Refined vs Unrefined Shea Butter: How Are They Different?

Updated: January 23, 2022

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Refined vs Unrefined Shea Butter

Shea butter has great moisturizing and healing properties and has a comedogenic rating of ‘0’. Due to this shea butter can be used in almost every type of skincare and hair care product. But there are two types of shea butter refined shea butter and unrefined shea butter. So, which is best for creating body products? Let’s take a look at what are the differences between refined and unrefined shea butter.

What Are The Differences Between Refined Shea Butter And Unrefined Shea Butter?

The main difference between refined and unrefined shea butter is their processing stage.

Refined shea butter in its processing stage goes through a filter where products or chemicals are added to strip it from its typical color and scent, thus making it white and odorless.

But in unrefined shea butter, traditional handcrafted methods are used, and no chemicals are added to it in its processing that makes the butter retain its typical ivory off-white or yellow color with a strong nutty and smokey fragrance. This is also why unrefined shea butter contains impurities while refined shea butter doesn’t.

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However, refined shea butter loses a significant amount of its healing properties during the refining process, while unrefined shea butter reserves all of such properties. But since no preservatives are added in the unrefined shea butter, they do not last as long as the refined ones.

Table Showing Differences between Refined Shea Butter And Unrefined Shea Butter

It is fragrance-free.It has a smokey and nutty smell.
It is pure white in color.It is ivory to off-white color.
Usage of high heat during the extraction process of shea butter.Traditional hand-made methods are used for the extraction of shea butter.
It has no impurities.It contains some impurities.
Chemicals are used in the refining process of shea butter.It is free from any chemicals.
Due to the refining process, it loses its healing properties.Since it is not refined, it contains all of its healing properties.
It has a longer shelf-life.It has a shelf life of only 6-18 months.
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What Is Refined Shea Butter?

Refined vs Unrefined Shea Butter

Refined shea butter gets extracted with a process involving high levels of heat. They are white, odorless, and possess a creamy consistency similar to a thick lotion. Sometimes, in the process of excluding its color and scent, chemicals such as hexane are used. And also, during that stage, refined shea butter loses many of its benefits and nutrients like Vitamin A and E. It is even observed, about 75% of bioactive ingredients contained in shea butter are lost during the refining process. However, they still are equally moisturizing.

Furthermore, refined shea butter can also be organic shea butter. Refine means to purify and remove impurities, and if it’s done without pesticides or chemicals, they can be organic. The best way to figure out if your refined shea butter is organic or not is to look for the organic logo in the packaging.

What Is Unrefined Shea Butter?

Refined vs Unrefined Shea Butter

Unrefined shea butter can also be labeled as raw. Since unrefined shea butter is extracted using handmade methods, they retain its typical characteristic of ivory off-white or yellow color with a nutty and smokey odor. But they do not contain any chemicals and hold all of their natural healing properties. It’s safe to say unrefined shea butter delivers the maximum benefits for skin and hair.
The unrefined shea butter has a shelf life of 6-18 months and needs to have a perfect storage condition—a cool dark place and away from direct sunlight— to avoid being grainy or turning rancid.

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Is Unrefined Shea Butter Safe To Use?

In short, yes, unrefined shea butter is safe to use. It is suitable for all skin types. However, if you have a nut allergy, it’s best to do a patch test since the butter comes from the nuts of the shea tree.

What Type Of Shea Butter Is Best? Refined or Unrefined?

Whether to use refined or unrefined shea butter varies from person to person. If the natural smell of shea butter is too overwhelming, or you want it to last more than 18 months, or you want to use it just for its moisturizing properties, it’s best to opt for refined shea butter.
However, if you want to take advantage of the amazing healing properties of shea butter, go for the unrefined ones. It consists of the most nutrients and provides benefits that no other form of shea butter can give.


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