What's the Difference Between Raw Unrefined and Ultra-refined Shea Butter?

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What's the Difference Between Raw Unrefined and Ultra-refined Shea Butter?

Shea butter, which comes from the African shea tree, has been used for many centuries as a skin moisturizer and hair conditioner. It is also commonly used in Africa for cooking food, making candles, and even coating wood products. Because shea butter is naturally high in nutrients which are good for the skin, it is becoming increasingly popular as an ingredient in cosmetics; however, not all types of shea butter are the same. To reap the benefits of shea butter products, you will need to learn the difference between raw, unrefined, and ultra-refined shea butter.

How Shea Butter is Made

The best way to understand the differences between the types of shea butter is to learn about how shea butter is produced. Shea butter comes from the nut of the shea tree (also called the karite tree). The nuts are rather large and resemble chestnuts. First, the nuts are dried, and then the hard outer shell is removed. The flesh inside the nut is ground down using machines or, traditionally, a mortar and pestle. Once the nut has been crushed, it is roasted. This is where shea butter gets its characteristic smoky smell from. The roasted shea butter is then boiled in water. The butter floats to the top of the water and is scooped off, ready to be used.

From this point, additional processing of the shea butter is not necessary, but it may occur. It is common for shea butter makers to filter the butter to remove any impurities. The shea butter may also be treated to remove its smell, change its composition, or alter its color.

Depending on how the shea butter is processed, it will be considered raw, unrefined, refined, or ultra-refined.

Raw Shea Butter

Raw shea butter is shea butter which has not been filtered in any way, even through a cheese cloth. This type of shea butter will always come as a paste (usually in a jar or tub). Since it cannot be poured into molds, it will not be shaped in any way.

Because raw shea butter is not filtered, it is common for it to have flecks of impurities in it. It is usually a deep yellow color but can also be greenish, depending on how mature the shea nuts were when they were harvested.

Unrefined Shea Butter

Unrefined shea butter is often confused with raw shea butter; however, there is a slight difference between these two types of shea butter. With unrefined shea butter, filtering is allowed so long as it does not affect the qualities of the raw shea butter. Most commonly, unrefined shea butter is filtered using cheese cloth. Unrefined shea butter can also be poured into molds, so it is fairly common to find these products in bars or sticks.

Refined Shea Butter

Refined shea butter has undergone some form of processing in order to remove its odor and/or change its properties. It is also common for refined shea butter to have additives, such as perfumes or preservatives. Refined shea butter is generally very smooth and has a white color instead of yellow color. It is not considered as "healthy" as raw or unrefined shea butter because the refinement process destroys some of the nutrients in the shea butter.

Ultra-Refined Shea Butter

If shea butter has been "ultra-refined", it has gone through at least two filtering systems that change its composition. Ultra-refined shea butter is typically used for mass-produced cosmetics. It will almost always be very white in color. The consistency can vary, depending on how the manufacturer wants to use the shea butter in a product, such as it having a firm consistency for alip balm or being more liquid-like for a hair conditioner. This type of shea butter is considered the least healthy because it loses nutrients in the refinement process. The chemicals used in the refinement process can also be unhealthy, such as hexane.

Which Type of Shea Butter is Best?

In its natural state, shea butter contains moisturizing fatty acids and is rich in vitamins A, E, and F. It also contains cinnamic acid which provides a small amount of UV protection (the equivalent of an SPF6). The combination of all of these factors make shea butter very useful for treating skin conditions ranging from dry skin to eczema to stretch marks.

Because their nutrient content is kept intact, raw or unrefined shea butter will be the best type of shea butter for treating skin conditions; however, there are some downsides to using shea butter in its natural state which may make it unappealing to some.

Raw and unrefined shea butter can be rather odorous. Its paste-like form also makes it difficult to use for applications like scalp treatments. Though the refined and ultra-refined shea butter will not have the same healing properties as the natural forms, many people will still want to opt for these refined shea butter products.



Raw and unrefined shea butter

Higher nutrient content

Better natural healing properties

Free of chemicals from the refinement process

Can have unpleasant odor

Is very firm in cold conditions and melts in warm conditions

Only available in a few forms

Refined and ultra-refined shea butter

Available in many forms and products


Maintains consistent texture

Loses nutrients during refinement process

May contain harmful or toxic chemicals from refinement process

Understanding What 100 Percent Shea Butter Means

When shopping for shea butter products, you will also want to make sure you understand what the "100 percent" label means. Many people mistakenly believe that "100 percent shea butter" is the same as raw or unrefined shea butter; however, this is not the case. A product can be made with ultra-refined shea butter and still be considered 100 percent shea butter, so long as no other products are used. This is true even if the refined shea butter was made using chemical additives.

How to Store Raw and Unrefined Shea Butter

Raw and unrefined shea butter can last for years; however, over time, the nutrients in the shea butter will break down. Thus, older shea butter may not have the same healing qualities as a new batch. Also, the nutrients can be broken down by factors such as exposure to air or sunlight.

To make sure that your raw or unrefined shea butter retains its healing properties, you will want to take care to store it properly:

· Always try to use the product within a year of purchasing it.

· Keep the shea butter in a consistent cool temperature around 50 degrees F (you can refrigerate it to make it last longer, but it will get firm from the cold).

· Don't expose the shea butter to hot temperatures or sunlight (like in your car).

· For raw shea butter, use a wooden spoon to scoop out the butter.

· If you mix shea butter with other products, use it within 30 days.

· Always keep shea butter covered to prevent exposure to air and contaminants.

How to Buy Shea Butter Products on eBay

eBay has a large selection of beauty and cosmetic products for sale, including many types of shea butter. Regardless of whether you are looking for the purest raw shea butter paste or a good shea hair balsam, you are sure to locate it on eBay.

To start shopping for shea butter on eBay, use the search box to look for the product you want. There are thousands of shea butter products for sale on eBay, so try to be as descriptive as possible with your search, such as by typing in "raw shea butter lip balm" or "unrefined shea butter lotion". Once you have performed your search, select the category option which is most appropriate, such asBath and Body,Skin Care or Hair Care and Styling.


Shea butter is highly regarded for its natural moisturizing and skin-healing abilities. To get the most out of shea butter products, though, you will want to make sure that you get the right type of shea butter. For maximum nutrient content, you will be best off opting for raw and unrefined shea butter products. For ease of use, you may want to choose refined or ultra-refined shea butter products instead. Regardless of what your preferences are, eBay is a good place to start shopping for shea butter beauty and cosmetic items.

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