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Refined v Unrefined Shea Butter | Which is Best?

Have you ever wondered “What is Refined Shea Butter?” and what the difference is between Refined and Unrefined? You have come to the right place! 

To answer this fully, I will first cover what these butters are and how they are made. 

What is Shea Butter? 

Shea Butter is extracted from the nuts of the Shea Tree (Vitellaria Paradoxa) in several countries in Africa . The Shea tree has been nicknamed “Tree of Life,” for its ability to help with numerous skin, hair, and health conditions. 

Once it is extracted there are different methods of preparing it for use. Depending on how this is prepared is what makes it either Refined or Unrefined Shea Butter.

Shea Butter is a cosmetic butter, commonly used as a  natural moisturizer that can be applied directly to hair and skin or used in the creation of DIY beauty products.  It contains many nutrients, fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins. This helps the skin rebuild and revitalize itself, improves the condition of the skin barrier, which aids in moisture retention over time and helps clear minor irritations.

refined shea butter

Why Use Shea Butter?

Shea butter or other raw cosmetic butters can be incorporated into a skin care routine by applying them directly onto the skin or hair as a moisturizer. They’re best used right after a shower or washing your face when your skin has absorbed water. They can however also be used on skin or hair when they are dry since they possess some level of humectant qualities. This means they will draw in some water from the air to aid in hydration.

Drugstore skin and hair care products with shea butter typically contain many more cosmetic ingredients as well as water and preservatives, which dilutes the effect of the nourishing butter in the formula. It also increases the potential for a skin reaction or sensitivity. When you use straight shea butter you are getting the concentrated benefits of the butter itself.

What Does Unrefined Shea Butter Mean?

“Unrefined”  means not modified from its natural state by refinement, mechanical or chemical means. After the extraction process of the butter from the shea nuts, unrefined shea butter is then sold immediately as a raw product. You can read more about this process here.

Shea butter possesses a natural scent like many tree nuts, very similar to the smell of almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts, along with a characteristic smoky note. You can often notice distinct plant-based natural scent notes with different batches of shea butter, similar to wine varieties, but always with an underlying nuttiness and smokiness. This naturally occurring scent can vary from faint to more robust in any given batch of butter. 

The natural color can range from an off-white, buttery yellow to a deeper grayish or green tint. Even with the freshest raw butters, you will still see a range of scent and color variations. These will always naturally occur due to fluctuating levels of nutrients and plant components contained within the shea nut. This is as a result of harvesting nuts from differing locations of shea trees as well as the time of year of the harvest.  

unrefined shea butter

How is Shea Butter Refined?

Refined shea is treated from its unrefined state to remove the natural color and scent. There are different methods of refining shea butter that are important to know when choosing to use this product.

The first method used results in a lower quality product. This method uses solvents or bleaches which can leave chemical residues in the final product and strips a large majority of the nutrient value of the butter itself. This can also be irritating or damaging to the skin or hair.

When choosing a butter for personal care or making products for a business, the quality of the product is of the utmost importance because it is being used to enhance the health of skin and hair. 

The other method used preserves most of the raw butter’s nutrient value. In this process, the shea butter is washed of any residue or debris from its rough state. It is then bleached without chemicals to remove the natural color from the butter. From there it is mechanically filtered and deodorized to remove any particles and the naturally occurring shea butter scent. 

This gentle process to refine shea butter leaves the fatty acids and lipids from the natural nuts undisturbed in the finished product. It performs very similarly to an unrefined shea butter, and for some applications, such as creating specifically scented or tinted products, or for those who prefer unscented products, refined shea butter may be the better option.

refined v unrefined shea butter

Is Refined Shea Butter Better Than Unrefined?

The short answer is, it depends on what you want to use it for. 

If you are looking for maximum nutrient value and do not have a preference on the smell or color of the butter then unrefined shea butter is the best choice. 

On the other hand, a high quality refined shea butter still contains a lot of the nutrients and vitamins and as explained above when you buy refined shea butter you get the consistent color and an unscented product.

Those who would like to make or offer products with raw butters may want a consistent smell, color, and texture. This is when refined shea butter might be a better choice to use. 

Where to Buy High Quality Refined Shea Butter 

Better Shea Butter has a very high quality refined shea butter that can be obtained in several sizes here. This shea butter has been refined mechanically with a solvent and chemical-free process. It is also sourced and obtained fairly from a women’s coop in Ghana, Africa.

This refined shea butter still contains a lot of the fatty acids and lipids from the natural nuts in the finished product. It performs very similarly to an unrefined shea butter, and for some applications, such as creating specifically scented or tinted products, soap making or for those who prefer unscented products, it can be a better option than unrefined.

How to Use Refined Shea Butter

While the natural scent of shea butter blends well with robust essential oils such as lavender and rosemary, what if you would like to make a product with a subtle essential oil? The scent of unrefined shea butter would most likely overpower it.

Or, for example, what if you would like to make pastel-tinted body butters as wedding favors? The pigment may lose some of its vibrancy when combined with unrefined shea butter. Refined white shea butter is a great solution.

Here are some examples of products for which refined shea butter would be beneficial:

  • Completely unscented and fragrance-free products for those sensitive to scents, such as body butter or balm
  • Brightly colored body butters, balms, and soaps
  • Lip balms
  • Cosmetics

If you’d like to download our free DIY skin care eBook for ideas on how to use butters to make homemade beauty products, this can be found here. Refined shea butter and unrefined shea butter can be used interchangeably in any recipe.

We hope you have learned more about refined shea butter and how it can be used. It’s another beneficial tool in a collection of natural raw ingredients (cosmetic butters, waxes, oils, botanicals, and powders) that you can use to create a perfect customized product. 

As always, please comment below with any questions or feedback you may have. 

Author: Natalie, Natural DIY Enthusiast