized, unrefined shea butter acts and creates a durable link between a mother and her child, a man and a woman.

Used as a Day-to-Day Care Product

Used daily, it protects the skin against the cold, bad weather, and the sun. Also fighting cracks and chapped skin. And it can act like a nourishing balm for dry hair, nurturing the skin and prevents from the signs of aging. Last but not least : it combines greatly with other vegetal oils and eases their application.

In the event of joint or muscular pain, in order to accelerate the healing of a wound, ease a burn or treat a cold, unrefined shea butter is the obvious product to use.

A Soothing and Invigorating Care Product

Every African has seen newborns being massaged in order to tone up muscles, protect the skin, treat the membrane or to simply as a help to fall asleep.

For couples or in the event of menopause:

Shea is used in 100%  natural massages or in case of menopause to fight against vaginal drought.

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World MapShea only grows in Africa, whose production depends essentially from the labor of the women collecting the nuts and the fruits from the shea tree. It would actualy make sense to think that real shea butter is only for the African population, and more particularly to people living on the “countryside”.

However, for the past 5 years, in Benin, or when attending tradeshows financially supported by the West African Trade Hub in Europe or in the U.S., we have noticed a growing number of manufacturers of natural products, as well as consumers, getting more and more interested for this natural and universal balm, undoubtedly recognized as really efficient on skin and hair.

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Karethic Shea butter production follows a semi-mechanical artisanal process. This process guarantees :
– an unrefined, non perfumed, non discolored, shea butter with no addition of colors
– Full preservation of the reconstructive properties
– No use of chemical input in the butter production
– A superior rate of unsaponifiable

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A sign we would love to see more often in real shea butter-based products.


Pure ? Wild ? Refined ? Unrefined ?

For the past ten years, shea butter has become the base ingredient of skin and hair, care and hygienic products.

Used for shampoos, creams, lipsticks, balms, there is unfortunately no specific rule for shea butter and yet, one can consider it is similar to olive oil, wine, or any other product whose raw material is getting a certain standard of quality from the soil.

Consequently, Shea supply resembles a “masquerade ball” where each trademark decides of its indication of country of origin. Sometimes called “pure shea” while mixed with a lot of water, or called “wild” to justify the unpleasant smells, “100 % natural” but strangely snow white, from Mexico, the South of France, or Mumbai!

There are only a few trademarks offering and claiming to offer a pure and unrefined shea butter on the European Market. Indeed, shea is a 100% African tree, and the European market is drowned under refined shea. In addition, in order to be able to offer a unrefined shea butter of quality (fresh, naturally purified, yellowish with a superior ratio of unsaponifiable), someone has be there right from the beginning, and go on the field with the female producers. That is the reason why unrefined shea butter is offered by small and medium-sized organic and fair trade brands.

Today, it is almost impossible to find out whether the butter used in a cosmetic product is refined or not, and yet, by refining shea butter, you can be sure a large amount of the repairing assets will be lost,  especially the ratio of unsaponifiables, or the linolenic acid (anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic).

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Shea butter naturally offers vitamins and nutrients like the anti-oxidant Vitamin A or the Vitamin E for the skin cell renewal.

This vegetal fat contains the greatest quantity of unsaponifiable, which makes shea butter one of the most wanted natural ingredients.

Thanks to its melting feature, shea butter penetrates swiftly the skin, strengthening its protection as well as reducing humidity loss. Endowed with the same properties than the sebum, shea butter enables the skin auto regulation.

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You can easily recognize real shea butter with the following criteria :

– A light yellow color

– A light typical scent, recognizable, that evaporates approximately 5 minutes after application on the skin.

– A firm yet melting textures

After scientific analysis, a good unrefined shea butter has the following results :

– Acidity rate: less than 2%

– Peroxide index: less than 5%

– Superior unsaponifiable rate: up to 17%

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Our Shea butter production follows a semi-mechanical artisanal process. This process guarantees:

– A unrefined, non perfumed, non discolored shea butter, with no extra addition of colors

– Full preservation of the repairing properties

– No use of chemical input in the butter production

– A superior rate of unsaponifiabler

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Karethic unrefined shea butter can be used daily for the following:

– Protect the skin against the inconveniences of the climatic changes and skin aging

– Eliminate the skin irritations

– Nourish dry and very dry skins, and ease itching

– Contribute to the softness of the skin and elasticity

– Soothe the skin traumas

– Be used as an ingredient to your home balms, creams, and lotions.

Use a unrefined shea butter for real efficiency :

5% for an emulsion
15% to 100% for a balm, an ointment or a a home-made soap

– Prevents from stretch marks

– Takes care of the skin of your baby

– Protects and moisturize hands, feet, face, and body

– Protects irritated skins or allergies for sensitive skins.

– Protects dry hair, before and after washing them, to nourish and facilitate hair-styling

– Eases the skin after shaving or depilation (or waxing)

– Before or after swimming, going to the sauna, or a long exposure to the cold or the sun.

– Preserve a nice tan at the end of summer


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