Refined Vs Unrefined Shea Butter: Differences And Similarities

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Shea butter is a great ingredient if you love natural skin care and beauty products. I always like to keep some shea butter in my pantry for when I need to whip up some new skin care lotions.

When it comes to buying shea butter, it can be a little confusing. What is unrefined raw shea butter? Organic refined shea butter? Are they the same thing? What is the difference between unrefined and refined shea butter? Does it matter which you use? Should you buy refined or unrefined shea butter?

It can be confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s actually quite straightforward whether you should buy shea butter refined or unrefined.

Below, I’ll walk you through exactly what is refined and unrefined shea butter and answer what is the difference between refined and unrefined shea butter before doing a refined vs unrefined shea butter comparison.

Let’s start!

What Is Shea Butter?

To understand what refined and unrefined shea butter is, you need to know what shea butter is.

The short answer is that it’s fat extracted from the seeds of shea fruit grown on shea trees native to West Africa.

It’s how this shea butter is extracted and made that determines if it is refined or pure unrefined shea butter.

The first steps are the same whether you are making refined or unrefined (raw) shea butter.

The seeds are removed from their shells inside the shea fruit. These are dried. Then they are either taken to factories to produce shea butter or this is done by hand.

Fresh Shea Butter
Shea Butter

Read more about how shea butter is made here.

What Is Refined Shea Butter?

Refined shea butter takes these seeds and turns them into pure refined shea butter by using a process with high heat. Sometimes, chemicals are added too like hexane as well as natural solvents.

This is a quicker, easier and cheaper way to make shea butter so it is quite common.

What Color Is Ultra Refined Shea Butter?

Naturally refined shea butter has the color removed so it is a white color. The odor is also removed.

Refined Shea Butter Benefits

The main benefits of using refined shea butter are that it has a longer shelf life than virgin unrefined shea butter. It can last over a year longer. It also can be handy to work with a product that doesn’t have a color or an odor.

However, the majority of the healing benefits that are found in unrefined shea butter, including most the reasons why it is great for your skin, are gone in refined shea butter. Many of the naturally occurring nutrients in unrefined shea butter like vitamins A and E are lost.

It has a creamier consistency and can still be used as a moisturizer but it just won’t give you the same healing and regeneration benefits.

Is Refined Shea Butter Bad?

No, refined shea butter is not bad. There is nothing wrong with it. The problem with refined shea butter (and why I avoid it) is simply because it just does not have all the nutrients and benefits of unrefined shea butter. If you are using shea butter for skin care, I highly recommend you buy organic raw unrefined shea butter instead for maximum benefit.

Someone said to me the reason why I use refined shea butter is because it’s cheaper and they find it a little easier to work with and prefer the no scent and no color.

Shea butter in bowl
Shea butter

What Is Raw Unrefined Shea Butter?

First of all, unrefined shea butter can be referred to as raw shea butter or virgin shea butter. This is the same thing. It can be made by hand but some factories also use processes which produce unrefined shea butter too. They follow a similar process, just with mechanical processes to make it a little easier.

To make raw shea butter by hand, the dried seeds are ground into powder and then roasted. Once roasted, the powder is ground again into a dark viscous substance.

This substance is then hand-kneaded while adding water. It is then whipped until the oils coagulate on top and the water is on the bottom.

The coagulated oil is removed and boiled. During this process, any impurities rise to the top. They are then removed. Shea butter remains which is strained and left to solidify.

Unrefined Shea Butter Benefits

Benefits of unrefined shea butter are all about the many nutrients and fatty acids it contains. Historically, shea trees were known for their pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties, helping with things like congestion and ulcers. Today, the raw unrefined shea butter benefits are mostly about skin care.

Its main ingredients are linoleic, oleic and stearic acid which are quickly absorbed into skin and known to help with rashes, peeling and other skin issues. It also has vitamins E and D and many fats and acids which can help with anti-aging and regeneration of skin. There is a lot to love about unrefined shea butter for skin.

In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, it also helps skin keep protected and increases moisture, can help acne and heal wounds.

If you like all natural products for beauty, you definitely should use some unrefined shea butter on face and skin.

What Color Is Unrefined Shea Butter?

If you are wondering what color should unrefined shea butter be, natural unrefined shea butter is an off-white/ivory color. The unrefined shea butter smell is smoky/nutty.

Uses For Unrefined Shea Butter

Unrefined shea butter uses include skin care and beauty care. It is a popular ingredient in beauty products thanks to its many nutrients and fatty acids. Its cream-like consistency also helps. It’s great for soothing, moisturizing and smoothing out skin.

It’s been used for centuries for its moisturizing properties as well as treating acne, helping burns and more.

When it comes to how to use unrefined shea butter, you can rub it straight into your skin. I prefer to mix it with other products like coconut oil and beeswax to make lotion. It works very well on my skin this way. You can find my recipe for a great shea butter foot balm here.

In Africa, shea butter is also used as fat in cooking.

Where To Find Unrefined Shea Butter

The easiest answer to where to get unrefined shea butter is on Amazon. You can find one of the best raw unrefined shea butter options here.

Shea butter in an airtight container
Shea butter in an airtight container

What Is Certified Organic Unrefined Shea Butter?

Raw unrefined organic shea butter is made in the same way as above. There are just some specifics that have to be met to be certified as unrefined organic shea butter.

Basically, the shea trees must be farmed organically. So no use of pesticides or other chemicals. The shea butter also has to be made without any use of chemicals. The drying processes also have to take place in certain ways – like on cement surfaces or tarps to prevent contamination.

While it’s not necessary to buy raw organic unrefined shea butter to have a great raw shea butter, it is a way to ensure that you are getting the best unrefined shea butter.

Click here to buy the best organic unrefined shea butter now.

Refined Vs Unrefined Shea Butter

So when it comes to which is better refined or unrefined shea butter, there is a clear winner – unrefined or raw shea butter.

This style of making shea butter leads to a far superior product with more nutrients and everything that makes shea butter great.

Difference Between Refined And Unrefined Shea Butter

The biggest noticeable differences when comparing raw vs refined shea butter is that refined shea butter is white and doesn’t have a scent whereas unrefined has a scent and a creamy/ivory color.

Refined shea butter can last over three years whereas raw and unrefined shea butter generally lasts around two years. Read more about how long shea butter lasts here.

There’s also some sun protection offered by unrefined shea butter.

But the biggest difference in the refined shea butter vs unrefined debate is that there are far less nutrients, fatty acids and more goodies in refined shea butter. This means refined shea butter just does not have the same benefits for your skin.

Shea Butter For Feet

Which Should You Buy?

It’s personal preference which type you prefer, but I think you’d really have to hate the color and smell of unrefined shea butter or want your shea butter to last years before you’d want to buy refined shea butter.

Unfortunately, many store bought skin creams do use refined shea butter. But when making your own, why not use unrefined shea butter for many more benefits.

Click here to buy unrefined shea butter now.

Conclusion

I hope you have found this guide to shea butter refined vs unrefined useful and now understand exactly what each type is and what it is useful for.

I recommend you buy unrefined shea butter for maximum benefits. Refined shea butter is white and has no odor. It also lasts longer than unrefined shea butter. Unrefined shea butter contains many more nutrients, however, and is much better for you.

Find more useful guides to using shea butter here and an in depth guide to how to store shea butter here. Want to know whether shea butter or mango is best? Read our full comparison 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!