Know Your Shea Butters: Unrefined vs Refined Shea Butter

When it comes to shea butter, there’s absolutely no doubt that raw unrefined shea butter is the butter to choose! So often, we walk into a market and are tasked with knowing the correct questions to ask shea butter sellers. Is it unrefined? Is it unrefined? Why is this shea butter yellow? Why is this white or ivory? We’ve got you covered. 

What is Shea  Butter?

Shea Butter has been a staple in many, if not all, African households. Shea nuts are harvested and processed typically in West and East African countries. It is a product of the African shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa). Shea butter is fat extracted from the shea kernel and processed by women shea butter producers in rural African villages to provide the best shea butter we now use for multi-purposes. 


With so many wholesalers on the market now, we can now find two types of shea butters for cosmetic use: unrefined (raw) shea butter or refined shea butter. 


Raw Shea Butter 

The process of making raw shea butter goes in 5 stages. 

  1. The nuts are picked, sorted and washed
  2. Nuts are sun dried followed by crushing them
  3. The nuts are roasted and grinded
  4. The pulp inside is then boiled until a paste is formed
  5. The paste is then boiled, collecting the butter

There is no additional processing for raw shea butter type. The shea butter still contains impurities and has a smoky smell, which comes from roasting the nuts. The color of raw shea butter is usually a deep yellow.

Unrefined Shea Butter / Ivory Shea Butter 

Unrefined shea butter is still similar to raw shea butter. However, unrefined shea butter is filtered through a process that does not affect its quality. The filtering process cannot contain chemicals and preservatives. At the end of filtering, the shea butter is ivory and has a nutty smell which is what most shea butter companies sell.

**Filtering process include cheese cloth, clay pots, and any natural form that does not compromise the content and benefit of shea butter

Unrefined Shea Butter / Yellow Shea BUtter 

In West Africa, there's a tree that has been used for centuries called Borututu Tree. This tree is what creates the yellow shea butter. The core of the tree, which is yellow/orange, is shredded and added to the boiling step of shea butter production. This shea butter is infused with an enormous amount of antioxidants and healing elements in addition to those of our unrefined ivory shea butter. 

Refined Shea Butter / White Shea Butter 

Refined shea butter usually undergoes at least two filtering systems which contain chemicals and preservatives. In this process the color is changed to white, the nutty smell and majority of its nutrients are gone.

So the next time you’re shopping for shea butter, you’ll know what the differences between raw, unrefined, and refined are and how to pick the one that works just for you. At Shea Radiance, our products contain Handcrafted Unrefined Shea Butter to deeply hydrate and restore moisture to dry skin and hair. By sourcing our Shea from a select harvest of nuts that grow in the parklands of West Africa, our products are free of unnecessary additives, parabens and sulfates. We make everything from scratch in artisanal batches so that we can closely monitor the quality of our ingredients. In addition, we also do not believe in the double boiler method when making our handmade shea butters. This is our perspective as we work hard to never minimize the vitamins + fatty acids we benefit from in shea butter. By heating or melting the shea butter, you are deducting all the rich value it possesses. 

**Double boiler method: Placing your shea butter in a container and letting it melt in hot water to cool down later and whip. 

For great shea butter products, made with unrefined shea butter check out our website