Shea Butter - Refined and Unrefined What's the difference?

Marianne James

Shea butter (Butyrospermum parikii) is extracted from the kernels (nuts) of Shea trees.  It is also called Karite, a creamy, rich solid oil.  This tree grows wild throughout the dry arid regions of Central Africa.  As the cosmetic industry demands that it be colourless and odourless, most Shea Butter that is purchased outside West Africa is refined.  


While the refined product is still very moisturising to the skin, during the refining process, many of its therapeutic properties are removed.  Its fatty acid profile is no longer fully intact and vitamins are lost which means you don't get the full benefits of how it was in its original state as nature provides.  

While we may assume that when we buy a cosmetic with Shea butter in it, that we are getting absolutely pure Shea butter as an ingredient, the truth is that it is usually extracted from the Shea kernels with the use of either petroleum solvents or hexane. Once the oil is extracted from the kernels, it is boiled to drive off the toxic solvents.  It is then refined, bleached and deodorised which involves the use of chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and heating it to over 400 degrees fahrenheit. After this process, Shea butter still contains some undesirable solvent residues and its healing values are significantly reduced.  In addition chemicals to prevent the oils from oxidising are often added such as BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) or BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene). The end result is that refined Shea Butter is often hard and grainy compared to the raw variety which is soft and creamy.  

At Flora Organics, we only use raw (unrefined) Fair Trade Shea butter, harvested by villagers who receive fair and steady incomes from their labour.  It is estimated to take 20 to 30 hours of labour to produce one kilogram of handcrafted Shea butter and a woman making Shea butter in West Africa will receive only a fraction of the price at which it is sold.  Visit the non-profit organisation, 'The Global Alliance for Community Empowerment and Alaffia Fair Trade Shea Butter and Sustainable Skin Care' for more information on what is done to support West African communities.


Our raw Fair Trade Shea Butter at Flora Organics has been grown under strict organic standards and is hand harvested by villagers as an unrefined product, ensuring maximum benefits to your skin.  Rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins and a unique fatty acid profile, it has an abundance of healing properties and is a superior moisturiser. Unlike petroleum based moisturisers, Shea butter actually restores the skin's natural elasticity and allows it to stay moisturised longer.  It has been traditionally used as a balm for minor burns as well as muscle aches and rheumatism because of its anti-inflammatory properties.  It is highly valued in hair and skin care use because of its incredible softening and moisturising qualities without leaving a greasy feel afterwards. It is beneficial for dry skin, cracked skin, aging skin, rashes, blemishes, wrinkles, sunburn, peeling skin, small skin wounds, frost bite, stretch mark prevention, itching skin, eczema and dermatitis.  It also benefits the skin by providing some protection against environmental damage including the sun.  People who use Shea butter (especially Raw Shea Butter) regularly on their skin notice softer, smoother, healthier skin.  Very few cosmetics with Shea Butter these days use the raw variety.  

Try for yourself and experience the moisturising and therapeutic power of raw Shea Butter in our 100% natural skin care range. 


  • The raw Shea butter in your face creams makes them simply amazing. I wouldn’t buy anything else. You are right, products like yours with raw Shea butter are really hard to come by. Flora, you are a great find. Your products are rich, absorb quickly and last and last and last! The ingredients are just incredible. They are worth every cent!


  • Wow thanks for explaining the difference between refined and unrefined. I had always thought that the Shea products I have used in the past were just that – pure Shea Butter! Knowing it is so processed like that leaves me feeling I want to be more selective in the future about what I buy. It seems to me you can’t trust the ingredient labels that what you read is what you are getting since there are so many processing chemicals used that obviously remain mixed into the ingredients – but don’t have to be put on the label. From now on I’m going to look out for RAW Shea Butter products like here at Flora Organics.


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