Although refined and unrefined shea butter can provide moisturizing benefits for the skin, hair, and scalp, each has unique features and benefits.
Even though they are both great ingredients to add to any DIY beauty project, here are my findings and the main differences one should know.
Learn seven differences between refined vs unrefined raw shea butter, how to use them, and which one may be better for your skin or hair.
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What Is Shea Butter?
Shea butter is a natural fat extracted from the nuts of the African shea tree. The shea tree has kernels packed with fatty acids and vitamins, making shea butter nutritious for skin and hair care. In addition, fatty acids make shea butters an excellent moisturizer that allows the skin to seal the moisture and provide immediate relief for dry and irritated skin. It has been used for centuries in Africa for its moisturizing and healing properties and is now widely popular worldwide as an ingredient in skincare products. However, there are two types of shea butter: refined and unrefined.
What is refined shea butter?
Refined shea butter has been processed to remove impurities and improve its texture and appearance. This is typically done using various chemical agents and physical refining methods, such as bleaching or deodorizing. Refined shea butter is white or off-white, and has a smoother texture. It is less likely to have a nutty scent than raw shea butter. However, refining may remove some of the natural nutrients, reducing its effectiveness as a moisturizer and skin healer. Some people may prefer the refined version due to its lighter texture and lack of scent. While others may like unrefined shea butter for its more natural state and higher nutrient content.
What is unrefined shea butter?
Unrefined shea butter is extracted using traditional methods without using chemicals. It is often referred to as raw or pure shea butter. Natural shea butter has a beige or yellowish color, a thick and creamy texture, and a nutty scent. It contains all the natural nutrients and healing properties in shea butter, such as vitamins A, E, and F, and essential fatty acids. Raw shea butter is more effective in moisturizing and healing the skin. It is a popular ingredient in natural and organic skincare products and is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive. However, unrefined shea butter may have a shorter shelf life and can go rancid if not stored properly.
What's The Difference Between refined vs Unrefined (Raw) Shea Butter?
The refining process typically involves heating the Shea butter to a specific temperature to melt it. It follows, straining it through a fine mesh to remove plant matter. Next, the butter is washed several times with hot water to remove any remaining impurities. Lastly, the water is separated from the butter. The result is these seven differences.
Refined shea butter is often deodorized, so it has no fragrance. Its pure version, however, has a distinctive nutty scent that some people find pleasant while others may not like.
Refined shea butter has little to no odor, benefiting people who prefer fragrance-free products or are sensitive to allergies. In addition, if you plan to add your essential oils or fragrances to the shea butter, a neutral base like refined shea butter can be a good choice. On the other hand, pure shea butter has a distinctive nutty scent that some people find pleasant. Others may find it unpleasant or overpowering.
The deodorization process uses chemicals that can remove the natural scent and some of the shea butter's natural nutrients and healing properties during processing.
2. Nutrient content.
Unrefined shea butter retains all of its natural nutrients. In contrast, refined shea butter, on the other hand, may have lost some of these nutrients during processing, which can reduce its effectiveness as a moisturizer and skin healer.
Unrefined Shea butter typically contains more vitamins E and A, essential for skin health and play a role in collagen production, wound healing, and antioxidant protection. It also contains essential fatty acids, such as oleic acid and stearic acid, which help to nourish and moisturize the skin, and anti-inflammatory compounds, such as lupeol and cinnamic acid, which can help to soothe and calm irritated skin.
In contrast, refined Shea butter may have a lower nutrient content. However, some brands use a gentle process that preserves some of the natural properties of Shea butter while still removing impurities.
If you are looking for a shea butter that is more nutrient-rich and effective in moisturizing and healing the skin, unrefined may be the better choice.
3. Refined and unrefined shea butter: Absorption Rate.
Pure shea butter tends to be thicker and more difficult to absorb into the skin than refined shea butter, which has a smoother texture and is easier to apply.
The texture and absorbency of shea butter can be an essential factor to consider when choosing a skincare product. Some people may prefer the thicker consistency for its more profound moisturizing properties, while others may find it too heavy or greasy for everyday use. Refined shea butter, with its smoother texture and easier application, maybe a better choice for those who prefer a lighter feel or want to use it as a base for other skincare products.
Refined shea butter has a longer shelf life due to its lower moisture content. As a result, unrefined shea butter can go rancid more quickly if not stored properly. However, both versions should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to prevent spoilage. Refined shea butter generally has a longer shelf life, usually ranging from 18 months to 2 years or more. Unrefined shea butter, on the other hand, lasts 12 to 18 months, although this can vary depending on how it is stored and handled.
When considering the shelf life of shea butter, it's also worth noting that the freshness of the product can affect its effectiveness in moisturizing and healing the skin. Therefore, if you are using shea butter for its skincare benefits, choosing smaller quantities of refined or unrefined shea butter that you can use up before they go bad may be more beneficial.
5. Refined vs unrefined shea butter: Appearance
Refined shea butter is usually white or off-white, with a smooth and creamy texture. It has undergone processing to remove impurities, which gives it a more uniform appearance and texture.
On the other hand, raw unrefined shea butter is typically yellow or ivory in color and has a grainy texture due to natural impurities. It may also contain tiny particles of the shea nut shell or other debris, which give it a more natural and unprocessed appearance.
The difference in appearance between refined and unrefined organic raw shea butter may not affect their effectiveness in moisturizing and nourishing the skin. Still, it can be a matter of personal preference. For example, some people may prefer the smoother appearance of refined shea butter, while others may appreciate the more natural and unprocessed appearance of unrefined shea butter.
6. Unrefined shea butter vs refined: Melting point.
Unrefined shea butter has a lower melting point than refined butter due to natural impurities. The melting point of unrefined shea butter can vary depending on the specific batch, but it is typically around 32-38°C (90-100°F).
In contrast, refined shea butter has a higher melting point than unrefined shea butter due to removing impurities during processing. The melting point of refined shea butter can also vary, but it is generally around 37-40°C (98-104°F).
Unrefined shea butter, which has a lower melting point, tends to soften and melt more quickly when it comes into contact with the skin. This can make it easier to spread and apply, particularly in colder temperatures.
Refined shea butter, on the other hand, has a higher melting point and can be more difficult to spread on the skin. However, once it comes into contact with the warmth of the skin, it will soften and become easier to spread.
Unrefined shea butter, which has a lower melting point, tends to soften and melt more easily when it comes into contact with the skin. This can make it easier to spread and apply, particularly in colder temperatures.
Refined shea butter, on the other hand, has a higher melting point and can be more difficult to spread on the skin, especially if it is cooler or if it has been stored in a cooler environment. However, once it comes into contact with the warmth of the skin, it will soften and become easier to spread.
7. Whipping ability:
Because refined shea butter undergoes a refining process that removes impurities, it tends to have a more uniform texture and color. As a result, it may yield a lighter and fluffier whipped shea butter compared to unrefined Shea butter. Pure shea butter have a thicker and stickier consistency due to the natural plant matter and impurities that are not removed during the refining process.
If you make your beauty products for a business, using refined shea butter will yield more jars, thus saving you money.
Unrefined vs refined shea butter for hair
Both kind of shea butter can benefit hair, but they have slightly different properties.
Unrefined Shea butter is considered the purest form of Shea butter and is extracted without any chemicals or additives. It contains all the natural vitamins and minerals that benefit the hair. It is ideal for people with dry, brittle, or damaged hair because it has excellent moisturizing and nourishing properties. In addition, unrefined Shea butter can help to soothe dry, itchy scalps, reduce dandruff, and promote hair growth.
Refined Shea butter is ideal for people with oily or acne-prone hair because it is lighter and less greasy than unrefined Shea butter. It can also be a better option for people with sensitive skin or allergies because it is less likely to irritate.
Use unrefined Shea butter if dry, brittle, or damaged hair. However, refined Shea butter may be a better option if you have oily or acne-prone hair or if you have sensitive skin or allergies. It's essential to consider your individual needs and hair type when choosing between Shea butter for your hair.
Which shea butter for skin?
Both unrefined and refined Shea butter is excellent for the skin, but they have slightly different properties.
Unrefined Shea butter is the purest form of Shea butter. It contains all the natural vitamins and minerals that benefit the skin. It is ideal for dry, sensitive, or aging people because it has excellent moisturizing and nourishing properties. In addition, unrefined Shea butter can help to improve skin elasticity, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. In addition, it soothe skin irritations and inflammation, and protect the skin from environmental damage.
On the other hand, refined shea butter may be more suitable for people with oily or acne-prone skin. It has a lighter texture and is less likely to clog pores. Also people, that prefer a more uniform texture and appearance.
Refined Shea butter is ideal for people with oily or acne-prone skin because it is lighter and less greasy than unrefined Shea butter. It can also be a better option for people with sensitive skin or allergies because it is less likely to irritate. In addition, refined Shea butter has a more consistent texture and color than unrefined Shea butter, making it easier to use in skincare formulations.
Each shea butter has unique benefits and uses for skin and hair care. For example, unrefined Shea butter is the purest form of Shea butter and is ideal for people with dry, sensitive, or aging skin due to its moisturizing and nourishing properties. On the other hand, refined Shea butter is lighter and less greasy, making it ideal for people with oily or acne-prone skin or those with sensitive skin or allergies.
The refining process results in refined Shea butter that are more consistent in texture and color and last longer. It may be better suited for people with sensitive skin or allergies. However, some argue that refining can strip Shea butter of some of its beneficial natural properties.
The choice between unrefined Shea butter and refined depends on individual preferences, needs, and skin or hair type.