Shea butter is a popular ingredient in aromatherapy products. However, there is a certain type of shea butter that is becoming more sought after for aromatherapy and skin care products; its name is nilotica shea butter. Here’s a quick look at the difference between nilotica shea butter and the western variety of shea butter.
Shea Tree Profile
Shea butter is obtained from the karite or shea (Vitellaria paradoxa, Butyrospermum parkii) tree, a member of the Sapotaceae plant family. It is a perennial tree that has plum-like fruits (nuts). Shea butter is the result of the cold pressing of the fruit; the whole extraction process is similar to that used to obtain cocoa butter in that the fruit is roasted, pounded and boiled in water before the shea butter is expressed in the form of a liquid that solidifies to a hard fat at room temperature.
Western Shea vs. Eastern Shea
Shea butter is traditionally extracted from from the fruits of the Vitellaria paradoxa species. These types of trees are native to the West African savanna region, hence the common name western shea butter (usually known as just shea butter).
Eastern shea butter, more commonly referred to as nilotica shea butter, is extracted from the fruits of the Vitellaria nilotica species, a sub-species of Vitellaria paradoxa. This tree species commonly grows in East Africa.
The Different Benefits of Shea Butter
While both types of shea butter contain components – such as stearic acid and oleic acid – that produce therapeutic moisturizing and lubricating properties for the skin, nilotica shea butter contains a higher percentage of olein acid than western shea butter. Olein acid is a naturally occurring glyceride of oleic acid. The result is that nilotica shea butter is both softer and creamier in texture than western shea butter. In addition, the aroma is slightly different.
Shea Butter for Skincare Products
Nilotica shea butter is considered the “luxury” shea butter product in comparison to western shea butter. It is richer and creamier, and more difficult to obtain. For the majority of your aromatherapy skincare products you will probably want to use the traditional type of shea butter and reserve nilotica shea butter for the special products. You could also replace a small quantity of western shea butter with nilotica shea butter in a recipe.
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Price, Len, 1999, Carrier Oils for Aromatherapy and Massage, UK: Riverhead Publishing
Agbanga Karite website, Shea Butter Scientific Information, accessed May 4, 2015
Natural Sourcing website, Organic Nilotica Shea Butter, accessed May 4, 2015
Author is a UK-certified aromatherapist, published aromatherapy author, NAHA approved aromatherapy educator, aromatherapy business owner, and the Chief Editor for the NAHA Journal.