The Karité tree (Vitellaria Paradoxa), also known as the shea nut tree, belongs to the Sapotaceae family and can reach heights of up to 25 meters. The large, dark green leaves are arranged at the branch ends and are elongated, elliptical, and rounded at the front with a wavy edge. The cream-white flowers grow in dense clusters (50-100 flowers) at the branch ends and smell like honey. The egg-shaped, mostly single-seeded drupes are 5-7 cm long and have a thick shell. The fruits contain a sweet pulp that surrounds a seed. The roundish seeds have a length of up to 5 cm and a glossy brownish color.
Like shea butter, shea nut oil is extracted from the seeds of the shea nut tree. In contrast to the traditional production of shea butter, the oil is pressed from the kernels and is usually refined and fractionated. The fractionation separates the fatty acids according to their melting point and results in an oil with a lower melting point and a fatty acid pattern, which is characterized by a higher proportion of oleic acid and a lower content of saturated fatty acids such as stearic acid compared to shea butter. If the oil is refined, most of the valuable unsaponifiable fat accompanying substances are lost.
Unlike shea butter, shea oil is almost odorless. It is well suited as an ingredient for oil-restoring and moisturizing care products for dry, flaky skin and brittle hair. Care products with shea oil benefit from the stearic acid’s film formation and the oleic acid’s good absorbency. Therefore, it is also very suitable as a massage oil. The neutral odor of the oil also makes it a suitable carrier oil for essential oil mixtures.
As with shea butter, you should make sure to purchase an unrefined product. As mentioned above, unrefined oil contains more natural nutrients than the refined oil because many of these important ingredients are lost during refining.
You should also pay attention to the ingredients to make sure that there are no other oils or preservatives included.
Unrefined shea nut oil is even harder to find than unrefined shea butter.