Shea Butter – Natural Care from West Africa

Shea butter is an amazing moisturizing all-rounder. People across Africa have been using shea butter for thousands of years to protect their skin from drying out due to the hot climate in the sub-Saharan countries. Due to its outstandingly caring, naturally nourishing properties, shea butter has become indispensable in today’s body care and cosmetics products worldwide. This high-quality butter is also a vital ingredient in many Beiersdorf products – it is used in our lip balms and body lotions, for example.

Shea butter is a naturally renewable raw material and is mainly sourced from the West African countries of Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Benin, Nigeria, Togo, and the Ivory Coast. The only region in the world where the shea nut or shea tree grows naturally is the “Shea Belt” that stretches right across Africa south of the Sahara. A shea tree can live to be over 300 years old and can take 15-20 years to bear fruit for the first time. The shea nuts grow on the branches of the tree, which can grow up to 20 meters high. Shea butter is extracted from the nuts in complex steps. The special thing about the shea tree is that it is difficult to cultivate – there are no shea plantations to date. New trees are the result of a targeted regeneration process controlled by farmers that supports the “accidental” germination of shea tree seedlings. This means all nuts from wild-sown, widely scattered shea trees on the savannah and on arable land are gathered by local people.

“Women’s gold”

African woman

The harvesting and production of shea butter has traditionally remained firmly in the hands of African women. This is why in Africa shea butter is also called “women’s gold” and is one of the few products on the continent that is economically leveraged by women alone; it is estimated that 16 million women earn their living in the shea supply chain. They possess the knowledge, passed down through generations, to produce shea butter in the traditional way.

The increasing global demand is enabling women in rural and often very poor areas to improve their living conditions. They organize themselves into women’s collectives to be able to present themselves confidently to partners and buyers, and to form a secure negotiating base. Through their sales they now make a substantial contribution to maintaining their families and can invest in the education of their children. At the same time, their status in their communities is improving. Our aim at Beiersdorf is to further promote these women’s independence and autonomy.

Supporting women shea harvesters on the ground

Sheanuts process

Since 2019, we have joined forces with our shea supplier AAK and the Global Shea Alliance to empower women shea collectors in Ghana and Burkina Faso. The shared goal of the project is to support 10,000 women through long-lasting initiatives over 5 years. The three initiatives chosen for the collaboration include shea tree planting, village savings and loans associations (VSLA) trainings and rocket stove trainings (i.e. ‘clean cookstoves’). Through this project we are promoting rural development by sustainably securing the women shea collectors’ livelihoods and promoting their emancipation by offering them the opportunity to trade in a self-determined way. 

Additionally, we have launched an innovative “carbon insetting” project which has been successfully implemented within our shea supply chain as part of our Responsible Sourcing program. In cooperation with AAK and climate protection solutions provider First Climate we are measuring our emissions saved through the use of improved, energy efficient cookstoves for the pre-treatment of the shea nuts. 

These initiatives and the “carbon insetting” program are firmly anchored in Beiersdorf’s Sustainability Agenda CARE BEYOND SKIN and “Climate Care” mission.

Empowering women in the shea supply chain
Women in Ghana speak about the benefits of the cookstove trainings for themselves and their families