Exactly How Is Shea Butter Made? [Full Details]

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If you are interested in skincare or beauty products, you have probably come across shea butter before. This product is brilliant for skin, hair and other uses and is an all natural way to care for your body.

Mostly produced in West Africa from the seeds of shea trees, shea butter is a cream-like consistency which melts on the skin, perfect for clearing up dry skin and smoothing and soothing your skin.

But how is shea butter made? What is shea butter made from? What are shea butter uses and benefits?

Below, I describe exactly how to make shea butter and answer all your questions about this natural skincare and beauty ingredient.

Exactly How Is Shea Butter Made

What Is Shea Butter?

So what exactly is shea butter? It’s fat extracted from the shea seeds that is processed in such a way that you get a cream/butter like substance that is great for skincare.

Shea butter and nuts

Refined Vs Unrefined Shea Butter

There are two types of shea butter – refined shea butter and raw or unrefined shea butter.

The type of the shea butter is determined by how the shea butter is extracted and processed.

How to refine shea butter? Refined shea butter is produced when the shea butter is created using high-heat and chemical solvents. This is the cheapest and easiest way to produce shea butter, but it has some big drawbacks.

The heat and chemicals strip most of the nutrients from the shea butter meaning it loses most of its benefits for the skin.

Refined shea butter is white and odorless.

Whereas unrefined shea butter is processed without high heat and chemicals and produces a shea butter that retains most of its nutrients which makes it highly beneficial for skin. It’s an off-white or ivory color and has a light nutty and smoky scent.

This is the type of shea butter that you should use for skin and beauty. Click here to buy it now.

Read more about the differences between refined and unrefined (or raw) shea butter here.

What Is Shea Butter Made From?

As mentioned above, shea butter is basically fat extracted from the seeds of shea trees. These seeds are found inside the fruit on the shea tree.

shea tree and fruit
Fruit on a shea tree

So what is shea butter made of? It is simply this fat from the shea seeds with water added during the process (and then removed again).

This assumes you are talking about unrefined shea butter. Refined shea butter processes may include chemicals as well.

How Is Shea Butter Made?

To make unrefined shea butter, the first step is to collect shea fruit from the shea tree. Once you have these, the seeds are found within shells in the inside of the fruit. Remove the shells and dry out the seeds.

Once they are dried, the shea butter seeds are ground into powder before being roasted. The roasted seeds and then ground again to form a dark, viscous solution.

This solution is kneaded while adding water before being whipped while still adding water. This forces all the oils to coagulate on the surface where they can be easily removed.

These oils are then boiled to remove any remaining water. This process also brings any impurities to the surface which can be removed.

Shea butter is what remains. The final step in how shea butter is made is to strain and leave the shea butter to cool which solidifies it into the thick, cream-like consistency we expect from shea butter.

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The following video shows exactly what is shea butter made out of and how to make it following the process above.

Shea Butter Benefits

Shea butter has some fabulous benefits thanks to the many nutrients and fatty acid contained in it. Historically, shea trees were known for having anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties and for helping with problems such as ulcers and congestion. Today, shea butter is mostly used for skin care.

The main ingredients in shea butter include linoleic, oleic and stearic acid. These quickly absorb into skin and are known to help with dry skin, rashes and peeling among other skin issues.

Shea butter also contains vitamins E and D and fats which help with skin regeneration and anti-aging. Add in its anti-inflammatory properties and the fact that it keeps skin protected and increases hydration, and this is something you definitely want to be adding to your skincare routine.

Shea butter can also help with wounds.

Shea butter is perfect for anyone who loves all-natural products for skin and beauty with tons of benefits.

What Is Shea Butter Used For?

DIY face moisturizer shea butter

There are many answers to how to use shea butter from simply rubbing it straight onto your skin to mixing it with other ingredients or even using it for cooking.

The best answer to how to use raw shea butter is in skin and beauty care. Its nutrients and fatty acids will help your skin feel and look better than ever before. It’s great for moisturizing and smoothing out skin.

It’s also good for soothing skin and has been used for centuries to help treat burns and skin problems.

Some people also use it to treat acne although the jury is still out on whether shea butter is comedogenic or not (cogs pores). If you have oily skin, I suggest you start by using shea butter on just a patch and see what happens.

You can get all the benefits of shea butter simply by rubbing it on your skin. However, I personally prefer to mix it with other ingredients to get even more benefits before rubbing it on my skin. You can read my favorite body lotion recipe here or face cream here.

In Africa, shea butter is also used as a cooking oil.

DIY Shea Butter

DIY lotion shea butter
My shea butter body butter. So good!

The best way to make your own shea butter for your skin is to make body butter.

This is quick and easy to make and only takes one more ingredient to make it happen.

I prefer to mix shea butter with safflower oil to make my body butter. This is because safflower oil is nice and light, it doesn’t clog pores, it absorbs quickly and is beneficial for your skin.

To make the body butter, you simply have one part shea butter to one part safflower oil (or you can substitute it for another oil). You then whip it and presto! Great lotion for your skin.

You can read my full body butter recipe here including what you can do to remove some of the natural greasiness of working with shea butter and oils.

How To Whip Shea Butter

Whipping the oil and shea butter
Whipping oil and shea butter

However you whip your shea butter, I recommend cutting it into chunks first if it’s not already naturally broken up to help whip it much more easily.

If you want to know how to whip shea butter by hand, you can use a whisk but this is going to be a lot harder work. I recommend if you are doing this to soften it first with a quick jolt in the microwave.

I find the easiest answer to how do you whip shea butter is to use an electric mixer. I use a hand mixer and it whips quickly and easily.

I recommend you don’t use a stick mixer. Mine quickly becomes overwhelmed with a whole lot of shea butter unless it is quite soft first.

You could also use a blender.

However you whip it, you want to whip until it is fully combined and a light, cream-like consistency. Don’t whip past this point. You can also rub some on your skin to check you like the consistency.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Does Shea Butter Come From?

Shea trees are native to West Africa and the vast majority of shea butter comes from this region of the world.

Is Shea Butter Edible?

Yes, shea butter is edible, although it can depend on how it is processed. Unrefined shea butter can still have the occasional impurity and you may want to strain it with cheesecloth or a similar item before using it in cooking.

When it comes to refined shea butter, it depends on how it was refined how safe it is for consumption and any chemicals used.

In Africa, shea butter is used as a cooking oil. Some chocolate manufacturers use it instead of cocoa butter, but it does give a different taste to chocolate.

In Africa, it is sometimes still used for health. For example, it might be added to tea to treat a cough.

shea butter
Shea butter

Is Shea Butter Made From Nuts?

Shea butter is made from the kernel inside the shea tree seed.

Does Shea Butter Smell?

Refined shea butter does not smell so some people like to use it in their skincare products for this reason. However, this is a shame as it means you aren’t getting all the nutrients available in unrefined shea butter.

Unrefined shea butter has a nutty and smoky smell. It’s not that strong and it’s pleasant. I can find it annoying when I want a specific smell with essential oils in my lotions though as this can be tricky to achieve.

How To Melt Shea Butter

Shea butter is easy to melt. I either use a double boiler or a microwave.

Melting the shea butter
Melting shea butter

You can simply set up your double boiler and add shea butter to melt it quickly and easily. This is ideal when you need to melt other ingredients as well.

If you want to know how to melt shea butter in microwave, simply place it in the microwave and check it every 30 seconds until it is melted.

How Long Does Shea Butter Last?

How long shea butter lasts depends on what type of shea butter it is, how it is stored and how it is treated as it is transported from where it was manufactured to you.

Generally, unrefined shea butter has a shelf life of around 24 months from the time it is manufactured. Refined shea butter can last a lot longer.

No two batches of unrefined shea butter are quite the same so the shelf life can vary.

The following table gives you an approximate timeline for how long shea butter lasts

Type of Shea ButterShelf Life
Unrefined2 years
Refined3+ years

If you want to know if shea butter has gone bad, read my full guide here. You can find my full guide to how to best store shea butter here.

Is Shea Butter Good?

For all the reasons above, shea butter is a great product that I recommend you consider using on your skin.

When using something new, I recommend a small patch test first. This means applying a small amount of shea butter to a small patch of your skin first and make sure you don’t have any reaction (unlikely) before using it everywhere.

Conclusion

I hope you have found this full guide to how shea butter is made useful. Shea butter is an awesome ingredient and I use it on my skin every day.

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Find more useful guides to using shea butter here. You can find my recipes for using shea butter on skin here specifically for stretch marks here and on feet here. Also check out all the best shea butter for face here. Interested in shea oil? Read our guide to the differences between shea butter and shea oil here and whether shea butter is edible or not here.

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By Cara Davis

Cara Davis is a food lover and health fanatic who likes to make life as stress free as possible - thus why she loves to eat quick and healthy!