Yellow raw shea butter

Difference Between Raw, Unrefined, Refined, Ultra-Refined & Whipped Shea Butter: Which Should I Buy?

Patri HernandezEditor

I’m fallling in love with products like shea butter. The older I get the more I seem to want to take good care of this shell that is the body. I am finding out about shea butter and loving everything about it. From where it comes from, to the fact that no two packs of shea butter will look and feel the same. Follow me in my shea butter discovery journey!

TIME SPENT RESEARCHING: Including buying an ecological shea butter tub, finding out all the information, writing, publishing with images, around 22 hours.

Different Types of Shea Butter: A Guide

As I learn about this fascinating product I feel more inclined to know every single detail about it. I went to a herbal shop the other day and they had 3 kinds of shea butter. They all looked refined to me, although at the time and pre-research state of this post I wouldn’t know much about the difference.

I asked the girl if it was raw and not refined and she said: sure it is! Can’t you see, it says ‘ecologic’ in the tin! I didn’t want to argue. I know that a product can be from ecologic source and still have been treated ad nauseam

I bought the cheapest (80gr of shea butter for less than $10) and was disappointed when I saw it was grainy/gritty and very, very white. I knew this product had been refined.

I don’t have a problem with it; I’m using it for my cracked heels and I’m back to seeing my beautifully soft heels, which I’ve always been so proud of! The stuff works, that’s for sure, also glorious on my lips. I just would like to be able to feel more softeness when ‘picking it up’ with my fingers and when spreading it around my heel.

I decided to find out everything I could about each type of shea butter (raw, unrefined, refined, ultra-refined, and then if there was a difference between pure, natural, eco, raw, unrefined, etc).

Here’s what I found, I have spent quite a few hours researching but have enjoyed myself thoroughly. I also came to a conclusion around which butter to go for. Keep reading and see if you agree with me!

Questions we will try to answer below:

  • Is unrefined shea butter the same as raw?
  • What is the difference between raw shea butter and refined shea butter?
  • What is the difference between refined and ultra-refined shea butter?
  • What is whipped shea butter?

Let’s get started then!

The True, Beneficial Properties of Raw & Unrefined Shea Butter

According to agbangakarite.com, “only pure, unrefined shea butter has the true beneficial and moisturizing properties of shea butter” (their website offers only pure, unrefined shea butter at wholesale quantities).

It seems that when you see white and ‘odourless’ shea butter you’re getting what is known as ‘refined shea butter’. This butter has been processed. Below it explains what this process entails:

In the process, the majority of the effective agents are also removed. In addition, refined shea butter has usually been extracted from the shea kernels with hexane or other petroleum solvents. The extracted oil is boiled to drive off the toxic solvents, and then refined, bleached, and deodorized, which involves heating it to over 400¡F and the use of harsh chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide. ~ Source

The problem lies in the fact that although white butter can look more appealing to the eye, this odoreless result seems to lack the true healing powers of moisturisation as well as nutrients of the traditional butter.

Also, this refined shea butter is grainier as well as harder than pure unrefined butter, which is a lot creamier and smooth.

According to the same source, “Antioxidants or preservatives such as BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) or BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) may be added as well.” So, overall, not a great picture of what we get when we buy refined shea butter!

Former Botanical Name: “Butyrospermum Parkii”

Shea butter is the actual oil extracted from the nut that grows on wild shea trees. The term the cosmetic industry uses is called Butyrospermum parkii. These trees grow around the Savanna West area and Central Africa. 

To me it is particularly meaningful that this product is such an rich part of West Africa’s history and culture. It makes it a lot more meaningful than just a product that can be extracted from trees that grow anywhere in the world.

According to Alaffia:

It is mentioned in almost all African historical documents, including a reference as early as Cleopatra’s Egypt, which mentions caravans bearing clay jars of Shea butter for cosmetic use. Funeral beds of kings were carved in the wood of old Shea trees, and shea butter has always been a staple of African pharmacology.

Inspirational. When people buy products through this site I feel I’m also helping a particular sector and not just the cosmetic industry per se. And it does make a difference.

You might also like:

Shea Butter on Face at Night

AT A GLANCE Pros and Cons of Raw/Unrefined and Refined/Ultra-Refined Shea Butter

RAW/UNREFINED

PROS

  • Has not been filtered (raw) or minimum filtering with cloth (unrefined)
  • Contains the most amount of bioactive phytochemicals
  • Antioxidant agents have been kept intact
  • The benefits from the Vitamin E (what makes it yellow) are all there
  • Smooth and creamy

CONS

  • Unshaped
  • Might contain flecks of impurities (no cheesecloth or commercial strainers)
  • Can be rather odorous
  • Difficult to use for applications like lotions because of its paste-like consistency

REFINED/ULTRA-REFINED

PROS

  • Odourless or pleasant smells (white in colour as well)
  • Aesthetically more appealing
  • Easy to use for applications like lotions and lip balms

CONS

  • Hard and grainy
  • Some healing properties get lost through the refinement treatment
  • Added chemicals and pleasant smells increase the chance of allergies and/or irritation

IN DETAILDifferences Between Raw/Unrefined and Refined/Ultra-Refined Shea Butter

Let’s have a look in detail at all of the differences between the butters.

The Difference Between Raw and Unrefined Shea Butter is Small, but it is There

Raw Shea Butter

When we talk about raw shea butter we’re talking about the extracted product that has not been filtered in any way. Sometimes they filter it through a cloth but when we say ‘raw’ we mean before any filter, including the cloth.

This butter should be pasty and will be ‘unshaped’ (no particular shape to it). It might have impurities on it because it is an unfiltered butter. The colours will vary: ting of green, yellow, etc. This will depend on the maturity of the nuts themselves when harvested. Source.

Unrefined Shea Butter

Not the same as raw. Unrefined shea butter has been filtered in some way. The difference with raw shea butter is small, but it is there. There could be some filtering that still keeps the properties of the butter untouched. According to the source above, filtering can occur with a cheese cloth. Unlike raw butter that has no particular shape, unrefined shea butter can be poured into moulds so it might come in the shape of a bar or stick.

**The Basic Properties of Raw and Unrefined Shea Butter**

Raw/unrefined shea butter contains the most amount of bioactive phytochemicals. It has a particular ‘odour’; the antioxidant agents have been kept intact (which get removed through the refinement process).

The yellow colour of unrefined butter is due to the amount of Vitamin E it contains. So when the colour is removed, the benefits from the Vitamin are also removed.

Refined shea butter is often hard and grainy, not smooth and creamy like pure, unrefined shea butter. ~ Source

Here’s another source:

In its natural state, shea butter contains moisturizing fatty acids and is rich in vitamins A, E, and F. It also contains cinnamic acid which provides a small amount of UV protection (the equivalent of an SPF6). The combination of all of these factors make shea butter very useful for treating skin conditions ranging from dry skin to eczema to stretch marks. ~ Source

But, here’s the downside:

Raw and unrefined shea butter can be rather odorous. Its paste-like form also makes it difficult to use for applications like scalp treatments. Though the refined and ultra-refined shea butter will not have the same healing properties as the natural forms, many people will still want to opt for these refined shea butter products. ~ Source

Best Raw/Unrefined Shea ButterBetter Shea Butter

Unrefined, vegan, pure, cruelty-free shea butter, no chemicals or additives. To use on its own or as part of your home recipes. Slice off just what you need.

  • ​100% pure and unrefined
  • 1lb (16 oz)
  • From Ghana
  • Excellent value
  • Pleasant ivory colour
  • Earthy shea butter smell, not too strong
  • Downloadable eBook

CHECK ON AMAZON

Best Raw/Unrefined Shea ButterMary Tylor Naturals

100% pure organic unrefined (virgin) raw natural and organic ivory shea butter imported from Ghana. No added scents, preservatives or additives.

  • ​100% pure and unrefined
  • 1lb (16 oz)
  • Resealable zipper pouch
  • Excellent value
  • Pleasant ivory colour
  • Natural shea butter smell
  • Melts easily when rubbing against hand

CHECK ON AMAZON

Difference Between Refined and Ultra-Refined Shea Butter

Refined Shea Butter

In order to refine shea butter it would have to go under a process so the smell can be removed. ‘Pleasant’ smells can also be added to it, as well as preservatives. The colour it presents would be whiter (as opposed to raw/unrefined butter which is yellow).

Ultra-Refined Shea Butter

Ultra-refined shea butter has gone through at least two filtering systems. This seems to change its original composition. The colour would be very white and consistency can vary. The reasons the consistency has to change is because manufacturers would use it for different purposes, for example hair conditioner.

**Reasons why refined shea butter might be appealing**

Being colourless and odourless refined shea butter might be the perfect alternative to raw/unrefined shea butter. It is aesthetically more appealing.

Refined Shea ButterPerfect Body Harmony

Refined, stark white, unscented, certified organic shea butter, ready to use as a cream.

  • ​Refined and organic
  • 10.5 oz, in jar
  • Meets NOPs standards
  • Excellent value
  • Stark white color
  • Unscented, no grains
  • From Ghana

CHECK ON AMAZON

Refined Shea ButterPlant Therapy

This refined shea butter is the perfect butter to create your lotions and creams if you’re looking for a refined option instead of raw.

  • Perfect for DIY formulations (lotions, creams, balms, etc)
  • Solvent free
  • Refined mechanically with layers of cotton fabric for the filtering
  • No chemicals used in the refinement process
  • Broken pieces for easiness of use
  • Smooth with a natural scent

CHECK ON AMAZON

Finally, Let’s Not Forget About Whipped Shea Butter

The shea butter I chose below comes already whipped so you don’t have to go through the hassle of having to watch videos to learn to whip your shea butter (or you might already know but would like a workable solution that saves you time and mess).

Rise ‘n Shine uses pure, unrefined shea butter which then whips so it’s ready to use.

Best Whipped Shea ButterRise ‘n Shine

100% pure, natural, organic and unrefined whipped African shea butter cream. Perfect for those who don’t want to follow DIY videos on how to make your own creams, lotions, etc. It will have a more or less feel to it depending on weather conditions. 

  • 8 oz, easy to scoop
  • 100% all natural organic
  • Vanilla scent
  • Imported from Ghana
  • Natural Ivory color
  • Ready to use out of the jar
  • Already whipped so ready to use
  • Plastic container
  • Downloadable eBook

CHECK ON AMAZON

CONCLUSION

I must admit that after doing the research I’m finding it a little difficult to choose between the different options. I do like raw and natural (as raw and natural as possible) but also understand that I don’t always have time to mix it, whip it or prepare it for daily use because of lack of time or simply wanting an easy option (the already whipped shea butter would be the case here).

I will eventually buy all of the products to see which is the best option although I have a feeling that each has a place in my bathroom. Raw, unrefined butter for when I’m feeling ‘DIYish’. Refined butter so I can check the difference and see if the lack of scent and white finish gives me that nice sense of owning a ‘proper cream’ and, finally, the unrefined whipped shea butter which I would end up using every day.

The shea butter I recently bought has no information in it regarding being whipped, raw or refined but by the look of it (ivory), texture (grainy) and spread-like manner (whipped) I think I got a product that ‘does the job nicely’ but I’m excited about exploring all the different options further!

Next week I’ll be going to Bixton in London where I’m expecting to find all the different types of shea butter in most of the African shops. Exciting!​

What’s Your Verdict?

Let me know in the comments what you’d prefer and/or if you have a favorite option!

**Also please check out my shea butter on face before and after post.

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5 Comments

  1. “Thank you” just doesn’t seem enough to express my appreciation for your detailed research on Shea Butter. You answered all of the questions I had been pondering in my mind.

    THANK YOU!

    1. Really glad to have been of help! As per today, I started using shea butter as a hair mask/conditioner and have got it a nice amount of it on my hear as I type. I’m planning on doing this once a week (I melt it for a few seconds in the microwave to make it manageable and apply on my hear, leave for 1 hour and then shampoo and add conditioner (my own) as usual. I’ll be updating results on the blog. Shea butter is an amazing world and depending what you want it for you would need one or the other if that makes sense… For my DIY lip balm I have to use refined shea butter (I’m looking for texture but no smell, as my brother hates it), for hands, ankles, very dry areas I use pure shea butter (the yellow one as it’s oilier/creamier then the ivory one and so easier to rub against the skin). Whipped shea butter is lovely when you use it all over your body, particularly if your skin tends to be on the dry side. Etc… Ideally you’d want to find out where it comes from (the chain from source so you know that people are getting paid fairly, etc). Hope this helps, I know I’m still learning! Thanks again for your wonderful comment.

  2. Thanks for the info; I understand more clearly now the difference between butters, and can now purchase the correct one.

  3. I have Shea butter I produce locally and I need to help the local communities around north eastern Uganda and looking for a great market

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