The best shea butter is unrefined. Yellow shea butter is raw and often contains impurities and has a strong odor. Unrefined shea butter is usually whiter in appearance and has been run through a filter to remove impurities. Heavily refined, pure white shea butter still contains is moisturizing abilities, but its vitamin content has been lost.
Shea butter is a popular moisturizer that is used in skin and hair products. It is naturally high in nutrients such as moisturizing fatty acids, and vitamins A, E and F.
To understand the difference between white and yellow shea butter, we must look at the different ways that shea butter is produced.
Shea Butter Processing
Shea butter comes from the nut of the Shea tree (aka the karite tree). The nuts are first dried and then the harder outer shell is removed. The flesh inside the nut is ground down and then roasted. This is what gives shea butter its characteristic smokey smell. The raosted shea butter gets boiled in water and the butter that floats gets scooped off, and is ready to use.
After this process, the butter may be used, or it may be further refined. It is common for the butter to be filtered, to remove any impurities. The shea butter may also be treated to change its color, scent and composition.
Raw Shea Butter
- Has not been filtered at all, it has been left in it's original extracted form.
- Often yellow or green in color, depending on how mature the harvested shea nuts were.
- There is often flecks of impurities within it.
- This type of shea butter will usually come as a paste in a jar or tub.
- It has not been melted down and poured into molds.
- No bleaching, deodorizing, or additives are used.
- Raw shea butter may still have been extracted using chemical solvents, so it is best to check for this before considering a purchase.
Unrefined Shea Butter
- Can be filtered, as long as it does not affect the qualities of the raw shea butter.
- May not pass through a filtering or meshing system using clays, chemicals or other methods that will reduce the vitamin content or change the butters properties, including altering its scent, texture or color.
- Usually filtered through a cheesecloth to remove nut skins.
- Can be melted and poured into molds, so it often comes in sticks or bars.
- Unrefined shea butter is sometimes categorized into grades ( A - F). There is an institute in the US that does the testing and grading. Grade A is considered the best. Not all companies choose to have their shea butters graded, so not all labels will contain a grade.
Refined Shea Butter
- Has gone through some sort of process to change its characteristics and odor. Typically it has been through at least one filtering or meshing system.
- May be deodorized by airing, chemical additions, or other processes.
- May be bleached with chemicals or through filtering to make it whiter.
- Will sometimes have additives such as scents or preservatives.
- Generally very smooth and is white in color.
- Does not have the same nutritional value as raw and unrefined shea butter because the refining process destroys some of the nutrients.
Ultra-Refined Shea Butter
- Has been refined through at least two filtering systems that change its composition.
- Has been deodorized, bleached and processed to make it white and soft, allowing machines to easily incorporate it into cosmetic products.
- Very white in color.
- The texture can vary from firm to a more liquid consistency.
- Many, if not all of the healing nutrients are lost in the refinement process.
- Chemicals such as hexane may be used.
- Preservatives must be added.
- This type of shea butter offers only skin moisturization.
Color as An Indicator of Quality
The color of shea butter can vary from off-white (often called ivory), grey or greenish, to yellow. These variations are due to the season and region that it is extracted from. The color of shea butter is not the sole indicator of nutritional value. The refinement process is a more reliable indicator of nutritional content.
The color of shea butter is not the sole indicator of nutritional value. The refinement process is a more reliable indicator of nutritional content.
Raw or unrefined shea butter is usually more colored than refined shea butters, but the colors can vary. Just because a raw or unrefined shea butter is more white than yellow, does not mean it is a lower quality. If a shea butter is raw or unrefined, it will have its healing properties left intact.
Which Is Better?
Raw or unrefined shea butter is better for treating skin conditions, as all the healing properties are kept intact. Refined and ultra-refined shea butter can be easier to use, especially when making cosmetic products, but they don't contain the same healing properties.
Raw and Unrefined Shea Butter
- may have an unpleasant smell
- very firm in cold conditions and melts in warm conditions
- only available in a few forms
- higher nutrient content
- superior natural healing properties
- chemical free
Refined and Ultra-Refined Shea Butter
- maintains consistent texture
- available in many forms
- loses nutrients during the refinement process
- may contain harmful or toxic refining chemicals
I prefer using unrefined shea butter. The healing qualities are present, but the resulting product is nicer to use and there are no flecks or impurities to worry about.
How to find quality shea butter
You will want to check for mold, debris, and whether it has its characteristic nutty smell. Does it absorb easily into the skin? Or is it waxy or greasy?
Is the texture grainy or smooth? If it is grainy, it may have been heated, either to put it into a mold or to add fillers to it. Sometimes fillers such as beeswax, vegetable oils or petroleum jelly are added to increase profit.
Look for a seller with an excellent reputation and satisfied customers. A money-back guarantee is an excellent indicator of a quality product. I like buying mine from a retailer that offers help with learning to use the product.
Our Recommended High-Quality Shea Butter
Perfect Body Harmony
Certified Organic Unrefined Shea Butter
Certified organic, unrefined ivory shea butter in a tall UV protected container.
How do you use shea butter? Leave any questions or comments down below 🙂