What it is: A natural moisturizer in butter form from the nut of the shea tree; it contains vitamins A and E (good to battle the signs of aging).

Where it comes from: The shea tree grows in the dry savannah regions of western and central Africa, especially Ghana, Burkina Fasso, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Mali. The trees bear a fruit that resembles a small avocado and the nut inside is crushed and boiled to extract the vegetable fat known as shea butter.

Properties: A smooth, whipped consistency like frosting that melts at skin temperature.

What it’s good for: Shea butter enhances the skin’s natural barrier function and increases moisture levels, helps cell regeneration and capillary circulation, soothes irritated skin, protects against UV rays, and has restructuring effects on the epidermis. It has benefits for numerous skin problems, including dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, burns, stretch marks, and extreme dryness from harsh weather conditions.

Where you’ll find it: Cosmetics, lotions, cuticle creams, scrubs, anti-aging products, hair conditioners.

Other uses: It is also used as a raw material in cooking oil, margarine soap, detergents, and candles, as well as a substitute for cocoa butter in the chocolate and confectionery industry.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.