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The fat of the nut of the African Shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) is the source of Shea butter. The traditional use of the butter is to reduce the appearance of fine lines, scars and stretch marks, and to ease a variety of skin irritations, such as psoriasis, eczema and sunburn. Makers of cosmetics also mix this natural substance with other botanical ingredients. Shea butter is ideal for the topical application of cosmetic and medicinal formulas, because it melts on contact and is readily absorbed into the skin, without leaving a greasy residue.
The healing qualities of Shea butter are due to the presence of several fatty acids and plant sterols, namely oleic, stearic, palmitic and linolenic acids. These oil-soluble components are nonsaponifiable, meaning they do not undergo saponification, or convert to soap, when introduced to an alkali. Shea butter possesses a significantly greater nonsaponifiable fraction than most other nut oils and fats, which lends the substance greater healing potential for the skin (see References 1).