There are never too many good emollients out there. Ucuuba butter makes no exception, and this time, I’m giving it all my attention. Check out all the wonderful things it can do for the skin (and hair) among others.
This post is a guide to understanding how the butter works and how you can use it. You’ll be reading about:
- Physical traits of the butter: color, smell, consistency, etc. I will also tell you more about the different types of Ucuuba butter and their botanical names.
- The chemical composition of the butter. That is what makes the product so great at what it does. This will also give you a deeper sense of understanding of how it works.
- The benefits and uses of Ucuuba butter for skin and hair.
- Best ways to use this ingredient in all your products (bought or homemade).
- A few beauty recipes with Ucuuba so you can experience it on your own skin.
- Trivia and facts about the ucuuba trees, fruits, and fat. I’ve found lots of interesting things about it. This’ll probably spike your interest in the product even more.
- A few comparisons between Ucuuba and other more or less known butters.
- Last but not least, some safety words to be aware of before using the butter of Ucuuba.
All You Need to Know about Ucuuba Butter (Composition, Benefits, How to Use & Recipes)
Botanical name: 1) Virola surinamensis; 2) Virola sebifera & synonyms: V. myristica; V. oleifera.
Color: light brown with golden specks to dark brown.
Consistency: very hard, dry and crumbly butter that melts at body heat.
Smell: faint woody smell, warm, and waxy. Some also say it smells like nutmeg or beeswax.
Other names: ucuuba do cerrado; red/white ucuuba; bicuiba; bicuiva; bocuba; candeia do caboclo; ucuhuba; chalviande; baboonwood (V. surinamensis).
Shelf life: low. It can go rancid very fast.
What’s with all the botanical names, right? Which one is the real Ucuuba butter? The short answer is all of them, and I’ll explain further.
Virola is a plant (tree) genus that contains approximately 76 different species. They grow in the dense rainforest of the Amazon basin. Even specialists have trouble differentiating between them. Virola oleifera is the more general term for all oils extracted from ucuuba fruits.
Commercially, there are two main types of ucuuba butters:
- Virola surinamensis – In Portuguese it’s called “ucuuba branca”, meaning white ucuuba. This is the most common variety from which Ucuuba butter is extracted.
- Virola sebifera – Also called “ucuuba vermelha”, meaning red ucuuba.
These names come from the color of their respective resins. The fruits are both the same: hazelnut-sized with a beautiful vermilion red color. Vermilion red refers to a deep, brilliant red.
In French Guiana, the ucuuba tree is called tallow tree or nutmeg. That is because the fruits are extremely high in fatty acids, but so is the bark. The latter, though, has a lower oil yield (10 – 19%) as opposed to 80 – 90% oil from the fruits.
There are many benefits of Ucuuba butter. The most significant ones, however, are:
- The ability to make the skin really soft by nourishing it on a deep level.
- And the ability to moisturize the skin, keep it elastic, and supple. As a consequence, the skin will also stay hydrated for a longer time.
All this (and more) comes from the chemical composition of the butter. Let’s see what it is made of and how it all works.
What Makes Ucuuba Butter Special (Composition)
What exactly is Ucuuba butter? It’s vegetable fat, extracted from the fruits and bark of Virola (ucuuba) trees.
It can be used as a seasoning too but it is mostly used in cosmetics and beauty products. Its high emollient properties make it great for skin and hair care products, as well as soaps.
Luckily, Ucuuba butter melts in contact with the skin. Still, the process is not as fast as with Coconut oil, for example. Yet, it’s not that slow either. You can use a small amount on the skin and have it absorbed in a few seconds.
Like I said, most often, Ucuuba butter comes from Virola surinamensis. Here are the fatty acids that nourish and soften your skin to the next level:
- Myristic acid (69 – 70%) – This fatty acid is intensely softening to the skin. Found in such a high concentration, it gives Ucuuba butter very good softening properties. It absorbs really well and, despite how thick and oily it is, the butter doesn’t leave a greasy feeling. Myristic acid helps the skin to regenerate and cleanse the pores. The latter ability can prevent dirt and dead skin cells from blocking the pores, which leads to acne.
- Lauric acid (13 – 16%) – This fatty acid is very important for the body. It strengthens the defense mechanism of the skin, protecting it from infections. It’s a very good anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal. A few studies also show that acne-prone skin lacks important amounts of lauric acid.
- Stearic acid (8%) – This is one of the fatty acids whose natural production starts to decrease with age. Its lack would only contribute to drier, duller skin. In other words, stearic acid helps to maintain skin elastic and plump.
- Palmitic acid (6 – 7%) – This acid adds up to the softening properties of the Ucuuba butter. It’s great for both the skin and hair.
The butter also contains traces of linoleic acid and oleic. They’re both important fatty acids that contribute to the health and good looks of the skin.
You will also find other helpful molecules in the butter. The dark color of the butter comes from flavonoid pigments.
Tests have revealed the presence of coumarins and phenols, which are usually found in essential oils. They are volatile molecules, which give the butter a faint smell.
The butter contains all of the above plus terpene molecules and some steroids. Together, they give Ucuuba butter great antioxidant properties.
Of all the microbes, the butter was found effective against Staphylococcus aureus. Again, this is great news for acne skin because S. aureus is one of the main culprits.
Even though the butter is extracted from two different Virola trees, its main benefits and properties remain similar.
Their chemical composition differs a bit. That means that one butter will have more or less of the same acids than the other. For example, the V.
As far as the comedogenic rating of Ucuuba butter goes, I haven’t found an exact one. On a scale of 0 to 5, it would be somewhere between 2 and 4. That is according to the main fatty acids found in its composition.
Still, this shouldn’t scare you. As an example, Coconut oil is rated 4, which would make it very likely to block the pores and cause acne.
However, those obstructing fatty acids have great antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. All this can prevent the formation of new comedones.
I have combination, prone-to-acne skin and I use Coconut oil without a problem. However, other people may wake up with more acne than before.
Simply test the Ucuuba butter on a problematic (small) skin area just to be sure.
Leave it on until the next day or the one after to give the skin time to react. Ucuuba contains lots of beneficial nutrients for all skin types, including that with problems.
Ucuuba Butter Skin Benefits
So, the Virola (Ucuuba) butter is highly emollient and moisturizing. As a consequence, it is one of the best butters for the skin. Here is what it can do:
- Being so rich in fatty acids, the butter can retain water inside the cells for longer. This keeps the skin hydrated, plump, and elastic.
- The butter softens the skin and maintains that smoothness for a longer time.
- It can also help the skin regenerate and recover after wounds, burns, bruises, etc.
- Makes the skin look radiant.
- With its strong antioxidant properties, Ucuuba can diminish the damage done by the sun (UV radiation). It can also prevent any new damage.
- Reduce the aspect of fine lines and wrinkles.
- It can soothe the redness that comes with rashes or irritation.
- Ucuuba butter can also protect from staph infections.
- It can help prevent the formation of cystic acne.
- Last but not least, the butter can simply moisturize the skin on a deep level.
Who can use Ucuuba butter?
- Women with dry or very dry skin. This includes problems like eczema.
- Women with mature and wrinkled skin.
- Those with easily irritated skin types.
- Teenagers and women with oily, acne-prone skin.
- It can also be used as an after-sun moisturizer.
- Women who want to reduce the effects of oxidative stress on their skin.
As you can see, these benefits and uses include most skin types and problems. If you’re not sure about your own skin type, you can just give the oil a test first. See how you like it and how it works for your skin.
Ucuuba Butter Hair Benefits
As it happens with every oil or butter, Ucuuba is not great just for the skin. The hair can also benefit from its hydrating and moisturizing properties.
If the skin can become soft and smooth, so can the hair. It is also very simple to use, as you will see soon enough.
Here are most of the benefits of Ucuuba butter for hair:
- Soothes an itching scalp.
- Prevents the formation of dandruff.
- Nourishes the hair roots on a deep level.
- Cleanses the pores and prevents them from becoming infected.
- Strengthens the hair roots.
- Gives the hair luster, shine, and volume.
- Seals the water inside the hair to keep it hydrated, soft, and elastic.
- Prevents breakage.
- Repairs and prevents split ends.
- Tames frizzy or Afro-American hair.
- Conditions the hair and protects it from sun damage, chlorine damage, etc.
What if you have oily scalp and hair? In that case, you can still use Ucuuba butter for hair. How? You can mix a smaller amount with another dryer oil. Dry oils are Macadamia, Hazelnut, Grapeseed, Camellia, etc.
Apply small amounts of the mixture on the ends of the hair, never on the scalp or roots. Or, you can always apply a simple Ucuuba hair mask and then rinse it off. See the steps to doing that below.
How to Use and Store Ucuuba Butter
The Virola a.k.a. Ucuuba butter is a very hard and crumbly substance. Luckily, it melts when it gets in contact with the skin.
You should not expect instant melting though. It’ll take a few seconds until it becomes oily and you can rub it in. However, a small quantity will melt faster than a big one.
The best way to enjoy the benefits of Ucuuba is to mix it with another oil or butter. That way, it’ll become more fluid and easy to spread.
You can use whatever other ingredients you like. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature. It would make a great blending oil for the Ucuuba.
You can choose from Shea butter, Mango butter, Cocoa or Coffee butter, you name it. You can use between 0.5 to 50% of Ucuuba in your blends.
Also, once you get it more fluid and manageable, you can add essential oils to it. A few drops will be enough to give the butter a certain smell and enhance its properties.
You can use Ucuuba butter in:
- Homemade soaps.
- DIY cosmetics (lotions, creams, serums, etc.)
- Store-bought lotions and creams.
- Shampoos and conditioners.
- DIY lip balms.
- Homemade candles. It can catch fire (flashpoint) at temperatures below 165C/329F.
Ucuuba needs to be stored in proper conditions. It needs a cool, dark, and dry place to avoid getting rancid fast. A safe place is always the fridge, where you can keep it after opening.
Beauty Recipes with Ucuuba Butter
I’m sure you are very curious about this butter and you want to test it for yourself. Well, after all the theory, here I am with the recipes.
You can use them as guidance to make a similar blend, or you can go with them as they are. Whatever you choose, I’m sure you’ll have a nice experience.
Ucuuba Butter Hot Oil Hair Mask
- Ucuuba butter: 1 tablespoon
- Grapeseed oil: 2 tablespoons
- Peppermint essential oil: 2 drops
Melt the Ucuuba at bain-marie then add the Grapeseed oil and stir well. Add the Peppermint essential oil and mix really well.
When you apply the mask, it should be very warm, but not hot. Hot oil may burn your scalp and damage your hair.
The warmth will open up the pores and cuticles. This way the scalp, and hair will absorb all the necessary nutrients.
You can spread the mask with your fingers on the scalp, hair roots, ends and the whole hair length, if you wish. Keep it on for 30 – 60 minutes, in a shower cap to preserve the heat inside.
Rinse 2 – 3 times with lukewarm water and shampoo. This Ucuuba mask is meant to fortify your hair, give it shine, prevent dandruff, and stimulate hair growth.
Whipped Ucuuba Body Butter
- Ucuuba butter: 30 ml (1 Oz)
- Cocoa butter: 30 ml (1 Oz)
- Vanilla CO2 extract: 1 – 2 drops
- Glass jar.
Add both butters in a large container above steaming hot water (bain-marie) and mix until well-melted.
Take it down and add the Vanilla extract while mixing really well. You can already tell how delicious the body butter will smell.
Put it in the fridge for a few minutes, until the mixture hardens a bit. Use a hand mixer or a regular mixer to mix the contents. This’ll give them the whipped look and feel.
Place your whipped Ucuuba butter in any jar you like, preferably glass. You can store it in the fridge or in a dark and dry place. Use on damp skin, after a shower to soften and moisturize.
Ucuuba Trivia & Facts, Butter Comparisons, and Safety Tips
Ucuuba is one very exotic beauty ingredient. It was very fun and interesting reading about its origins, making, traditional uses, and so on. I will share with you some of the most interesting bits and pieces I’ve found.
- Virola species grow naturally in the Amazon basin. This means they thrive in humid and flooded areas. You will find ucuuba trees in Brazil, Suriname, and Costa Rica. They also grow in Panama, Peru, Ecuador, and Guyana or the French Guiana.
- It is said that the name of Ucuuba came from the now extinct Tupian language. Tupi was a very big tribe that lived in Brazil before colonization. In Tupian, ucuuba means “butter tree”, or “grease tree”.
- Ucuuba trees belong to the same family as the nutmeg (Myristicaceae). They are medium-sized trees, of 25 – 30 meters tall (82 – 98 feet).
- The fruits of Virola trees are the size of a hazelnut and their color is bright, deep red (vermillion). Locals use them for butter extraction and for jewelry making. The fruits can also serve as spices.
- Speaking of extraction, the traditional process is very simple. It consists of harvesting the seeds from the ground, then drying them out in the sun. Next, the seeds are separated from the shells, after which they’re minced into a paste. The last step involves throwing the paste into hot water. The fat/butter will separate and float above the water when it’s hand collected. However, more modern technologies are also used. I’m talking about the cold press and CO2 extraction.
- When ground, the bark of the ucuuba trees releases a special resin. This resin has medicinal properties, which sparked the interest of many scientists.
- Some Virola species were used for the production of snuff powders. Unlike tobacco, the ucuuba powder has hallucinogenic effects.
Ucuuba vs. the Other Natural Beauty Butters
Ucuuba butter is its own product. It is not the same as Kokum, Bacuri or Sal butter. Still, some of them do look very similar, which breeds a lot of confusion.
What is Bacuri butter? Bacuri butter is a dark colored (brown to black) vegetable fat. It grows in the same conditions as ucuuba trees, in the Amazon basin.
Because of its chemical composition, Bacuri is fast absorbed into the skin. This butter is also very moisturizing and emollient.
Murumuru and Cupuacu butters are also native to the Amazon basin. They are, too, very different vegetable beauty ingredients. If you want to read more about their properties, you can click the links on their names.
Sal butter is Indian. It comes from vast forests of Sal trees that help entire Indian populations to survive.
It is solid at room temperature, though it’s somewhat more manageable than Ucuuba. Sal butter has many uses, including in the beauty department.
Last but not least, Ucuuba butter shares the same level of moisture with Shea butter. The latter is easily manageable and it melts faster on the skin. Luckily, you can use both the Ucuuba and the Shea together to get nourishing blends.
There is not much known about the safety guidelines of Ucuuba. The little we know though doesn’t show signs of concerns. However, I will recommend taking the same precautions as with any other butter:
- Always test it on a small skin area. Rub some and leave it on for a day or more to see how the body will react. There is a chance you could be or become allergic.
- Also, the butter derives from seeds. This means that it can cause problems in people allergic to nuts and seeds.
- It’s best to seek medical advice before using it on babies. It might be too strong for their still-developing skin.
- Avoid consuming Ucuuba butter internally without medical clearance.
This Ucuuba butter guide is meant to help you understand how the product works and how to use it. Basically, the butter can help both your skin and hair. It can make them soft, radiant, and brilliant.
Using Ucuuba can improve your looks and give you the right tool to take care of your skin at any age.
What is it that draws you most in Ucuuba butter? What would you use it for? If you do test this exotic butter, I’d appreciate you leaving me some feedback.