Shea Butter: To Refine, or Not to Refine?

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melstan775

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Refined Shea Butter is like $3.00 less a pound then unrefined. Does it matter in soap if the shea is refined or not? I thought refined shea had less skin benefit because of the refining process, but please correct me if I'm wrong.
 

Lindy

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What you will encounter with unrefined Shea is the scent of the product. I find that it can interfere with soap when adding other fragrances. However, having said that you can work with the fragrance to create something very earthy.
 

Lindy

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It's always possible. I have some raw shea which is quite yellow and it is wonderful! I sell it straight as a lip balm and it is really, really popular....
 

melstan775

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I think the unrefined shea smells like the inside of a pack of cigarettes. tobacco and metallic liner. Smells the same to me. I don't smoke anymore, so now I can smell how bad that smell is, lol. Do you use the unrefined shea in your soaps too?
 

danahuff

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I have used it and never noticed an issue after saponification, but it stinks in body butter (to my nose, anyway), and fragrance doesn't mask it.

I use both shea and cocoa butter in soaps, and I can't smell it.
 

The Soap Lady

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Not all Shea butters are the same. The smell will depend on how the nuts have been treated before extraction. This being said, unrefined Shea Butter is the best in all the products. I even use as is in lotions and soaps and my customers like the products.

THE SOAP LADY

 
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cerelife

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mel, I get my shea (both refined and unrefined) from WSP and like lindy mentioned the unrefined a pretty yellow color and has a distinctive scent. But I don't get a tobacco scent...more of an organic nutty warm kind of smell. It's not offensive to me, but I don't care for it in soaps where I'm trying to get a floral or spa/clean scent, even after curing.
And I agree with danahuff about using unrefined shea in body butters! I like for mine to be pure white and with zero shea smell so I use refined shea, and honestly I prefer the texture as well, but to each his own :)
 

melstan775

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okay, so what I am getting out of responses is generally to use refined or unrefined is a preference. My understanding is the steaming and clay filters the shea goes through to refine it makes it less suitable when you're trying to get the skin-softening and healing benefits from it. Can anyone confirm this ?
 

Lindy

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First we need to review that all shea butter is wild crafted and then collected by the village women. After harvesting they create the butter which is in turn sold to the companies that wholesale into our respective countries into our suppliers. There are some that are fortunate enough to get involved with companies that are working fair trade and helping the women have an income that will support them throughout the rest of the year which a lot of the big corporations don't do. Once the shea butter has passed to the next step then the processing truly begins and that's when we start to see the differences in the quality.

There is a company in Ireland who works with these women and they buy huge amounts of shea that arrive in cargo containers. I understand that they then do have to do some cleaning of the butter, but it is truly raw shea.... They make amazing products with it too.....
 

Lindy

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okay, so what I am getting out of responses is generally to use refined or unrefined is a preference. My understanding is the steaming and clay filters the shea goes through to refine it makes it less suitable when you're trying to get the skin-softening and healing benefits from it. Can anyone confirm this ?

Melstan I don't think that's the case really.... Refined shea is quite nice and for most of my products it is my preferred version when using shea....
 

melstan775

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oh yeah, I read that one Lindy. I am all for fair trade, but that doesn't answer my question. I think I will spend some time tomorrow reviewing and researching specifically on shea butter so I can make a better decision. Thanks all for your input.
 

melstan775

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Will share links, et al. so far all I found is one article on ehow that basiacally says "yes, refined shea butter is less beneficial then unrefined."
 

cerelife

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mel, this is just my personal preference but to me refined shea butter is less dense/greasy than unrefined and absorbs more easily into my skin. My guinea pigs/testers have confirmed this.
Unrefined shea tends to form a sort of barrier on my skin without actually being absorbed....it could be the best stuff ever, but if my skin can't absorb it, it's useless.
BTW, I haven't used shea in soap for a while...I personally prefer mango butter to shea in soap, but again, that's just me!
 

melstan775

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mel, this is just my personal preference but to me refined shea butter is less dense/greasy than unrefined and absorbs more easily into my skin. My guinea pigs/testers have confirmed this.
Unrefined shea tends to form a sort of barrier on my skin without actually being absorbed....it could be the best stuff ever, but if my skin can't absorb it, it's useless.
BTW, I haven't used shea in soap for a while...I personally prefer mango butter to shea in soap, but again, that's just me!

I like mango butter to, but I will tell you.. I suffer from extreme and chronic dryness to the point of red blistering on some parts of my body. I first noticed a change when I sued a specific soap some months ago and someone on this forum suggested it could be the shea butter in the soap. Shea is known for its healing value, and sure enough, if I use the unrefined shea it puts the fire right out.

I wonder if shea has some sort of antibacterial prperty, or if it's the fact that it blocks out the air that heals. Stopping germ transfer is a surefire way to promote healing. It's like using neosporin, nuskin, or even a plain old bandaid to keep the germs out - it is antibacteral and stops airflow, and the skin heals faster. This is an idea, not a fact.
 

cerelife

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Interesting idea, mel. I usually pick the brains of the docs I work with anyway about possible EO safety issues and what kinds of oils/butters, etc are truly beneficial to the skin as opposed to the whatever the media is hyping, so I'll pose this question to them as well. I'm not really on a first name basis with any of the oncologists, so I'll ask my docs for an intro since this would be right up their alley...
I'll let you know whatever I learn :)
 
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MaitriBB

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I was just writing up a shea butter post for my blog.

From Wikipedia:
Shea butter (/ˈʃ/ or /ˈʃ.ə/) is a slightly yellowish or ivory-colored fat extracted from the nut of the African shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa).[1] Shea butter is a triglyceride (fat) derived mainly from stearic acid and oleic acid. It is widely used in cosmetics as a moisturizer, salve or lotion. Shea butter is edible and is used in food preparation in Africa and also as a prophylactic.[2] Occasionally the chocolate industry uses shea butter mixed with other oils as a substitute for cocoa butter, although the taste is noticeably different.(Source)
Agbanga Karite's site describes the cosmetic properties of shea butter much better than I could:
Shea butter enables your skin to absorb moisture from the air, and as a result, it becomes softer and stays moisturized for longer. In addition, shea butter has natural sunscreen properties and anti-inflammatory agents. Because of its amazing properties, shea butter is an excellent ingredient for soaps, lotions and creams. Perhaps it is most effective when applied to the skin in its pure state. Regular users of pure, unrefined shea butter notice softer, smoother, healthier skin. Shea butter has also been shown to help with skin conditions and ailments such as extreme dryness, psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, skin allergies, fungal infections, blemishes, wrinkles, stretch marks, scars, scrapes, and more (source)
I almost always use shea butter in my CP soap recipes. When looking around for some shea, you'll find retailers selling either "refined" or "unrefined." According to the American Shea Butter Institute, "the refining process removes not only the odor and color, but also removes the important bioactive nutrients" such as vitamins A, E, and F.

When it comes to soapmaking use of shea, I haven't been able to tell much of a difference between the two. I've soaped with both kinds. Knowing that the nutrients can be decreased by up to 75% when the butter is refined, makes me want to use unrefined exclusively. Unrefined shea tends to have a nuttier smell and be yellower in color, although shea in general can run the gamut of white to ivory to light green or yellow, although the ASBI says that if it's mustard-yellow-colored, it's probably "river butter," and not shea (source). Refined shea is usually light ivory to white.
Very yellow shea (or river) butter can affect the color in your soap, so be wary of that, especially if you use micas or oxides to color or swirl in your soap batches.

There are a lot of shea suppliers out there. True shea comes from Africa almost exclusively, for example Togo, Mali, or Ghana, as it is a product of the karite tree, so make sure that you're not getting your shea from immoral suppliers who are exploiting villagers or a processing plant. Look for fair trade shea if you can find it.

Popular sources to get shea butter for soapmaking purposes are:
  • Agbanga Karite - fair trade shea butter and African black soap from Togo
  • Coastal Scents
  • Essential Depot ~ unrefined shea is currently on sale there for $19.95 for 5 lbs, which is a good deal
  • Jedwards (bulk, 55+ lbs only)
  • Amazon ~ but since multiple people sell on Amazon, it's hard to know the true source of the product. Still, if you have Amazon Prime, i.e. free 2-day shipping, then it might be worth it to you.
 

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