Shea butter has been used as a cosmetic ingredient for centuries and is a key element in many skin- and hair-related products (lip gloss, lipstick, skin moisturizer creams and lotions, and hair conditioners). Shea butter is also used by soap makers and massage oil manufacturers, as well as being a base for medicinal ointments as it is reported to have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. With some of its components having a certain capacity to absorb ultraviolet radiation, shea butter has been used as a natural sun lotion; however, caution should be taken by people with light-sensitive skin. Some African traditional medicines also see shea butter used for the management of sinusitis and relief of nasal congestion, as well as being massaged into joints and other parts of the body where pain occurs.
Raw natural shea butter is edible, and in some African countries, shea butter is used in food preparation as a cooking oil. It can also be applied as a waterproofing wax and is used by makers of traditional African percussion instruments to increase the durability of wood, dried calabashes and leather straps. Shea butter is also used for candle-making.
Shea trees are native to West Africa and grow naturally in the wild in the dry savannah belt, occurring in 21 countries across the African continent. While it is not grown in The Gambia itself, you will find it here in many variations: from the raw, unprocessed butter with its pungent smell sold on the local markets in big calabash bowls or straw baskets, to the more refined and professionally packaged body butter. Mema Essentials is a Gambian-based brand of skin and body care products that uses natural ingredients such as shea butter, coconut oil, and various essential oils. For their range of body butter, organic Ghanaian shea butter is whipped into a light mousse and blended with fragrant essential oils and other natural ingredients such as coconut oil and corn starch. The Mema Essentials range and shea butter products from other producers can be found at TOP-SHOP at the Senegambia Beach Hotel, as well as in beauty salons and supermarkets around the area.