The Basics Of Everyday Skincare

    Posted before Dec-31-2007

Since time immemorial, it has been a normal practice for people to make use of tallow or oily substances to massage and moisten their dry hands following any work or to save them from any harm caused by water, soil, plants and other such things. Very often such fatty substances have been blended with herbs or their extracts with a view to cure injured skin or even as foundations for preparing scented or therapeutic stuff. Here, it needs to be specially mentioned that the fatty substances were particularly important for the Pharaohs, queens and other members of the nobility who used them to produce beauty products. In addition to the fatty substances, people from the era also made use of a number of naturally found unrefined materials for cookery, manufacture of soaps, therapeutic as well as skincare produce like creams and ointments.

In fact, people all around the world and all cultures made use of such natural resources that were available in their respective regions. For instance, people in Africa have been using shea butter (fat obtained from the seeds of the shea tree) and coconut butter for the manufacture of soaps and other skincare products. On the other hand, owing to the climatic conditions people in Europe depended more on fat obtained from animal sources like lard and tallow for the purpose.

Tallow or fatty substances

Tallow is basically a type of white colored or off-white hard fat obtained from animals like sheep and cattle. Often tallow is also derived from slaughtered animals. This hard animal fat is separated by melting it from the fibrous and membranous substance that is found naturally with it. At first, tallow is heated up to 45°C to 50°C to melt the hard fat and then the molten fat is filtered to get rid of the fibrous and membranous substances. The chemical composition of tallow is 50 per cent to 55 per cent of oleic acid, while the remaining amount comprises palmitic and stearic acid (both saturated fatty acids).

It is interesting to note that tallow is available in different categories and is used for different purposes, including cooking, food processing, beauty products and medicines. While this solid animal fat is used in manufacture of margarine, tallow forms a regular element of bread and cakes produced in large scales. On the other hand, tallow is also used for industrial purposes, such as manufacture of soaps (including shaving foams), emulsifiers, candle-grease, detergents as well as coagulating agents for detergents and lipsticks. In addition to the above mentioned purposes, tallow is also utilized in making animal food, for cookery as well as in foods for birds. Traditionally, people used tallow to make candles as they were comparatively much inexpensive that the usual candles made from wax.

Even the steel rolling industry uses tallow as a lubricant while the sheet steel is being compacted by passing it through steel rollers. However, presently, there is a move to substitute the lubrications containing tallow with synthetically prepared oils in the functioning of the steel rolling mills. The change is being done with a view to keep the surface of the steel sheets clean.

The use of tallow or lard has also been responsible for major historical incidents. For instance, the use of this solid fat obtained from animals for lubricating rifles was one of the primary reasons for the sepoy Mutiny in India in 1857. It may be mentioned here that in order to load the then newly introduced Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifles, the sepoys or soldiers had to sink their teeth into the cartridge to open it. The sepoys were of the belief that the paper cartridges that were used with this type of rifles were oiled with lard or fatty substance obtained from pork. Since pork is considered as unreligious or unclean by the Holy Quran, the Muslim sepoys of the British army were opposed to its use. Similarly, tallow derived from beef fat was against the religious practice of the Hindus, who worshipped the cow.

During the American Civil War, tallow was used in combination with bees wax to lubricate the bullets used in the Springfield Rifle Musket. In Germany, tallow obtained from deer fat and known as 'Hirschtalg' was regularly used as a foundation ingredient in the manufacture of different lotions and ointments.

Cocoa butter

The cocoa tree is an evergreen tree found in the tropical climatic regions and usually grows to a height of approximately 5 to 12 meters. The cocoa is among the most essential trees cultivated in the world and is grown in a commercial manner in Africa as well as South America. The blooms of the cocoa tree are produced on the stem and they eventually develop into fruits resembling cucumber. Generally, each cocoa fruit is as long as 25 cm and have different hues ranging from brown to golden. Each cocoa fruit contains anything between 20 and 40 smooth seeds, commonly called cocoa beans. The seeds usually have a bitter taste and, hence they are fermented to get rid of this undesirable flavour and later roasted and pounded for use.

Cocoa butter, the yellowish fatty substance obtained from the cocoa seed, comprises around 45 per cent of the cocoa bean. Cocoa butter is obtained by means of hot processing at around 60°C and mainly consists of saturated fatty acids and mono-unsaturated fatty acids that sustain for long. Cocoa butter or fatty substance derived from cocoa seed liquefies at a temperature between 32°C and 35°C - which is normally the temperature of the human skin. This fatty substance is utilized in the manufacture of lotions, lipsticks, lip ointments and creams individually or in combination with bees wax. Using bees wax in combination with cocoa fat in creams, lip balms and lotions provide them with uniformity as well as stability and help it to become firm. Cocoa butter is a soft or moderate fatty substance which is bearable by majority of the people. This fatty substance not only nourishes the skin, but also makes it softer and soothing. Cocoa butter is particularly effective for people having dry skin.

The fatty substance extracted from cocoa seeds or beans is an organic fat, which is also called the 'oil of theobroma'. Generally, cocoa fat is yellowish in color and when it is obtained from chocolate, this fatty substance has an insipid flavour with a somewhat chocolate fragrance. Cocoa butter is safe for consumption and is widely utilized in the manufacture of white chocolate as well as specific confections. However, the fact remains that this edible and mild fatty substance has several other uses outside the kitchen too.

It may be noted here that the most advantageous characteristic of cocoa butter is that this mild organic fatty substance is not only stable, but also encloses natural antioxidants that aids in its preservation too. Since cocoa butter or the fatty material extracted from cocoa beans liquefies at a temperature just below the normal human body temperature and this aspect helps chocolates to remain in a solid state at room temperature, but soften when they are put in the mouth. In addition, cocoa butter also imparts a soft quality to numerous confectioneries that contain chocolate. Even culinary professionals regularly use cocoa butter for its use in baking.

In addition to its utility in making chocolates, confections and baking, cocoa butter is also made use of in the manufacture of cosmetics as well as drugs. The pharmaceutical industry uses cocoa butter in manufacturing suppositories (a solid, conical mass of medicinal substance that melts upon insertion into the rectum or vagina) as well as capsules taken orally. One of the major advantages of cocoa butter is that it has the capacity to maintain the molded form of medicines even as enclosing the regularly used remedial chemicals with no unsteady effects. Cocoa butter is a preferred substance in capsules as well as suppositories as an inactive element since it is safe and sound for use.

Many a times, one would find cocoa butter used as a preservative or stabilizer in cosmetic products, soaps and shampoos. In addition, this fatty substance derived from cocoa beans is also a common moisturizer or salve and this property makes cocoa butter perfect as an ingredient in ointments and lip balms. Owing to cocoa butter's humidifying property, physicians usually recommend the usage of products containing cocoa butter for averting stretch marks in pregnant women and healing of dehydrated and cracked skin with a view to avoid dehydrated and inflamed skin. In addition, the fact that cocoa butter is a usual stabilizer and also possesses a slightly pleasing fragrance also makes this fatty substance extracted from cocoa beans a preferable ingredient in a number of cosmetic products.

Coconut butter

Coconut butter is a vegetable butter obtained by churning coconut cream. Coconuts trees are mainly cultivated in different Asian countries and they usually grow to a height to anything between 20 meters and 25 meters. Freshly obtain coconut butter has an untainted white color with its unique properties - a mild sweet flavour and fragrance. This vegetable butter is usually in solid form and liquefies at temperatures ranging between 25°C and 28°C and generally turns stale soon. Before it is used, coconut butter is processed to get rid of its natural smell. This vegetable fatty substance has multiple uses and is frequently made use of in production of food stuff, skincare produce like massage oils and sun screen products. In addition, the industry also uses coconut butter to convert it into a chemical that maintains emulsion for manufacturing lotions and ointments. On the other hand, the soap and detergent manufacturing industry alters coconut butter into an excellent or insensitive detergent like Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES). Moreover, one can also drink the coconut milk extracted from coconuts. It is totally safe for consumption.

Precisely speaking, coconut butter is a vegetable oil called coconut oil that is derived from the dried flesh of the coconut that is also known as copra. The mature or ripened coconuts only contain copra, which is cut into strips after harvesting. Subsequently, the shredded copra is sanitized by removing all polluting substances like dirt and metals and split into minute particles. The fine particles of copra are then processed by passing them through a streamer and subjected to high temperatures of up to 220°F or 104°C. After boiling or streaming the particles for around 30 minutes, the ground copra is shifted to an expeller where it is put under high pressure to extract the coconut oil. The coconut oil obtained in this manner is subsequently strained and propelled into a tank for storage. Later, the coconut butter or coconut oil is taken out from the tank and filled in bottles or jars for delivery.

Pure or unadulterated coconut butter or coconut oil is obtained from fresh coconut flesh or non-copra. The flesh of coconut is compressed to obtain coconut milk and oil mostly by mechanical means and sometimes also by hand. The freshly obtained coconut oil contains some amount of water, which is removed by various means - boiling the vegetable oil, mechanical centrifuge or refrigeration. The chemical composition of coconut butter comprises around 90 per cent of saturated fat and a number of medium-chain fatty acids. Lauric acid alone comprises 50 per cent of the entire fatty acid content of coconut butter, while the other fatty acids found in this vegetable oil comprise palmitic acid, myristic acid and caprylic acid.

The fatty acids present in coconut butter possess remedial properties and since long they have been used to heal several conditions, especially as nourishment blends administered to patients confined to bed by means of intravenous injections. In fact, such fatty acids are easily digested in the small intestine and don't require bile to assimilate them into the body. From the small intestine, these digested fatty acids are straight away transported to the liver where they are utilized as fuel or energy. In addition, coconut butter is safe for consumption and also possesses antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. Since the fat content in coconut butter is very high, it is said to be the most consistent among all types of oils. It is best to store the solid variety of coconut butter as it not only increases its shelf life to around two to three years, but also refuse to give in to decomposition or decay. When solid coconut butter is liquefied, it is called coconut oil. In many regions of the world, coconut butter is used for culinary purposes, particularly for frying and sautéing (frying lightly in fat in a shallow open pan). In addition, coconut butter is made use of as a more nourishing alternative for shortening, butter or margarine in cookery as well as bakery. In many Asian nations, coconut butter is added to foods for adding essence.

Cosmetic and soap manufacturers use coconut butter in the manufacture of soaps and cosmetic products since it contains a very elevated amount of fat. The high fat content makes coconut butter a perfect ingredient for use in products that moisturizes as well as makes the skin softer.

Palm oil

Palm oil is derived from oil palm Elaeis Guineensis - a species that is grown commercially in many regions of the world. The oil palm trees are very productive as they bear approximately 10 huge stands of fruits each year. Each stand contains around 200 fruit that resemble the size of plums and every fruit contains a solitary 'stone' seed. The oil in the palm oil fruits are found in the form of drops or in cohesion in the external part of the fruit pulp or within the stone kernel. While the oil present in the outer surface of the fruit pulp is called palm oil, oil enclosed in the kernel is known as palm seed oil. The oil present in the fruit pulp is obtained by compressing the fruit and contains a orange-yellow colored fat that encloses carotene. In addition, palm oil contains 29 mg of d-alpha TE (vitamin E) in every 100 gm of the substance. It is very easy to saponify (convert a fat into soap) palm oil and hence, this organic fatty substance is primarily used in the saponification procedure to manufacture liquid as well as solid soaps. The major portion (around 40 per cent of palm oil) comprises palmitic acid and is known as cetyl acid or cetin. Palmitic acid extracted from palm oil has several utilities, including making candle in combination with stearic acid. Incidentally, palmitic acid, a fatty acid, is also present in sufficient amounts in many waxes, sperm whales, tallow, butter and lard.

It may be mentioned here that the organic oil extracted from the palm fruit kernel is believed to be of a superior quality compared to the oil obtained from the fruit itself. The oil extracted from the palm seed is whitish in hue and generally utilized in the manufacture of detergents and soaps as it contains high amounts of lauric acid. In addition, palm seed oil is also used in combination with coconut oil in manufacturing ice cream, margarine as well as a chemical agent that maintains an emulsion.

Although palm kernel oil or seed oil is identical to coconut oil, it contains rich amounts of lauric and myristic fatty acids and these substances make palm seed oil an ideal raw material for manufacturing detergents, soaps as well as cosmetics or beauty care products for individuals. In fact, lauric acid is a very important ingredient in the manufacture of soaps and it is essential for any good quality soap to enclose a minimum of 15 per cent laurate with a view to enable it to form lather quickly. On the other hand, soaps manufactured especially for use in the saline sea water ought to contain 100 per cent of lauric acid or laurate for it to form lather.

Shea butter

The shea tree (scientific names Vitellaria paradoxa and Butyrospermum parkii) is a unique tree that bears nuts which yield shea butter when pounded. This tree grows naturally in the savannah region in many regions of Western Africa, including Nigeria, Ghana and Mali. This tree often grows to a height of 20 meters to 25 meters having subterranean roots that often reaches 20 meters below the ground. These deep roots enable the shea trees to endure prolong periods of deficiency of water. Usually, the shea tree bears its first fruits when it is around eight to 12 years old and it produces maximum fruits when it is around 40 years old. However, the shea trees are able to bear fruits till they are 150 years old. Normally, every shea tree produces around 50 kg of fruit every year. The shea trees bear flowers during the period between December and February. The shea fruit is identical to a small avocado or plum in appearance having a fruit pulp and a stone or solitary hard nut. The fruits are sweet, green in color and usually grow to a length of 3 cm to 5 cm. The stone or the seed or nut enclosed by the shea fruit is 2 cm long, oval shaped and encloses around 50 per cent of oil or butter. The harvesting season of shea fruits begins in May and continues till August.

The fruit of the shea tree is a vital natural resource for the people of Western Africa, who have been using it for different purposes, including food, remedial, ornamental as well as cosmetic, for several centuries. In addition, the shea tree also provides shelter from the harsh sun rays in the hot savannah region and also protects people from inclement weather. In order to obtain the butter or oil, the stone or nuts of the fruits are mashed or compressed. Subsequently, the raw butter is refined by getting rid of the free fatty acids as well as the substances that are inclined to oxidation. This process leaves behind a fatty substance that is consistent as well as unadulterated. In fact, shea butter is whitish in color and possesses stability similar to that of coconut butter. Shea butter has a gentle aroma and liquefies at temperatures ranging between 35°C and 38°C - same as the human skin temperature.

The oil or 'butter' extracted from the shea tree nuts also enclose some lathering substances, major part of which (around 65 per cent) comprises cinnamic acid esters. The healing properties of shea butter are attributed to the cinnamic acid esters. In addition, shea butter also contains around five per cent to ten per cent phytosterol - a substance responsible for invigorating the creation as well as development of new cells in the body. Moreover, shea butter is also considered to be an excellent transporter of several vigorous elements, such as medications, which are discharged faster in comparison to any other fatty substances and oils.

Shea butter is highly beneficial for the skin and aids in healing skin disorders faster. This fatty substance possesses somewhat antibacterial and anti-inflammatory features, ability to hold on to moisture effectively as well as safeguards the skin from dehydration as well as the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. In fact, the sun factor of shea butter ranges between two and three and is suitable for use in skincare products that require enclosing elements that are able to save the skin from the impact of the ultraviolet rays of the sun, which create harmful free radicals. Most people are able to tolerate the use of shea butter. This fatty substance is effective for healing dry skin that has a tendency to developpsoriasis or eczema. As discussed earlier, it is also useful for pregnant women as its topical application helps to avoid stretch marks developed during as well as after pregnancy. In fact, adding shea butter to any product helps to make it finer or acquire a firm shape, but it liquefies as soon as it gets in touch with the skin. Many a times, unrefined shea butter is also available in the market, but it is advisable not to buy such products, as they become stale very soon.

People in Africa use shea butter for multiple purposes. While it is commonly used as cooking oil, they also utilize this fatty substance for hairdressing, making candles, water proofing wax and also as an important element in therapeutic lotions and creams. Traditional African percussion instrument manufacturers also use shea butter to enhance the stability and resilience of wood, for instance the curved djembe husks and gourds, and leather fasteners. However, outside Africa, the primary industrial utility of shea butter is in the manufacture of cosmetics like moisturizing creams and lotions as well as hair conditioners, especially for dry and delicate hair. Although in small quantities, shea butter is also used by the soap making industry. It usually comprises five per cent to seven per cent of the oils in the soap formula since it has the characteristic of parting a little quantity of oil or fatty substance in soaps. In addition, the chocolate manufacturers use shea butter as an element in the substances stuffed in the chocolates.

Shea butter available commercially is presently categorized into five different varieties. They are as follows:

  • A: Untreated or unprocessed fatty substances extracted from shea tree nuts with water.
  • B: Refined or treated shea butter.
  • C: Extremely purified shea butter that is extracted using solvents like hexane.
  • D: The variety of shea butter that is least contaminated.
  • E: Adulterated shea butter containing pollutants.

In fact, the A, B and C grades of shea butter are sold commercially. The raw or unrefined shea butter (Category A) has a color that varies from cream (resembling whipped butter) to gray-yellow and has a nutty fragrance, which is eliminated from the other varieties of this organic fatty substance. On the other hand, grade C or extremely purified shea butter has a wholesome whitish hue. However, the grade A shea butter, which is untreated, possesses the majority of the commonly present nutrients, particularly vitamin A and vitamin E. These vitamins are partially absent in the other categories of shea butter owing to processing or pollutants.

Since shea butter possesses anti-inflammatory characteristics, it forms a perfect base for many therapeutic lotions and creams. In fact, it has been found that shea butter is effective in healing a number of skin conditions. Some of them are mentioned below:

  • Eczema;
  • Fading scars;
  • Skin staining;
  • Burns;
  • Rashes;
  • Stretch marks;
  • Extremely dry or dehydrated skin conditions;
  • Wrinkles;
  • Cracked lips;
  • Dark spots; and
  • Alleviating the irritation or annoyance caused by psoriasis.

As discussed earlier, people have been using shea butter in lotions and creams intended to provide protection from the harmful effects of the ultraviolet rays of the sun. However, it needs to be mentioned here that protection offered by shea butter from the ultraviolet rays of the sun fluctuates from nil to around sun protection factor or SPF 2 - 4.

People in Nigeria in Africa use shea butter as a remedy for sinusitis as well as for relief from nasal congestion. These remedial qualities of shea butter has been attributed to its hydrating features that aid in soothing the strain in the facial skin, thereby making respiration a lot easier.

Lard or pig fat

Lard is basically purified pig fat that is edible and is often used for cooking as well as baking. Despite the fact that use of lard in cooking was looked down upon by people in the West during the 20th century, this fatty substance obtained from pigs has been a traditionally popular culinary element. It may be noted that people in several countries still consider lard to be unhealthy for consumption compared to vegetable oils or butter. Therefore, the substance is hardly sold commercially and hence, it is quite difficult to obtain it in such countries.

There are many stores where you may come across the term 'Manteca' in the Hispanic elements section. In fact, 'Manteca' is actually the Spanish term for lard. However, one needs to be cautious while going by this term for many Latin Americans who speak Spanish often use the word 'Manteca' to denote butter or a blend of butter and fat. People who desire to have fresh lard may also prepare this fatty substance at home. In effect, making lard at home is increasingly becoming a popular option among the people in the West these days.

Like in the instance of shea butter, lard too is available in different qualities or grades. The best category of lard is known as leaf lard and it is obtained from the areas surrounding the kidneys of the pig. The back lard is also considered to be superior quality lard and is obtained from the fat on the back of the pig. All other forms of lard that are obtained from other different parts of the pig are not so popular or wanted. You may use a wet or dry purification process to prepare lard from raw pig fat. When you adopt the wet process, you need to boil or steam the raw pig fat. As fat does not dissolve in water, it will hover on the surface of the water and you can easily skim off the lard before cooking. Purifying pig fat by means of the dry process does not require water to heat the fat. In this case, you put the raw fat in a big saucepan to get rid of the dirt and pollutants before you skim off the lard for cooking.

Freshly prepared or obtained lard does not have a steady shelf life and hence, it is essential to preserve fresh lard in freezers. However, majority of the lard available commercially are stabilized as they are processed through hydrogenation. In other words, owing to the hydrogenation, lard that is available commercially may contain trans-fats that are potentially harmful for the body. Contrary to the conception of many people that consumption of foods cooked with lard is unhealthy, the fact remains that ingestion of simple and fresh lard is as harmful as any other fat, including butter. However, lard that has been processed extensively is more harmful for the body. In fact, lard has some advantages over common butter and hence, it is suitable for cooking an assortment of delicacies and is also preferred by many cooks. For instance, compared to the common butter, lard has a greater smoking point.

Like most other fatty substances derived from organic or animal sources, lard too has multiple utilities. Conventionally, lard has been a preferred element for making pastries simply owing to the reason that when pasties are made with lard, they are light and flaky like pies. In addition to making pastries, lard is an all-purpose edible fatty substance that can be used for cooking and frying a wide variety of foods. Very often, lard is either placed inside meat or swathed around meat during the cooking process with a view to moisten or daub it. This procedure is generally known as larding. Superior class of lard is loaded with fat and has a moderately neutral taste and hence, it can easily be used to substitute butter in different cooking methods. However, if you are substituting butter with lard, remember to use around 20 per cent less lard than what the recipe actually requires.


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