Difference Between Yellow Shea Butter and Ivory Shea Butter: I Had to Find Out Myself

Patri HernandezEditor of ohmightyhealth.com

At the market where I bought both yellow shea butter and ivory shea butter (see post here) nobody really seemed to be able to tell me what the difference was. These are people who use shea butter day in, day out! I realised there’s much confusion around the origins/differences between the two colours so had to find out myself. Here are my findings. 

If you do a search for the difference between white or ivory shea butter and yellow shea butter you’ll get different answers on different websites.

It gets worse: if you ask people who regularly use the butter and even import it from Africa, they will also tell you different things.

I got told they were EXACTLY the same and that there was no difference between the two by the person who sold me the two blocks of shea butter (yellow and ivory). I got told the same by someone else working at the shop.

I got told by another shop in Brixton (the entire shop geared towards selling African products) that the yellow butter was yellow because they add ​the Karite tree flower to it.

I finally have seen online a few different things; for example that some people add palm oil to the butter and that’s what makes it yellow.

So, who is telling the truth? Who actually KNOWS the truth? It’ll be interesting for me to see how they make the yellow shea butter yellow when travelling to Africa in 2020, but I think I can shed some light on this confusing dilema.​

**Also make sure to check out my shea butter on face before and after post.

Difference Between Yellow and Ivory Shea Butter: Photos 

The first thing I thought of doing was to show you photos of the 2 different butters. Then I would show you videos I find genuine regarding how the yellow colour is achieved and finally how I experienced the difference between the 2 butters, at least touch, scent and general feeling.

The idea here is to be able to ‘SEE’ the difference in the photos. Below I’ll be talking about the difference in terms of the experience of each butter (so relying on how they felt on my skin, etc). Here’s just so you can see it on the photos, which always helps.

It has been difficult to find the truth behind the two colours. I’ll try to shed some light on this below by using photos, videos and a chart.

Yellow Shea Butter Look, Feel, Texture, Colour, Scent 

I was so excited when I found the boxes filled with raw, pure, unrefined shea butter! At first they were all tubbed, but eventually I stumbled upon a shop in the market that sold the butter inside plastic bags.

Other stalls also had smaller amounts of ivory shea butter (around 100gr per bag) but I stuck with this particular shop (called Kumasi) for no particular reason, they just had so much of it I simply liked it.

So, below is the block I bought. A beautiful solid 500gr block of unrefined, 100% pure shea butter.

Texture: as you can see below, the yellow shea butter is very creamy! This is a problem if you have to move the block around, as it will stick to your fingers every time. Also difficult to scoop if there are no metal or glass edges to ‘scoop it from’ if that makes sense (using the edge to rub and slide your finger). Having a solid block means as you rub the block can move around, etc.

A close up of the texture below. It is quite greasy – I wish I had a good camera lense but at least you get the idea (photo taken with the iPhone 6).

No doubt that yellow shea butter is a lot creamier and greasier than ivory shea butter.

Ivory Shea Butter Look, Feel, Texture, Colour, Scent

And below, the ivory, pure, unrefined shea butter. A lot more ‘solid’ as you can see. The pearly ivory tone is quite beautiful.

Again, easy to see how this shea butter has a more solid consistency than the yellow shea butter. It also takes time for it to melt (so it becomes easy to put on your lips, for example). You need to rub against your skin to heat it up for a while.

Comparison Between Yellow Shea Butter and Ivory Shea Butter Photos

Easy to see in the picture below: the yellow shea butter is a lot easier to spread than the ivory shea butter, which can be a lot lumpier.

Also the yellow shea butter melts on the skin a lot quicker…

Yellow shea butter is easier to spread on the skin. It also melts faster.

Videos on the Difference Between Yellow Shea Butter and Ivory Shea Butter

After watching a few videos I thought the ones below clarified the difference between the colours further (what makes the yellow shea butter yellow).

So, what makes the yellow shea butter ‘yellow’?

I love the video below. The girl has gone the extra length to make this a beautiful, packed with info video. According to her, IF the shea butter is the real thing, the yellow tint occurs when the bark of the borututu tree has been added to it during the milling process. **The videos says ‘root’ but I’ve seen in other places it is actually the bark, which has a rich orange colour to it.

I suggest you watch the entire video, as it is illuminating as well as very well explained. She also goes through the difference between West African shea butter and East African shea butter as well as explaining what other factors are the cause of the yellow shea butter (which could also be confused with the Kpangnan butter).

If you’d like to know more about the bark of the borututu tree this article expands on its beneficial compounds and detoxifying effects

Differences at a Glance

Find below an easy to compare table chart of the differences according to the photos, videos, experience on skin and research.

YELLOW SHEA BUTTER

  • Easy spread
  • Smooth texture
  • Sticks to a surface due to the greasy texture
  • Greasier when scooping
  • Smooth and creamy
  • Feels more like butter
  • Stays on the skin longer, greasier so it doesn’t get absorbed fast.
  • Stronger, more odorous smell
  • Probably good for making balms as it spreads beautifully

IVORY SHEA BUTTER

  • ​Lumpy 
  • Pastier texture
  • Block moves about when trying to grab some butter due to its more solid nature
  • Harder to scoop out
  • It has a crumblier texture, not so buttery
  • Skin absorbs it faster than the yellow butter
  • Waxier smell, not as strong as the yellow butter
  • Probably better for lotions due to its colour

Final Thoughts

There you have it. I hope the photos help, I’m not sure about the benefits in terms of long term use of each butter but at least you can start thinking about the different uses you can give each one according to texture and scent.

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10 Comments

  1. I recently purchased yellow shea butter for the first time and I use it and making homemade hair products. I have found that yellow shea butter is more hydrophobic then Ivory shea butter. What I mean is that when I combined it with hot water, aloe gel, and coconut oil like I usually do with ivory shea butter, instead of forming the usual solid cream, it just separates from the water and floats at the top. I guess this may mean it has a higher fat content than the ivory Shea butter I use, but that means it’s no good for my hair detangling cream recipe. 🙁

    1. Hi Britt, this is very interesting indeed. Mostly, because TODAY I was going to thicken a body exfoliator with shea butter and I was going to use the yellow one. I can see there’s a difference between the two of them (not just colour but also texture, oiliness and even smell), but I haven’t been able to read the exact differences anywhere. And, yes, yellow shea butter feels oilier for sure. Maybe just use it for body balms (is it cold in the winter where you live?). Here’s a recipe I made that is great for the winter period (elbows, heels, dry patches, that sort of thing, even feet): 1/2 yellow shea butter, 1/2 sweet almond carrier oil and add around 0.05% Vitamin E if you have it to stop rancidity over time. Just combine together and put in a container. It’ll last you a few months. I’ve been thinking what products to make with my yellow shea butter and I think I’ll stick to these sort of formulas which can be quite fantastic for the winter time. Thanks for your comment, very helpful.

  2. One is Kanga and the other is Shea Butter from 2 different trees one from highland and the other from the lowland 2 different parts of Africa kanga has many names African butter and African gold butter not the same

    1. Hi Mellody, thanks for your comment. I can see that different trees produce different end colour but also there’s the Borututu tree roots which is used to add properties to the Shea butter and it turns it yellow (sometimes also palm oil is used). My yellow Shea butter was oily so I’m wondering if it did have palm oil… it definitely didn’t come with an ingredients list!

  3. Hi, some yellow shea butters get their colour from red palm oil being mixed into it. So depending on where the colour came from that could explain the oiliness.

    1. Yes Inot, you’re totally right. I was doing further research this week and besides the root of the Borututu tree (which makes it yellow) some people add the palm oil which will turn it yellow and ‘oilier’. So something to watch out for. Thanks for your comment!

  4. I prefer the yellow shea butter. Thank you Patri for throwing more light on both ivory and yellow color

    1. Hi Patricia – that’s great to hear. Everyone seems to favour ivory Shea butter but I also love yellow Shea butter! I’m actually writing an entry on ivory Shea butter today, I’ll post soon. Thanks for your comment, much appreciated 🙂

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