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Before we get started looking at the components let me just mention I’ve written extensively about Shea butter. Here are my other Shea butter related pages:

Ok, let’s get started.

The main components of Shea butter are fatty acids (Oleic Acid, Stearic Acid, Palmitic Acid, Linoleic Acid, Cinnamic Acid Esters), Allantoin, Polyphenols and Vitamins (A,C,D,E,F and K).

Unrefined Raw Shea Butter - 2 lb - Ivory - Ghana Africa- by Caribbean Coastal Delights

Unsaponifiable Fraction / Nonsaponifiable Lipid (NSL)

  • Shea butter has unusually high level (5–15%) of nonsaponifiable lipid (NSL) constituents in the fat, which is a potentially rich source of vitamin E (a natural antioxidant).
  • About two-thirds of the vitamin E found in shea butter occurs in the form of Alpha-tocopherol, a component that has the highest antioxidant activity among the tocopherols in most of the cases; followed by δ (15%), γ (14%), and β (7%) tocopherols
  • Shea butter NSL also contains relatively high total levels (up to 6%) of phytosterols (generally regarded as cholesterol reducing nutritional factors): campesterol, stigmasterol, α-sitosterol, and α-spinosterol, triterpenes alcohols in the form of 4,4′-dimethylsterols: cinnamic acid esters (oryzanols), α-amyrin, beta-amyrin, parkeol, butyrospermol, and lupeol; hydrocarbons such as karitene and phenolic compounds (Peers, 1977; Itoh et al., 1980; Crews et al., 1997; Di Vincenzo et al., 2005; Krist et al., 2006).


The phenolic profile is similar to that of green tea, and the total phenolic content of Shea butter is comparable to virgin olive oil .

  • The phenolic profile of shea butter is composed of catechin family compounds similar to those found in green tea, which has gained wide attention recently as an antioxidant-rich health beverage (Maranz et al., 2003). Furthermore, they note that the catechin content alone of shea kernels is higher than the total phenolic content of ripe olives. This study also found that the overall concentration and relative percentages of different phenolic content in Shea kernels varied from region to region. The authors hypothesized that the overall concentration of phenols in Shea kernels is linked to the level of environmental stress that the trees endure.

Phenolic compounds are known to have antioxidant A recent study characterized and quantified the most important phenolic compounds in shea butter. This study identified 10 phenolic compounds, eight of which are catechins, a family of compounds being studied for their antioxidant properties as we’ve seen above.

  • The most prominent component in shea kernels was gallic acid (27% of the mean total content of the nine catechin family compounds cited here) followed by: Gallocatechin (23%), epigallocatechin (16%), epigallocatechin gallate (13%), gallocatechin gallate (7%), and catechin, epicatechin, and epicatechin gallate (3% each). Quercetin was present only in trace amounts, averaging 0.1% of the total phenolic compounds (Maranz & Wiesman, 2004). However, the authors revealed that considerable loss (90-98%) of these components occurs, after the extraction of the butter.

Fatty Acids

Nuts are gathered from a wide area for local production, so shea butter consistency is determined by the average fatty acid profile of the population. Within West Africa, Shea butter from the Mossi Plateau region of Burkina Faso has a higher average stearic acid content, and so is usually harder than shea butter from other West African regions.

  • About 85 to 90% of the fatty acid composition is stearic and oleic acids.
  • The relative proportion of these two fatty acids affects shea butter consistency.
  • The stearic acid gives it a solid consistency
  • The oleic acid influences how soft or hard the shea butter is, depending on ambient temperature.
  • The proportions of stearic and oleic acids in the shea kernels and butter differ across the distribution range of the species. Ugandan shea butter has consistently high oleic acid content, and is liquid at warm ambient temperatures. It fractionizes into liquid and solid phases, and is the source of liquid shea oil. The fatty acid proportion of West African shea butter is much more variable than Ugandan Shea butter, with an oleic content of 37 to 55%. Variability can be high even locally, and a tree that produces hard butter can grow with one that produces soft butter.

Oleic Acid (40–60%)

  • Moisturizes, hydrates, heals & repairs
  • Perfect for dry and/or aging skin
  • Antiviral, antifungal properties
  • Penetrates deeply into the skin
  • Locks in moisture
  • Prevents skin from developing fine lines and wrinkles
  • Has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Wound healing

Stearic Acid (20–50%)

  • Found naturally on the top layer of our skin
  • Has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Promotes wound healing

Linoleic Acid (3–11%)

  • Natural component of the skin’s sebum
  • Strengthens protective barrier on skin’s top layer
  • Prevents water loss
  • Very effective moisturizer
  • Good for oily skin (unblocks pores)
  • Reduces acne breakouts
  • Promotes healthy cell activity
  • Anti-inflammatory

Palmitic Acid (2–9%)

  • Found naturally on the epidermis (top layer)
  • Helps maintain moisture
  • Very effective emollient

Cinnamic Acid Esters (1 – 7%)

  • Antioxidant
  • Antimicrobial
  • Skin lightening
  • Can stimulate collagen production

Linolenic Acid (Vitamin F) (<1%)

  • Helps regulate inflammation
  • Ideal for treating eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, rashes and other skin conditions

Arachidic acid (<1%)

  • Emollient
  • Promotes skin wound healing


  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Soothes/calms irritated skin
  • Wounds and scar healing
  • Increases cell regeneration
  • Hydrates


Vitamin A

  • Good for maintaining balanced, healthy, even-toned skin
  • Helps with skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis
  • Encourages healthy cell turnover
  • Prevents old skin cells from clogging pores

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)

  • Helps creation of collagen
  • Reduces appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Antioxidant
  • Evens skin tone
  • Lightens skin

Vitamin D

  • Supports skin barrier
  • Helps wound healing

Vitamin E

  • Wonderful antioxidant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Reduces dark spots
  • Reduces scarring
  • Strengthens barrier function

Vitamin K

  • Helps skin heal quickly
  • Reduces irritation and inflammation
  • Fades stretch marks
  • Minimizes scars
  • Reduces appearance of spider veins

My Recommendation

Unrefined African Shea Butter - Ivory, 100% Pure & Raw - Moisturizing and Rich Body Butter for Dry Skin - Suitable for All Skin Types - Use Alone or in DIY Whipped Body Butters - 16 oz (1 LB) Bar