That out-of-Africa wonder cream, shea butter, is a traditional treatment for dry and damaged skin and hair. At its most basic, the semisolid natural substance can be scooped from its jar and rubbed directly into your scalp and hair. But if you find the super-rich substance a little too heavy for your locks, harness its protective and conditioning powers while lightening it with other natural ingredients.
Shea butter comes from the seeds of the African shea tree, Butyrospermum parkii. In its most unadulatared state, shea butter ranges from creamy white to golden in color, and has a nut-like scent. Semi-solid at room temperature, shea butter becomes more yielding with the heat of your hands. This softening effect from body heat makes it easier to rub shea butter directly on your hair, from scalp to ends. To combine shea butter with other ingredients, melt it over gentle heat. The liquefied butter returns to semi-solid form when it cools.
As an additive to homemade hair creams, shea butter helps thicken other ingredients. According to natural beauty author Dina Falconi, shea butter provides some protection against ultraviolet rays, making it useful as a scalp protector. It is best known, however, for its frizz-fighting ability to condition damaged and dry locks. The African butter also forms a protective barrier against environmental factors like wind and pollution.
Hair creams containing shea butter ideally combine the conditioning power of shea butter with ingredients that bring their own enriching, growth-enhancing and cleansing properties. Falconi’s “deluxe’ hair cream, for example, combines shea butter with coconut oil, sesame oil, jojoba oil and olive oil. The nourishing properties of the olive oil are enhanced by infusing it with herbs like nettle, comfrey and burdock, as well as color-enhancing botanicals. For brunettes, these botanicals might include black walnut hulls and sage, while blondes lighten up with dried chamomile and calendula petals. The formulas are rounded out with essential oils. Lavender and rosemary essential oils are conditioning and cleansing for all hair types, while sage oil works well for brunettes, and lemon aids blondes.
If you plan to go the full Earth Mother route with your homemade hair cream, allow yourself a few extra weeks to infuse about 15 ounces of olive oil with 4 to 5 ounces dried, powdered herbs. Then strain your oil, measuring about 3 ounces of the infused oil for the hair cream formula -- store the rest in the refrigerator for future use. Combine 3 ounces each herb-infused olive oil, shea butter, jojoba oil, and coconut oil with 2 ounces grated beeswax and 1 ounce sesame oil. Gently heat in a water bath on the stove top until the solid shea butter, coconut oil, jojoba and beeswax liquefy and combine well with the olive oil and sesame oil. Remove from heat, add 2 to 3 teaspoons essential oils, and pour into a wide-mouth container to solidify.