Shea Butter Variants (Monday Musings 82)

At the risk of sounding twee or like Maria Bamford's imitation of a high maintenance customer, nevertheless, I feel compelled to write about the various Shea butter types as it can help anyone with dry skin - though if you suffer from moderate to severe eczema, consult your dermatologist.

Growing up, I had extremely dry skin that during the winter months, my hands cracked with thin bleed lines. I wasn't surprised when I was diagnosed with eczema a couple of decades later.

My dermatologist recommended the extremely cost-effective petroleum jelly, i.e. Vaseline which works very well for my eczema, which is mild. I'm not sure how effective it is for those with more severe forms of eczema.

The only issue is that petroleum jelly feels horrible, so I dread taking a shower because it means putting on the Vaseline when I was initially compliant with my dermatologist's recommendation. Vaseline felt so bad that eventually I stopped using it. I'd rather deal with dry skin (only using Vaseline when I absolutely had to) then using it on a regular basis.

Because of my non-compliance with Vaseline, I had an eczema flair. Because I didn't want to use Vaseline for the rest of my life, I researched the alternatives. 100% raw and organic African Shea butter kept coming up as the best alternative, given the fact that it has antioxidants and known for its remarkable moisturizing powers - but it has to be raw to keep its healing properties, noted the many sources.

On Amazon, I was searching through raw organic Shea butters that are fair trade and has an expiration date, and I found two that met the description at the time. One of them, Amazon is no longer selling, so the second time, I bought the other brand.

The type of Shea Butter I initially bought was West African Shea butter, imported from Ghana. Because it's raw, therefore no processing, it's "clumpy" but if you warm it in your hands, it melts though there may be some smaller chunks as you apply, which is no big deal.

The feel is absolutely luxuriant, and my alligator skin felt almost like baby skin. My dermatologist even remarked how soft my skin was. In other words, the Western Shea butter works and feels better than Vaseline - not only does it feel better, but it feels wonderful. The only difference between the two is that after washing your hands 2 times you have to reapply the butter, whereas Vaseline, I only had to reapply after 4 hand washings, but that's not a problem at all.

African Shea butter is the clear winner over petroleum jelly, at least for dry to very dry/mild eczematous skin. I can't speak for moderate to severe eczema.

The issue with the West African Shea butter is that it has a rather strong odor, though once applied, the smell dissipates. However in time, it became unpleasant to me, that again, I was non-compliant. The first Shea butter expired (I probably only used it a dozen times), and same with the second Shea butter expiring, purely because of the smell. Albeit, after application, you don't smell it.

As this second Shea butter expired as well, as usual in Amazon searches, I stumbled upon an East African Shea butter (imported from Uganda) that is also 100% raw, organic and fair trade, with expiration date. This company noted that Eastern Shea butter has more nutrients than its Western counterpart, and also has a lighter smell and better absorption. Upon receiving this new Eastern variant, they were absolutely right about the much lighter smell. The smell was significantly more pleasant than the stronger smelling butter. 

This new Shea butter still has the smoky, buttery smell to it, but it's very mild, and didn't make me gag. I would say it's not pleasant but not unpleasant so I have no hesitation in slathering it on. Further, the fragrance disappears after application.

Upon application, the lovely East African Shea butter melted much easier with no clumps, and so much easier to apply as it absorbs much better than the Western variant. This is the first time that I no longer fear taking a shower (at risk of dry, itchy and painful skin) because this new Eastern Shea butter is so luxurious in feel and moisturizes phenomenally that I can take multiple showers a day and not be dry, as long as I apply this amazing butter.

However, I'm not sure about the claims that East African Shea butter is more nutrient-rich than the West African type. All I know is that experiencing both, the worse smelling one moisturizes equally well as the better smelling Shea butter. In other words, they both work equally well in moisturizing.

Both types are incredible, luxurious-feeling moisturizers - I just found the Eastern one more pleasant in smell and easier to apply.

Conclusion: You can't go wrong with either Shea Butters - though the East African Shea Butter originating from Uganda smells and applies better than the West African Shea Butter from Ghana.

The How of Happiness Review

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