A lot of people are familiar with shea butter because it is used in cosmetics and skincare like moisturizers, soaps, or face masks. It is touted for its healing and hydrating benefits. However, most people don’t know that shea butter comes from the seeds of the African Shea Tree. In African culture, they use raw shea butter, black garlic butter in cooking their signature dishes, too.
However, in the modern market, you cannot ingest shea butter. Instead, use it as a topical treatment. It is common to find two kinds of shea butter: refined or filtered and unrefined or raw. The former goes through more chemical processes than the raw version. As such, industry experts call raw shea butter its purest form.
The Process of Extraction
The extraction process notes the big difference between filtered and unfiltered shea butter. Typically, producers dry shea nuts and remove their outer shells before processing. They take out the nut flesh and pass it through a grinder. It is then roasted, which is why shea butter has that distinct smokey scent. From there, the concoction gets boiled in the water where the nut fats float as the mixture cools. They finally extract the fat, which is butter. After scooping the fat, they whip it to get its nice velvety consistency.
- Raw Shea
In unrefined shea, the processing of the product uses gentle, traditional means. Often, people harvest this by hand without any added chemicals. They gather a high-quality product called raw shea butter. Noteworthy, this retains its properties because they don’t refine nor filter this product.
You will find this raw version left in its original form post-extraction. Since producers don’t use filters, bleaches, deodorizers, or additives, it is common for you to see impurities like broken nutshells and chunky fibers. You will also notice that this retains its unique nutty scent.
- Filtered Shea
In contrast, filtered shea, as its name suggests, is filtered. It goes through refining to take out all its impurities. Often, manufacturers in large plants use big machines and chemical solvents to process the butter. By standard, they rely on a compound called hexane. This chemical speed up the process of opening the shea nut seeds. It also makes the fat (which is the butter) separate faster from the whole nut.
Typically, the extracted fat also passes through a mesh system to strain any debris like nut skins and chunks. Sometimes, manufacturers use other chemical treatments to ascertain that no bacteria remain in the butter. At times, they infuse the product with additives like preservatives to guarantee a better shelf-life. Usually, the nut loses its natural odor during chemical processing. As such, the manufacturers also infuse scent into the mixture.
The Color Nuances of Filtered and Raw Shea Butter
Experts point out that the primary difference between filtered vs raw shea butter is the color. Raw shea butter holds a yellow or beige hue. Sometimes, raw shea even contains a greenish or grayish tinge depending on the shea nuts’ maturity upon harvest. Industry professionals also point out that unrefined butter is never white. In fact, it contains a lot of specks and impurities. The consistency still isn’t smooth! Because it doesn’t go through refinement, you end up with clumpy butter.
On the other hand, you’ll observe that filtered shea butter maintains a pristine white color. Most people think that the whiter shade indicates a purer form. However, in this scenario, the whiter the butter, the more it has undergone. The producers make it a point to have silky butter that feels nice. They prioritize excellent consistency and texture. A lack of color shows that your shea butter went through filtration and refinement.
The Impact of Filtration
The process of extracting and preparing shea butter holds a huge impact on the final product. Let’s take a look at the differences below:
1. Retention of healing properties
Some say that ultra-refined or shea butter that has been filtered often loses some of its natural vitamin content. Additionally, shea butter also loses essential fatty acids. Unfortunately, the chemical processes change the properties of the butter, which is why the color and texture are altered. Often, filtered shea loses the potency of the roasted nutty scent.
On the contrary, raw shea butter uses traditional extraction methods. This gentle approach does not alter the composition of the product. As such, the majority of its properties are retained. This kind of shea butter holds the distinction of being the healthiest version for the skin because it maintains all its healing and moisturizing properties.
2. Shelf life
Because filtered shea has undergone processing to remove impurities and bacteria, it has a longer shelf life than the raw version. Unlike raw shea, it also possesses an extreme heat resistant property because of the chemical processing it went through. The significant advantage of the refined over unrefined shea is longevity. The filtered shea lasts longer with its extended expiration date.
Unfortunately, the fatty acids in raw shea butter can turn rancid quickly, especially if stored for too long. Furthermore, exposure to higher temperatures also means that raw shea spoils faster. An example of this is sitting inside a hot truck when delivered. For this reason, manufacturers choose to filter shea butter to maintain its integrity.
3. Presentation of the product
Since they harvest raw shea butter in its exact form, it will usually come as a clumpy paste. They commonly place this into bottles and jars. In contrast, filtered shea also comes in jars, but you can also pour it into fancy molds or cut into bars.
4. Additional additives
Shea’s process of getting its refined state means adding chemicals and preservatives to improve its longevity. At times, commercially refined shea adds fillers like oils and fragrance.
Unfortunately, for some people, this equates to irritation and allergies. For those who have sensitivities, they need to use raw shea with its fatty acids and all-natural vitamins that nourish the skin and prevent moisture loss.
Final Wrap Up
When it comes to treating skin issues, unrefined or raw shea butter remains superior as it keeps all of its healing properties. Those who grapple with eczema, psoriasis, and other skin issues will find this raw version very soothing and calming.
However, this doesn’t mean that refined or filtered shea butter is no longer beneficial. Even in its filtered form, this product will still help hydrate the skin. Manufacturers also say this variant is easier to use, especially when they infuse it with cosmetic products like lip balms, lotions, soaps, and shampoos. Either way, raw versus filtered shea will always have a place in your life.