Which is Better White or Yellow Shea Butter?


When you take a look at cosmetics and skincare products like lip balms, face masks, moisturizers, soaps, and even shampoos, you’ll notice they are often infused with shea butter. Why? Simply because it holds restorative and moisturizing properties. This nutritious herbal fat from the nut of the African Shea Tree treats stretch marks, dry skin, allergies, and more. However, in Africa, you’ll commonly find yellow shea butter used in cooking their delicacies.

Why is Shea Butter Popular?

The shea tree, dubbed as the Karite Tree, means the tree of life. This tree grows to twenty meters high, taking over 15 years to produce its first nuts. Because it is loaded in nutrients, the shea tree thrives for hundreds of years in extremely warm, dry, and harsh conditions, as found in the Sahara desert. 

In most countries, however, shea remains popular for its topical uses. You’ll commonly find two variants: filtered or unfiltered. The striking difference between them is their color. The filtered goes through a refining process, resulting in a pristine, white shea.

On the other hand, the unfiltered remains unprocessed with chemicals, retaining its natural yellow hue. As such, yellow shea butter is considered the purest form. Now, let’s take an in-depth look at how does yellow shea butter compareto its white counterpart. 

How Does the Extraction Method Affect the Product?

The biggest factor influencing color boils down to the extraction process. Usually, the makers start by drying the harvested shea nuts, allowing them to remove the outer shell easily. Then, they take out the flesh and grind it. From there, they roast the nuts, giving shea butter its unique smoky aroma. Finally, the mixture undergoes boiling to render the fat or butter. The fat solidifies on top as it cools. They scoop and whip the fat to get that velvety shea butter consistency.

  • Yellow Shea

The producers use gentle, traditional methods with raw shea butter. Most of the time, they harvest the nut manually without any additional chemicals. As a result, you end up with a premium quality product that retains its superior healing and hydrating properties. 

After the extraction, you’ll see that this raw yellow shea is left its original, pure form. Since the process does not involve fancy filters, deodorizers, preservatives, bleaches, and other additives, you see impurities in yellow shea butter. It contains broken nutshells and fiber chunks. Above all, it retains a stronger nutty scent.

  • White Shea

On the other hand, white shea butter undergoes refinement to remove impurities. Most big manufacturing plants rely on high tech machinery and chemical solvents to process the shea nut. The industry commonly uses the compound hexane, which speeds up the process. As a result, they separate the fat and extract it from the nut at a faster pace. 

The byproduct passes through a sophisticated mesh system to strain debris. You won’t find nut skins or flesh chunks in refined, white shea butter because of filtration. Manufacturers rely on chemical treatments to take out harmful bacteria. Most of the time, they also add preservatives to promote shelf-life. Due to the chemical process, the nut’s natural aroma goes away, which is why most infuse an artificial scent or add another herbal oil extract into white shea butter.  

What are the Unique Variations Between White and Yellow Shea Butter?

Another astounding difference between refined versus raw shea butter is the glaring color difference. Often, raw shea possesses a yellow or beige shade. Sometimes, people are surprised to see a green or gray tinge. The color variations depend on the maturity of the shea nuts at harvest time. Industry professionals emphasize that raw shea butter can never be white. Since the butter skips refinement, the texture remains clumpy. 

In contrast, you’ll notice that refined shea is super white. Typically, white equates to the purest. However, when it comes to shea butter, the absence of color signifies the product underwent chemical processing. You’ll notice that white shea is smooth and silky with even and consistent texture. 

What are the Effects of Chemical Processing? 

How they prep, process, and extract shea butter holds a huge effect on the final product. Take a look at its major differences below:

  1. Preserving natural properties

Most industry experts say that processed white shea loses some of its natural vitamin content and essential fatty acids. The chemical process alters the properties of butter, changing its color, texture, and scent. In contrast, yellow retains most of its natural properties, making it healthier for the skin. Thus, yellow shea works well for babies and pregnant moms with ultra sensitive skin.  

  1. Prolonging expiry dates

Because white shea processing eliminates impurities and bacteria, it has a longer expiry date than the yellow version. White shea possesses high heat-resistant properties because of the processing it went through, promoting product longevity. Unfortunately, the fatty acids in yellow shea turn rancid quickly. Therefore, it oxidizes faster, especially if it sits on a hot container van during delivery. For this reason, most commercial manufacturers filter shea to prevent spoilage. 

  1. Affecting product presentation

Since yellow shea is harvested in its original form, you’ll find it clumpy. Hence, it is commonly packed into jars or bottles. In contrast, white shea is often melted into fancy molds or cut into bars. 

  1. Including add-ons

White shea has additives to prolong shelf life. Most of the time, white shea also contains oils and fragrances. For people with sensitivities, this equates to allergies and irritation. Raw yellow shea butter provides better all-natural skin protection. 

Final Wrap Up 

If you are looking for an excellent moisturizer to treat your skin issues, yellow shea butter remains the top choice. Most find it superior because it retains its natural, healing properties. Those struggling with dermatitis, eczema, or psoriasis find yellow shea soothing and calming for their dry, irritated skin. It provides moisture while absorbing fast with no sticky residue. This one is also perfect for babies and expectant moms!

Nonetheless, it does not mean white shea doesn’t hold benefits, too. Even if white shea goes through a chemical process, it can still hydrate and protect the skin. Commercial producers also prefer this variant because it is easier to use with lotions, conditioners, balms, etc.

The bottom line: no matter the color of shea butter, incorporating this into your routine is crucial. It provides significant benefits, making it an indispensable ingredient in your life.

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