The story behind our shea butter hand creams

While L'Occitane prides itself on using ingredients sourced from Provence – such as zingy verbena, calming lavender and creamy almond – one of our most iconic products includes butter sourced from far-flung Burkina Faso. The award-winning Shea Butter Hand Cream is a best-seller: every four seconds, a tube of this renowned formula is sold around the world. So what's the story behind it, and why have we ventured outside of glorious Provence where we source almost all our ingredients? From female empowerment in Africa to the artistic inspiration behind the famous tubes, this is the tale of our Shea Butter Hand Cream.

Olivier Baussan and the birth of L'Occitane's shea butter range

Like many great journeys, it all began at an airport. L'Occitane founder Olivier Baussan was waiting for his flight when he heard about shea butter for the first time from a journalist. He was so inspired by the story of the sacred shea butter tree – and the fact that its nuts are exclusively harvested and transformed in butter by women – that he immediately changed his flight and made a beeline for Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso's vibrant capital city. More than 30 years ago, shea butter was only available in local markets, and after sampling it for himself, Olivier placed his first order not long later.

Why is shea butter so special?

Olivier Baussan always wanted to share the secrets of nature. He started in his Provençal homeland in 1976, by distilling essential oils using ingredients that characterise this colourful, sun-soaked part of France to capture their special properties and encapsulate the unique terroir of the region. When he discovered the truly exceptional ingredient that is shea butter, he wanted to share its magic in the same way. And just like that, a special partnership was born. The hydrating power of this rich butter has been prized by the women of Burkina Faso for hundreds of years, nourishing and protecting skin and hair against the dry and dusty Harmattan winds that blow across Western Africa from the Sahara Desert into the Gulf of Guinea.

Shea butter production is about patience

While Provence has its olive and almond trees, Burkina Faso has the shea tree – known locally as 'the tree of life'. This sacred plant is tricky to tame. Usually standing 10 to 15 metres tall, it takes 15 years to bear its first fruit – and the best don't appear until half a century of waiting. The secret of harvesting and transforming the nuts into rich shea butter has been passed down for generations from mother to daughter. Today, it's still the women of Burkina Faso who produce this singular ingredient.

Shea butter and female empowerment

When Olivier Baussan met the women of Burkina Faso more than 30 years ago, only a dozen were producing shea butter. Back then, the miraculous potion was solely available at small local markets and had numerous uses – from a soothing balm for babies' skin to a nourishing foodstuff. Today, the global popularity of our formula has provided more than 10,000 women the opportunity to work in the shea butter industry, gain financial independence and preserve traditions that date back hundreds of years. Best of all, it opens their small communities up to the world. In 2018, we launched the RESIST program to improve conditions for the women we work with in Burkina Faso. 

Fair Trade* and a helping hand

The relationship between L'Occitane and the women of Burkina Faso is symbiotic – L'Occitane benefits from the best-quality shea butter and the women are paid a fair wage for their work. They're also given a helping hand by the numerous projects spearheaded by the L'OCCITANE Foundation, which launched in 2006 to lend assistance to local communities. In Burkina Faso, it supports female entrepreneurship to boost financial freedom. As such, the company has been recognised as 'exemplary' by the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP).

* Fair Trade certified according to the Fair for Life standard available at www.fairforlife.org 

Packaging inspired by mother

It's not just the ingredients that are iconic, but the packaging too – it's inspired by Olivier Baussan's mother, an artist. He remembered seeing large tubes of paint beside her palettes as a child and drew influence from these. "It was connected to my mother, to generosity... since the story around the shea butter was so much about women, about sharing, this tube of paint became an obvious choice as its packaging", Olivier explained. The emblematic tube shape can be seen across our hand cream collection

Discover shea butter for yourself

It's easy to see why our Shea Butter Hand Cream deserves its iconic status. It's shown to nourish, soften and help protect skin from dehydration while sinking in quickly and leaving no residue. It also helps to empower communities of women in Burkina Faso. Since Olivier Baussan first discovered this magic ingredient, the range has grown. From hand soap to facial oils, this one-of-a-kind component can be incorporated into every corner of your skincare regime.