Sophia Khan, Volunteer & Renae Adam, Co-Founder
Rumor has it that Cleopatra took jars of shea butter wherever she went to keep her skin in tip top condition and it’s certainly true that it’s long been used for as a beauty product for hundreds, if not thousands of years across the African continent as well as being an ingredient in many modern beauty products too.
We took it upon ourselves to investigate, on the ground in Ghana, the stories of shea butter passed down through generations and to find out the role of shea today.
Shea Butter Use in Ghana
We start our research close to home by speaking with Mamas in the Global Mamas Cape Coast office where the majority of our batik apparel and accessories are produced. The Quality Control team told us that shea is known as ‘nkuto’ in the local language. Suzzy Korsah, senior QC staff member, says “Nkuto is powerful and is used for e v e r y t h i n g! In the olden days in the villages, shea butter was the only source of cream and it was used for everything from a skin moisturizer and hair pomade, to healing rashes and wounds. Women would take metal combs and put them in the fire, and dip in shea butter to comb through their hair. This would stretch their hair and make it soft, curly and beautiful.”
Rose Odoom, overseeing exports in the Global Mamas Accra office, reminisced, “We kept a large jar of shea butter in the house and everyone in my family used it twice a day after bathing to make our skin and hair very smooth and soft and protect from other sicknesses”. She said “the market sellers would get the shea butter from the North and my grandmother always knew how to pick the best quality shea butter by its fresh scent.”
Gladys Adimer, heading our Krobo office where all the Global Mamas beaded items are produced said that when she was a young girl, she learned the wonders of shea butter from her forefathers and foremothers. She exclaims, “It can heal so many things! When your arm or leg feels hot [swollen/inflamed], you use shea butter to massage and relax the muscle and then it feels normal.” She also remembers her elders “grinding some special leaves on a stone and mixing with shea butter to put on boils to make it break quickly and get the bad water out.”
Gladys adds, “Today if you go to hospital they advise you to use shea butter for your babies because it’s natural and other creams will give rashes”. Suzzy remarked, “I used shea butter on my son from when he was born.” She adds, “The real magic one is when your baby is suffering from a cold, you can put ‘small small’ shea under his nose and behind his ears so he can inhale it and it will help with his breathing and catarrh.” Gladys recalls her mother treating a baby’s cough by melting shea butter and giving a little to the baby for drinking or putting it on the forehead.” Suzzy also says that women having problems producing enough milk rub shea butter on their breasts to help stimulate milk production.
It is easy to see that this all-natural, affordable, “African gold” is still as popular as ever among young Ghanaian women, just as much as their mothers and great grandmothers. More recent scientific studies have more clearly defined other benefits of shea butter that our ancestors had the wisdom to uncover so many years ago. Such benefits include reducing the effects of aging, preventing stretch marks, healing scars, and having natural SPF.
Moringa: An Introduction
Just when you thought our shea products couldn’t get any better we introduced antioxidant rich moringa into the mix! Emily Cunningham of True Moringa dives into the list of this miraculous plant’s many uses. She shares, “the moringa tree is native to India and was introduced to Ghana only a century ago. With the help of humanitarian groups such as the WHO and Peace Corps moringa trees have spread quickly. They’re a fantastic dietary supplement with leaves that contain more iron than spinach, more protein than eggs, and more vitamin A than carrots, gram for gram.” One method being used to spread the growth of this wonder-plant is by educating school-aged children and sending them home with moringa seedlings to plant and share with their parents. The hope is that the leaves of this “superfood” will start being included in their daily diet to provide added nutrition.
More than a Nutritional Supplement
Beyond using moringa leaves as a food additive, there are double benefits for moringa farmers as there’s a demand for the oil that can be extracted from the moringa pods. Similar to shea butter, moringa oil is packed full of nutrients and medicinal properties and is quickly finding it’s place in the cosmetic industry.
Since moringa oil is a relatively new phenomenon we sought feedback from Valerie Gueye, a public health specialist in Ghana. She says, “When our family relocated to Ghana from Senegal nine years ago, friends frequently asked me to bring them moringa powder as a dietary supplement. Out of curiosity I purchased a bottle of the oil at a local organic market and found it to be a light, non-greasy moisturizer. It is now part of my normal routine.” After living in the West African region for nearly 20 years she considers herself lucky to have easy access to all-natural products like shea butter and moringa oil.
A Beautiful Partnership
Just last year in collaboration with natural beauty blog Beauty Lies Truth and our friends over at True Moringa, Global Mamas developed our limited edition line of Global Beauty Butter. This natural plant-based moisturizer features the skin soothing effects of fair trade shea butter, cold-compressed moringa oil, and lemongrass oil. These ingredients are all 100% Ghanaian sourced ingredients. More than 70% of the retail price of Global Beauty Butter sold goes to directly empower our Mamas and fair trade partners through wages, training, and other benefits. Even bigger social bang for your buck, the profits from Global Beauty Butter sales are put into the Shea Helps Empower (SHE) Fund.
Early in 2017, the SHE Fund released the first round of funding for the most pressing project identified by the skilled shea producers of the CMA Shea Butter Cooperative to improve the safety and efficiency of their cooperative’s production center. They used the funds to extend electricity to their building which they are now using to power their grinding machine and provide security lighting. The women have already determined their next SHE Fund project – repairing the foundation and roof of the shea production center and to date we’re 26% of the way there. You can treat yourself to the natural wonder of Global Beauty Butter and support this project at either Global Mamas or TrueMoringa.