History of Shea Butter

The shea nut tree is native to West Africa and is populous in northern Ghana. Its presence has helped conserve the fragile ecosystems in Africa’s semi-arid regions and has also become vital to the economy of some of the poorest areas of West Africa. The shea nut tree is an integral part of the lives of the people – traditionally, the tree belongs to the entire community and cannot be owned by individuals even when found on private property. Even when difficult times arrive, the shea nut tree is there to help sustain the communities which depend on it.

The shea nut tree is a fruit tree and the shea nuts can be ground and boiled leaving an oily extract called shea butter. Shea butter is revered by many as an anti-inflammatory agent and is popular for its cosmetic properties for the treatment of dry skin, blemishes, dark spots, skin discolorations, chapped lips, stretch marks, wrinkles and dry scalps. Commonly used by soapmakers, shea butter leaves a small amount of oil in the soap, which seals moisture into the skin after washing.  Shea butter has been used in many capacities ranging from medicinal ointment and hairdressing to cooking, and is also now found in many high-end moisturizers and soaps.

Although it may seem indispensable now, soap was not always a commonly used item. The history of soap is a long and interesting one, beginning thousands of years ago. The first soap is believed to have originated around 2800 B.C., evidenced by ancient Babylonian clay pots that were inscribed with its contents; ashes and fats. Since the pots do not describe the purpose of these contents, we cannot be sure that soap was used for cleaning until around 1500 B.C., when an ancient Egyptian medical scroll documented the use of oils and salts to help treat skin diseases and wash wool. Even then, it wasn’t until the rise of the Rome that the use of soap became popular in Western culture.

In ancient Rome, Mount Sapo was a hill often used for the ritual sacrifice of animals. Rain washed the animal fats and ash leftover from the sacrifice down the hill to the Tiber River where women gathered to rinse clothes. The women began to notice that this rain water made their clothes cleaner, and as legend has it, named the substance “soap”, in honor of the hill. Soap was then used to wash clothes and other items, but was not associated with personal use until the second century A.D., when a Greek physician recognized that its cleaning properties were also valuable for the health and hygiene of humans.

Since then, the popularity of soap has fluctuated, declining in the Middle Ages (which likely contributed to such events as the plague) and was not finally solidified as a staple of personal health and hygiene until Louis Pasteur realized there was a connection between bacteria and disease in the 1800’s. Today, hand-made soap is becoming more and more popular as people discover the softening and exfoliating benefits of natural ingredients. Our soaps, made from valuable shea butter and a variety of other natural products, are a great example of how these hand-made items can help cleanse and beautify your skin.