Look at most beauty and personal care product ingredient lists, and you’ll find shea butter somewhere on them. It’s an incredibly versatile ingredient, full of essential fatty acids and vitamins and easy to grow. But, like most natural resources, not all shea is created equal, not by a long shot. Enter Naa-Sakle Akuete, the Founder of Eu‘Genia Shea, a global leader in ethical, fair-trade shea butter products and production. Chances are, you’ve probably used shea butter sourced by her and her mom, Eugenia, the former president of the Global Shea Alliance. Naa-Sakle is the Founder of the consumer facing brand, Eu‘Genia Shea, but also oversees shea butter production for their ingredient sourcing company. Through their work Naa-Sakle and her mom Eugenia, have created opportunity for women across sub-Saharan Africa, forged immeasurable economic stability and have improved the way shea butter is manufactured by keeping production in Ghana, instead of sending it overseas to Europe. But it gets better. Not only is the quality of the shea butter they turn out so completely superior to most shea on the market, but the whole operation also serves as a social impact company that empowers women (and only women), giving them an income, education and a promising future for generations to come. Eu’Genia Shea creates wonderful, luxurious tins of shea butter with universal appeal and an accessible price point. If you love green beauty, it doesn’t get any greener than this. If you love Blue Beauty – brands that improve the planet through their business practices – then you’ll be so glad to learn more about Eu‘Genia Shea through my recent conversation with Naa-Sakle. Enjoy…
Eu’Genia Shea has gotten such rave reviews since launching at Beauty Heroes for helping our customers with all kinds of skin issues. What’s so special about the makeup of shea butter, and, what makes the shea butter you source from Ghana so particularly effective?
The more shea butter the better, but not all shea is created equally. All our products have over 80% pure shea butter, relative to some peers under 1%. Shea butter is always our number one ingredient, followed by four other nature-based ingredients: shea oil, grapefruit or lavender essential oils, moringa oil, and baobab oil. This makes it highly efficient for daily moisturizing as well as reducing the appearance of scarring, eczema, psoriasis, and stretch marks. Most shea butter-based products have been refined which means that it may still make a fine moisturizer but doesn’t have some of the other perceived benefits that you’d hope for. Our shea butter is raw and unrefined. This means that it has not been stripped of its natural scent or color, and also that the vitamins inherent in shea butter are also preserved (vitamins A, E, F, K).
Your mom was the President of the Global Shea Alliance, so your family really is an authority on shea butter. How is most shea butter sourced globally? How is Eu‘Genia Shea changing the shea butter industry?
Our family’s connection with shea butter started with my Grandma Sunshine, who used it in her midwifery practice in colonial era Ghana. When my mom returned to Ghana and rediscovered her love of shea butter, she realized that due to the pickers’ geographic fragmentation, limited knowledge of English, illiteracy in their native languages and lack of “basic” technology, they had a difficult time accessing the broader market. She started building coops where they did not exist and strengthening them where they do in order to bridge the gap between these rural shea nut pickers and global shea butter demand. Generally, shea butter is produced by shipping thousands of tons of shea nuts purchased from market traders in sub-Saharan Africa to the Netherlands for refining. We’ve partnered with 10,000 organically trained and sustainably paid shea nut pickers to get the best nuts and have them made them into shea butter locally in Ghana. We ship that shea butter to the US where we blend it with different high-quality essential oils to give you a smooth finish.
Do women and men both harvest shea butter? How does paying a better than fair wage for shea impact communities in Ghana?
Shea is known as “women’s work,” so the industry is built on the backs of 16 million women across sub-Saharan Africa who support their families through shea, which actually grows in the wild on public land. The UN estimates that each $1 of shea nut purchases increases economic development by $1.58. We have purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars in shea nuts, generally at a 20% premium and have built a 15% profit share into our business for the coops.
What do you want people to know about shea butter, that they might not already know?
Shea butter is a fantastic multi-purpose product, calling it nature’s wonder balm is an understatement. It performs in a lot of ways, but these are our favorites:
- Rich in vitamins A, E, F, & K
- Shea Butter draws moisture to the skin, helps it retain moisture and it fills in the gaps between skin cells to help smooth the appearance of skin
- It soothes everything from the appearance of eczema and psoriasis to stretch marks and wrinkles
- It’s a non-comedogenic ingredient, meaning it does not clog your pores
- It has so many uses….in addition to using our products as moisturizers, people commonly use it as a hair styling aid or deep conditioner, makeup primer and remover, beard pomade…the uses are endless.
Shea Butter is so much better for our skin/hair/bodies – and for the environment- than petroleum jelly. However, the two times I’ve been to Africa, I noticed that petroleum jelly is prevalent as a cure-all. Why do you think that is?
Petroleum jelly is an inexpensive way to give the illusion of moisturized skin without actually helping you improve the fundamentals. I think its popularity has to do with intense marketing campaigns on the continent.
How does the production of shea butter a sustainable and renewable ingredient?
Shea butter is one of the world’s most sustainable natural resources. The shea trees grow naturally in the wild across sub-Saharan Africa, and they don’t need any irrigation, fertilizer or pesticides. Because shea trees can bear fruit for hundreds of years and because shea is the dominant source of income for these families, it also incentivizes people to take care of the parklands, thereby helping to prevent illegal mining or other forms of deforestation. The production of shea butter locally (as opposed to the transport of nuts to Europe) also limits CO2 emissions by preventing the intercontinental shipment of waste.