Last updated: August 11, 2021

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Are you looking for an anti-ageing remedy? Want to try something new in the kitchen? Then shea butter might be the right thing for you. Shea butter is an oil that can be used as an anti-ageing treatment or like a moisturiser.

But it is very versatile and can also be used in the kitchen for cooking or as an anti-inflammatory oil for skin, lips or hair. If you want to know what types of shea butter there are and what the different types are suitable for, our big shea butter test 2021 is the right place for you. We show you what is important when choosing shea butter and where you can buy it.




The most important facts

  • Shea butter is an oil extracted from the fruit of the shea tree. Shea butter is very rich. Shea nuts consist of up to 50% fat, the finished shea butter even 99%. It is also rich in vitamins and minerals.
  • Basically, one can distinguish between refined and unrefined shea butter. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages.
  • Shea butter is moisturising and anti-inflammatory. It can also be used as an anti-ageing agent. Shea butter is good for use on skin, hair, lips or even in cooking.

The Best Shea Butter: Our Picks

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying shea butter

What is shea butter?

Shea butter is a whitish fat made from the fruit of the shea tree. Shea nut trees grow exclusively in the savannahs of West Africa. The natives use the oil for cooking and for skin and hair care.

Meanwhile, shea butter is an ingredient in many cosmetic products and also in chocolate. Shea butter can also be used in many ways in its pure form.

How is shea butter made?

The traditional method of producing shea butter is particularly gentle. In this type of production, all the healing and caring components are preserved.

The old, traditional process is laborious. The Karite trees are sacred to the local people. Only the women have the right to process the nuts of the tree.

In the following, we have divided the whole process into individual steps and explained them.

  1. The nuts of the shea tree are collected and stored until they are ripe.
  2. The kernels are separated from the pulp and roasted over a fire.
  3. The kernels are crushed to a brown pulp.
  4. The pulp is mixed with hot water and kneaded into a dough. The fat settles and can be skimmed off.
  5. As it cools, the oil solidifies into butter.

What does shea butter contain?

Shea butter consists of 50% fat. A high proportion of these are unsaponifiable fats. This means that the molecules do not dissolve when they come into contact with water. The butter thus remains on the skin longer and it is protected and soft for longer.

Shea butter is rich in vitamins and minerals, which have different effects. Here are some examples:

Ingredient Effect
Vitamin E Transports harmful substances from the body, slows down the ageing process
Beta carotene Controls cell growth and acts as a free radical scavenger
Omega 3 fatty acids Regulate hormone balance and lower inflammation levels
Allantoin Anti-inflammatory
Linoleic acid Soothes and moisturises the skin

The composition of these ingredients makes shea butter almost a miracle product.

What are the effects of shea butter?

Shea butter has a variety of effects that complement each other. It moisturises and nourishes. In addition, it has an anti-inflammatory effect and can be used as an anti-ageing agent. (1, 2) They also found a positive effect on fighting tumour cells.

In this study, the treated tumour cells could be fought by the use of shea butter. (1) Shea butter has a moisturising effect. In dry skin, the butter balances the moisture balance. It makes the skin more elastic and supple. Shea butter is also often used as an anti-ageing agent. Shea butter helps to regenerate and build up cells.

A study on the treatment of various skin diseases was conducted at the U.S. National Institute of Health. Several patients were asked to apply shea butter to their skin eczema twice a day. The doctors were not only able to observe a reduction in symptoms, but also a restoration of the skin's protective barrier. (3)

Shea butter can also help with skin diseases and rashes. It has an anti-inflammatory effect and is said to help reduce scars. Shea butter can also be used as a natural sunscreen. Shea butter protects and moisturises the skin. When applied before and after sun or solarium visits, it helps the skin.

What can you use pure shea butter for?

Pure shea butter can be used in a variety of ways. Here are some examples:
use effect
face cream shea butter protects the skin from cold winds and dryness. It also has a smoothing effect on the skin and is often used as an anti-ageing agent. It is suitable for all skin types as it does not clog the pores.
Body butter Shea butter remains on the skin as a light film and makes it nice and soft. It needs some time to be absorbed and is best applied before going to bed.
Lips The pure shea butter acts like a lip balm. It has a slightly nutty taste and protects the lips from dryness and cracks.
Hair care Shea butter nourishes the hair. Applied to the ends, it helps against dry and brittle hair. However, on fine hair, the strands can appear greasy due to the shea butter.
Bath additive in bath water, the ingredients of shea butter have a more intensive effect, as the pores of the skin open up due to the warmth.
Shea butter in the kitchen Shea butter can also be used in cooking or frying. It is heated in the pan in a similar way to conventional butter. It is particularly suitable for oriental dishes.

Shea butter can also be used for animal care. For example, for paws in winter when they are roughened by salt on the ground and the cold. With pure shea butter, you don't have to worry if your pet licks up the cream. In a study conducted in 1970, researchers found that shea butter made from the fresh seeds of shea nuts helped to reduce nasal congestion in all subjects within a few minutes.

For this purpose, the shea butter was applied directly to and into the nose. In the initial runs, the results were only short-term and only lasted a few hours.

However, researchers found that with continued use, permanent relief was possible. In the control group studied in parallel, which was only treated with Vaseline, no reduction in the symptoms was recorded. (4)

What does shea butter smell like?

Unrefined shea butter has a sweet, nutty and chocolatey smell. Depending on where it was made, woody or smoky undertones can also be detected. Refined shea butter, unlike unrefined, is odourless.

How much does shea butter cost?

In principle, you can buy shea butter for just a few euros. However, cheaper products usually have lower quality and chemical additives. In addition, it is usually questionable whether these products have been produced sustainably and whether the local workers have been paid and treated fairly.

Among the cheaper shea butters are refined varieties. They are usually available in supermarkets or even drugstores.

Unrefined shea butter is usually more expensive, but still has all the valuable ingredients in it.

Cremetopf mit Blüten

Shea butter is very valuable for your skin (Image source: pixabay.com / silviarita).

Which manufacturers of shea butter are there?

There are many manufacturers and brands of shea butter. Especially online, the selection is large.

Here are some manufacturers and brands of shea butter that are particularly popular according to our research.

  • Akamuti
  • Alaffia
  • Alverde
  • Antos
  • Biopark Cosmetics
  • Cattier Paris
  • Najel
  • Sheagold

When buying, make sure that the retailer buys the product directly from a manufacturer in Africa. These products are usually unrefined and of a higher quality.

What alternatives are there to shea butter?

Many oils have a similar effect to shea butter. What is special about shea butter is the combination of many minerals and vitamins.

Below are some examples of alternatives:

Alternative Description
Avocado butter It is rich in nutrients and is especially good for treating dry or blemished skin
Almond oil Has an anti-inflammatory effect and is also suitable for dry skin
Cocoa butter Is especially good for body care or as a lip balm
Coconut oil Is good for skin care, against pimples or as a make-up remover

Cocoa butter

Basically, shea butter and cocoa butter are similar in many ways. Both contain unsaturated fatty acids, which are effective in hydrating the skin and keeping it elastic.

However, the two oils differ in some ways. Shea butter is lighter and less likely to clog the skin's pores. It is also softer and easier to apply.

In contrast, cocoa butter has a more intense smell and is lighter in colour.

Advantages
  • Lighter
  • Softer and easier to apply
  • Does not clog pores
Disadvantages
  • Odour is less intense
  • Lighter colour

Coconut oil

Shea butter and coconut oil have many things in common. Both oils moisturise and are natural.

However, the two oils also differ in some ways. Shea butter has a longer and deeper effect. With coconut oil, heavily stressed skin quickly becomes dry again.

Advantages
  • Deeply effective
  • Acts quickly and long
Disadvantages
  • Heavier
  • Takes longer to absorb

Shea butter, however, takes longer to absorb. In general, it can be recommended to use coconut oil in the morning. Shea butter, on the other hand, should be applied in the evening so that it has enough time to be absorbed.

Decision section: What types of shea butter are there and which is the right one for you?

Basically, you can distinguish between the following two types of shea butter:

  • Refined Shea Butter
  • Unrefined Shea Butter

To help you find the right shea butter for you, we present both types with their advantages and disadvantages.

What distinguishes refined shea butter and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

In refining, the shea nuts are pressed under very high temperatures or cold. In most cases, solvents are also used to obtain as much oil as possible.

During this production process, the ingredient beta-carotene is lost. Beta-carotene gives unrefined shea butter its yellowish colour. Due to the loss of beta-carotene, refined shea butter is white. Some prefer this pure white colour.

Advantages
  • Pure white colour
  • Cheaper
  • Odourless
Disadvantages
  • No more beta-carotene
  • May contain allergens
  • Less natural

Unlike unrefined shea butter, refined is odourless. Since the smell of unrefined shea butter takes some getting used to, refined shea butter may be preferred.

Mostly, shea butter is refined for export. It is a far cheaper and more efficient process. Thus, the end product, refined shea butter, is also much cheaper.

However, many criticise the loss of valuable ingredients in refined shea butter. Refined shea butter is less effective without them. In addition, it loses its most important property, namely its naturalness.

What distinguishes unrefined shea butter and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

Unrefined shea butter is obtained solely by the traditional method of production. It is slightly yellowish and has a sweet, nutty and chocolatey smell.

This production method preserves all the important ingredients. The product is more natural. The beta-carotene present is very important, especially for use on the face or skin. It leaves a protective film on the skin that keeps out wind and cold.

Did you know that shea butter is not only a care product but can also be edible? However, this is only the case with natural, unrefined shea butter. The same applies to the fruits of the shea tree, from which the butter is made. In African cuisine, it is even often used as an edible fat.

No fragrances, flavourings or colours are added to unrefined shea butter. You can be sure that the product does not have any allergenic substances. In supermarkets and most drugstores you will find mostly refined shea butter. On the internet you can find both refined and unrefined shea butter.

If you follow the Fairtrade idea, you should choose unrefined shea butter and thus support the women in West Africa.

Advantages
  • All ingredients are preserved
  • More effective
  • More natural
  • No allergens
Disadvantages
  • More expensive
  • Yellowish colour
  • Odour that takes getting used to

Buying criteria: These are the factors you can use to compare and evaluate shea butter

These factors can help you decide which shea butter is right for you:

  • Proportion of shea butter
  • Skin type
  • Production
  • Origin
  • Organic certification
  • Fair Trade
  • Vegan

In the following paragraphs you can read about these buying criteria.

Shea butter content

There is pure shea butter or enriched shea butter. Pure shea butter can be used for many different things. It is perfect for the standard everyday kit of creams, as it can be used against any kind of dry skin in a pinch.

The enriched shea butter is usually already intended for one purpose. So if you are already sure what you want to use your shea butter for, you can go for such a product.

With enriched shea butter, however, you should always make sure that the shea butter is still present in a high proportion. It is also important to check what other substances are used, because they can sometimes trigger allergies.

Arme und Beine mit Blumen

Do something good for yourself and your skin, for example with a shea butter mask (Image source: unsplash.com / Chris Javis).

Skin type

Pure shea butter can actually be used for all skin types, as it does not clog the pores.

That said, there are some products made specifically for dry or combination skin. For extremely dry skin, it is worthwhile to use these products. For combination skin, it can also be advantageous to pay attention to this description.

Production

Shea butter produced by the traditional method is unrefined and yellowish in colour. This type of production is gentler and all the important ingredients of the shea nut are preserved.

For export, the nut is often industrially treated, i.e. refined. Refined shea butter is snow-white and odourless because the beta-carotene has been removed. Refined shea butter is also produced cold-pressed in some cases, which has the advantage that the quality of the fats is preserved. But valuable ingredients are also lost here.

Unrefined shea butter is recommended because it retains all the ingredients and is therefore more effective.

Origin

Shea butter is often refined for export. This makes it cheaper for the manufacturer.

Most products that come from Africa itself, however, are unrefined. They still contain all the valuable ingredients. Therefore, make sure that the manufacturer sources the products directly from Africa.

Did you know that the harvesting and processing of shea nuts is a traditional task of women in Africa? Harvest time is from June to August and during these months a woman can collect up to 1,200 kg of shea nuts and thus supplement the family income.

There are many traders on the internet who offer products that come directly from Africa. One example is Afrikahandel.de or Amazon.de.

Organic certification

Actually, any shea butter can call itself organic, as the ingredients are almost exclusively obtained through wild collection and no pesticides etc. are used in the savannah.

Moreover, in good products the nuts are not harvested from trees close to the road. So if a shea butter is certified organic, that says nothing about the quality.

Rather, the local collection points are obliged to be certified and to document each collection. For the pickers, this means even more work.

Below are some examples of organic certifications, for those who want absolute certainty.

  • Austria Bio Garantie
  • BDIH Controlled Natural Cosmetics
  • ECOCERT
  • Cosmebio
  • NATRUE

Fair Trade

An important clue to determine whether a product is fair trade or not can be the price. A kilo of shea butter for 10 euros, for example, is rather suspicious. This cannot be a fair trade product.

Fair trade seals are another indicator. They indicate fair and sustainable products.

Almost all fair-trade products are also of higher quality because they are produced under better conditions. So not only do local people win, you win too.

Vegan

Most shea butters are vegan. This means that no animal products were used in their production.

Many products are also marked with a label so you can be sure that it is completely vegan.

You should also make sure that the vegan product has been produced without animal testing.

Facts worth knowing about shea butter

What is the shea nut tree?

The shea nut tree is a 15 m - 25 m tall tree with a many-branched and spreading crown. It grows exclusively in the savannahs and Sudan zones of tropical Africa. The shea tree lives between 10 and 25 years.

The leaves of the shea tree are elongated, elliptical and leathery. They grow between 10 cm and 25 cm wide. The fruits, the trunk, the branches, the leaves and the seeds have a reddish milky sap.

The fruits of the karite tree are actually berries. The seeds they contain consist of up to 50% fat. They are used to make shea butter.

What is the history of shea butter?

Documents from the time of Cleopatra's reign already mention jars with the yellowish and rich shea butter, which was used to care for skin and hair.

The shea tree was considered sacred. It was also used to make the coffins of kings. But the butter was also used to protect the skin and hair from the strong sun and dry wind.

How can I make shea butter myself?

Shea butter face mask

Ingredients:

  • Half an avocado
  • 1 tablespoon shea butter
  • 1 tsp honey
  1. Whip all ingredients in a blender until creamy.
  2. Then you can apply the mask and wash it off with cold water after 15 - 20 minutes,

Shea Butter Hair Treatment

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp. shea butter
  • Warm water bath
  • 1 tbsp. curd cheese
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  1. Liquefy shea butter in a warm water bath and mix it with the quark.
  2. Then add the honey, stirring constantly.
  3. Then you can apply the hair treatment to your hair and wash it out with a shampoo after 15 minutes.

Shea butter body cream

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons beeswax
  • 3 teaspoons lime blossom tea infusion
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 3 teaspoons shea butter
  • 3 teaspoons almond oil
  • 2 teaspoons wheat germ oil
  • 3 drops rose oil
  1. Melt the beeswax in a hot water bath and at the same time heat the lime blossom tea infusion and honey together.
  2. When beeswax is melted, add shea butter and let it melt as well.
  3. Add almond oil and wheat germ oil.
  4. Add lime blossom tea and honey mixture.
  5. Mix everything well.
  6. Add rose oil and mix well again.
  7. Pour the cream into a small container and refrigerate.

(Image source: pixabay.com / silviarita)

References (4)

1. Akihisa T, Kojima N, Kikuchi T, Yasukawa K, Tokuda H, T Masters E, Manosroi A, Manosroi J. Anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive effects of triterpene cinnamates and acetates from shea fat. J Oleo Sci. 2010;59(6):273-80.
Source

2. Honfo FG, Akissoe N, Linnemann AR, Soumanou M, Van Boekel MA. Nutritional composition of shea products and chemical properties of shea butter: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2014;54(5):673-86.
Source

3. James Q. Del Rosso. Repair and Maintenance of the Epidermal Barrier in Patients Diagnosed with Atopic Dermatitis. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2011 Jun; 4(6): 45–55.
Source

4. John F. Helliwell, Robert D. Putnam2. The social context of well-being. 2004 Aug 31; Department of Economics, University of British Columbia, 997–1873.
Source

Why you can trust me?

Wissenschaftliche Studie
Akihisa T, Kojima N, Kikuchi T, Yasukawa K, Tokuda H, T Masters E, Manosroi A, Manosroi J. Anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive effects of triterpene cinnamates and acetates from shea fat. J Oleo Sci. 2010;59(6):273-80.
Go to source
Wissenschaftliche Studie
Honfo FG, Akissoe N, Linnemann AR, Soumanou M, Van Boekel MA. Nutritional composition of shea products and chemical properties of shea butter: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2014;54(5):673-86.
Go to source
Wissenschaftliche Studie
James Q. Del Rosso. Repair and Maintenance of the Epidermal Barrier in Patients Diagnosed with Atopic Dermatitis. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2011 Jun; 4(6): 45–55.
Go to source
Wissenschaftliche Studie
John F. Helliwell, Robert D. Putnam2. The social context of well-being. 2004 Aug 31; Department of Economics, University of British Columbia, 997–1873.
Go to source
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