Just because a product says it contains shea butter doesn’t mean it’s pure shea. And even more, that doesn’t mean it’s raw shea butter – confusing, right?
Things can get pretty unclear when it comes to understanding unrefined and refined shea butter: which is the better choice?
What are the unique benefits of shea butter, anyway?
Have you been thinking about buying new lotions or creams just because they say “shea butter” on the label? Read this post first!
Maybe you’ve heard that that shea butter offers natural UV protection and anti-aging properties.
But, if you want to get the most benefits from this butter, you have to choose the right type.
I know it sounds confusing, that’s why this article looks at the difference between refined vs. unrefined shea butter to help you understand it better and make the right choice.
What Is Shea Butter?
Shea butter is derived from the shea nut, taken from the shea tree which grows in West Africa.
It has been used for centuries as a natural skin treatment, moisturizer and hair care solution1.
Recently, it has become more popular and is appearing in everything, from handmade soap, over the counter skincare products to high-end beauty products.
Unrefined Vs. Refined Shea Butter – Are These 2 Types The Same?
There are two main types of pure shea butter: refined and unrefined. Unrefined shea butter is also called raw shea butter because it has not been heavily processed. It has a specific scent.
Refined shea butter has a smooth texture and is preferred for skincare products on the mainstream market. However, there’s a good argument for choosing unrefined shea butter, despite the natural odor.
Unrefined Shea Butter
Unrefined shea butter usually means that it is minimally processed using traditional, West African methods that have been passed down for generations.
Shea nuts will be cracked open (often boiled first, to make them softer), the kernels removed and roasted. Then they will be ground into a powder and boiled to a high temperature.
This allows the shea nut oil to separate and create a thick, oily mass that cools as “butter” and can be removed.
It may be strained through a mesh or sieve once or twice to remove large particles or impurities, but otherwise, it remains in the raw state, which is slightly yellow in color.
Can I Use Unrefined Shea Butter On My Skin?
Yes! Unrefined shea butter for skin is one of the oldest uses of this natural butter.
Benefits Of Raw Shea Butter
Unrefined raw shea butter is amazing for soothing irritated skin, an excellent moisturizer and more!
Here are some of the beneficial properties of incredible, natural shea butter that hasn’t been refined:
It naturally contains Vitamin E, Vitamin A and Vitamin F for skin health.
- Healing benefits
Raw shea butter has been noted for its healing powers to help individuals with issues such as severe dry skin types, eczema and psoriasis.
- Fatty acids
Omega 6 and 9 fatty acids aid in collagen production for cell regeneration and are wonderful for preventing premature aging, making it a better at combating wrinkles.
It may also help with stretch marks visibility, although it probably won’t remove them completely.
It also contains oleic acid, which is a key ingredient in most moisturizers.
Refined Shea Butter
Refined shea means that after the initial butter-making method, the product has been processed again.
This can be done by multiple heating methods to reach a high temperature and remove impurities, or even with chemicals or bleaching.
The end result will be a very smooth texture, odorless and colorless which you can use on your skin and hair.
It has a longer self-life than unrefined shea and it usually comes at a cheaper price, too.
Can I Use Refined Shea Butter On My Skin?
Yes, you can. Make sure it contains no additives or added oils before applying it as a hair care option, or to heal cracked skin on your body.
Benefits Of Refined Shea Butter
The refining process removes some of the amounts of beneficial properties of shea, but thankfully, it doesn’t deplete them completely.
You’re still going to get moisturizing power, natural vitamins and the skin-protecting agents in both types of shea butter.
Just keep in mind that refined butter may be less effective or may also include some additives (which are potential irritants).
What Is The Difference Between Raw Shea Butter Vs. Refined Shea Butter?
The main differences between refined and unrefined shea butter are in the concentration of healing properties and beneficial ingredients found in the final product.
Unrefined shea butter has higher amounts of vitamin E, vitamin A and skin-healthy omega fatty acids, in contrast to refined butter.
Other key differences between unrefined and refined shea butter, or say “pros and cons” are fragrance, shelf-life and consistency2.
The refining process removes odors and impurities from the shea butter.
Refined shea butter has an extended shelf life of around 2 years, when stored properly (keep in a cool location in an air-tight container).
On the other hand, unrefined shea has an average shelf life of 12-18 months, which is why buying in smaller quantities is suggested.
Sometimes refined shea butter has added synthetic ingredients, this means it is no longer “raw shea butter”.
4. Product Consistency
The refining process results in a smooth and creamy texture, whereas raw shea may be grainier and not as smooth, making consistency one of the drawbacks of choosing unrefined shea.
Is It Better To Use Refined Or Unrefined Shea Butter?
Let’s look again at refined vs unrefined shea butter specifically in terms of skin health, effectiveness and how eco-friendly or community-friendly each option is.
Unrefined shea butter benefits for the skin are at a higher concentration than refined shea butter.
This results in overall more health benefits, especially if you are using it for its anti-inflammatory properties for irritated skin or sunburns.
In simple word, raw shea is just healthier.
Raw shea butter is more effective than refined shea butter, because it contains higher concentrations of essential fatty acids, natural vitamins and antioxidants.
However, when it comes to moisturizing, unrefined shea butter does take longer to absorb. Refined shea butter is a great moisturizer because it absorbs more easily into the skin.
Eco-Friendliness / Community-Friendliness
When it comes to being eco-friendly, unrefined shea butter is better because it requires less resources or energy to produce.
Refined butter is not “unfriendly” in terms of community, however it is important to pay attention to how raw, unrefined shea butter benefits local communities in West Africa more directly, especially women-run co-ops.
Companies that support women and the traditional method for making unrefined raw butter provide a more direct benefit to local communities.
Whereas, refined shea butter often (not always, but more likely) takes the financial benefits a step away from the local community that grows and harvests the shea nuts, and gives bigger benefits larger corporations in the beauty industry, instead.
Which Type Of Shea Butter Is Best For Skin?
Unrefined shea butter is best for skin, especially if you are using it to fade scars, as an anti-aging cream, or treat skin conditions.
This is because unrefined shea butter has a higher concentration of antioxidant properties and natural nutrients for skin health.
Refined shea butter still contains the same nutrients, just as a lower concentration.
If you want the most “bang for your buck”, pure, unrefined shea butter is going to have more healing benefits and antioxidants than refined shea butter.
Refined Vs. Unrefined Shea Butter For Hair
When it comes to using shea butter for hair health, it really comes down to your hair’s texture and needs3.
Remember that unrefined shea butter has a grainy texture and a strong scent. If you don’t want the nutty scent, then you may want to choose refined shea butter, which also has nicer creamy texture.
However, if your hair is very dry or brittle, unrefined shea butter has more moisturizing properties than refined, and you may decide the natural scent of shea butter is worth it to treat your dry tresses.
When applying shea butter to your scalp it’s a good idea to:
1. Warm the shea butter.
This will make it easier to apply all over your hair and scalp.
You may find it helpful to mix with essential oils, like rosemary oil, before applying to your hair.
2. Leave on your hair for 2-4 hours, covered with a wrap or hair cap.
This allows for the natural properties of the shea butter to work its magic.
3. Wash off with warm water and shampoo.
Then comb and style your moisturized locks!
Is Refined Shea Butter Healthy?
Refined shea butter is good for you skin and hair. Refined shea butter (that is pure and not mixed with other oils or butters) has intense moisturizing properties, but also boasts longer shelf-life than unrefined shea butter.
Use refined shea butter directly on dry skin or brittle hair.
Is Refined Shea Butter Bad & Unsafe?
The main differences between refined vs. unrefined shea butter are about concentration of moisturizing and healing properties, consumer’s preferences about smell and color and additives that can potentially irritate sensitive skin.
Refined shea butter does still contain many of the same benefits as unrefined shea butter, just in a lesser concentration.
Refined shea butter is not bad or unsafe, as long as it is still pure, natural shea butter4.
You have to carefully read the packaging to ensure that some nasty chemicals have not been added during the refining process.
Also, if you have extremely sensitive skin, you should make sure that chemical agents weren’t used during the refining process, which could lead to irritated skin.
Is Raw Shea Butter Safe?
Yes, raw shea butter is safe for your body.
It is also preferred for those suffering from eczema or other skin irritations because it retains more of its skin care benefits than refined shea butter.
Refined and unrefined shea butter both offer skin benefits, but unrefined shea butter is more potent, offering more intense treatment.
However, it has a shorter shelf-life than refined shea butter, and it does carry a nutty fragrance, which not everyone likes.
All in all, they are both great products, and it really just comes down to personal preference, which one you decide to use.
If you decide to get the refined one, make sure to check if doesn’t contain any “extra” ingredients that could be unsafe and irritate your skin or scalp.
The purpose of this article is informative and entertaining. It’s not a substitute for medical consultation or medical care. The author of this article does not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Safety should be your priority.