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iVillage: Global Beauty: Skincare Traditions from Around the World

West Africa: Shea Butter as a Moisturizer and Sunblock

Found in ancient tombs, lauded in historical documents and fought over during colonial wars, shea butter has been vital to the economies and cultures of Senegal, Mali and Togo for centuries. A pale yellow fat extracted from the walnut-sized nut of the shea tree, the salve is known for its “meltability”—the fact that it liquefies upon contact with the skin and absorbs quickly, leaving no greasy residue behind.

Cultural practice: Shea butter is truly an all-purpose salve, used on its own as a lip balm, hair conditioner, medicinal ointment and natural sunblock, and blended into soaps and cleansers.

(CREDIT: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)
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