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5 SHADES OF SHEA: DEFINING QUALITY STANDARDS

Any chef will tell you that what makes or breaks a meal is the quality of the ingredients – not all tomatoes are created equal.  It turns out that applies here as well.  Did you know there are 5 grades of shea butter??

·        A (raw or unrefined, extracted using water)

·        B (refined)

·        C (highly refined and extracted with chemical solvents)

·        D (lowest uncontaminated grade)

·        E (with contaminants)

A, B, and C are considered commercial grade.  If you have a shea butter product that’s bright white and/or without the naturally occurring, characteristic nutty and buttery smell, it’s likely grade C.  Refining takes out the color and scent…and the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.  We only use Grade A, and sampled many, many products to find the most mild scent.  Personally, I like the smell, but I remember having the nose of a bloodhound while pregnant and I realize smells might be amplified for you too if you’re in that sensitive stage.

Butters aren’t the only ingredients that have varying degrees of quality based on how they are processed.  There are two typical methods for making oils: cold pressed and solvent extracted.  Cold pressed oils use a hydraulic press to smash the source fruit or vegetable to extract the oil.  No heat or preservatives are needed, and so the nutrients stay in the oil.  Think of it like eating raw vegetables vs. cooked.  Yes – all vegies are good, but raw vegies contain way more vitamins!  Now, solvent extracted…that’s not exactly the equivalent of cooking the vegetable.  That’s the commonplace practice of using harsh chemicals, like hexane, to extract oils from the source fruit or vegetable.  No thank you.

GMOs and toxic pesticides have been blacklisted in the food market, hence the proliferation of organic products at just about every grocery outlet.  Organic standards protect consumers from these lab derived additives, which at best are questionable and at worst are toxic.  I don’t need edible face wash and face lotion, but I do believe consistent safety standards for how food and skincare ingredients are grown just makes good sense.

I think the reason the USDA seal isn’t on many skincare products can be summed up by what one cosmetic chemist told me: “you can call your products organic as long as they contain 70% organic ingredients…and we can do a LOT with that other 30%.” 

Eek.

I decided our philosophies weren’t exactly aligned, so that was our last conversation.  There’s an unspoken understanding that lab derived chemicals are not only more cost effective, but also easier to work with than organic, cold pressed oils or grade A butters.  Just think of raw coconut oil that might be in your pantry right now: depending on the time of year and where you live, that might be a liquid or a solid.  That’s tricky to deal with if you’re trying to make a consistent product with it that New Yorkers will enjoy in the winter and Floridians will enjoy in the summer.  

For me, the USDA organic standards for anything grown are a must. 

So, to sum up: grade A organic butters + cold pressed organic oils. The seal = the real deal.  I’m getting closer…I can feel it. 

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