Shea Butter

Sheabutter mit Nüssen
  • Vegetable Fat
  • INCI: Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter
  • Melting point: 28-38 °C (82 – 100 °F)
  • Comedogenicity: 0
  • Composition: Oleic acid (up to approx. 55 %), stearic acid (up to approx. 50 %), linoleic acid (up to approx. 8 %), palmitic acid (up to approx. 7 %), unsaponifiable (up to approx. 11 %), tocopherols, vitamin A, triterpenes.
  • Iodine number: 52 – 66.
  • Cosmetic use: Dry, chapped skin.
  • Shelf life: Several years, although the nilotica variant only lasts about 12 months, the paradoxa variants and refined shea can be kept up to 24 months.


The Karité tree (Vitellaria Paradoxa), also known as the shea nut tree, belongs to the Sapotaceae family and can reach heights of up to 25 meters. The large, dark green leaves are arranged at the branch ends and are elongated, elliptical, and rounded at the front with a wavy edge. The cream-white flowers grow in dense clusters (50-100 flowers) at the branch ends and smell like honey. The egg-shaped, mostly single-seeded drupes are 5-7 cm long and have a thick shell. The fruits contain a sweet pulp that surrounds a seed. The roundish seeds have a length of up to 5 cm and a glossy brownish color.

Extraction of shea butter

First, the flesh is removed and the nuts are dried in the sun or ovens. The nuts are then ground in oil mills to remove the shell. The kernels obtained are extracted in an oven, crushed, and diluted with water. This greasy mass is processed by hand until the shea butter becomes almost white and separates from the impurities. This requires a large amount of water. The resulting extract is boiled and filtered until the water is completely removed. In general, unrefined, native shea butter is considered more effective because it contains more natural nutrients than the refined variant. The refining process gives the product a pure white color and deprives it of its odor-intensive ingredients. However, other important ingredients are also lost in the process. Unrefined shea butter has an aromatic, spicy odor that is often perceived as unpleasant. Shea butter is therefore also available in an unrefined, deodorized version.


Cosmetic use of shea butter

Shea butter is firm at room temperature and becomes supple when warmed in the hand and can be applied to the skin. The unsaponifiable ingredients of shea butter (almost 11%) are considered skin-friendly and nourishing with protective properties. The butter has replenishing, moisture-regulating, and smoothing effects. This makes it an excellent care agent for dry, low-grease, scaly skin. Shea butter can be applied pure or used in lotions. The butter is accredited with a natural sun protection factor of 3.

Sheabutter mit Nüssen

Benefits of shea butter for the skin

  • very skin friendly and nourishing
  • has protective properties
  • moisturizes the skin
  • has a smoothing effect
  • has a light natural sun protection factor

Internal use of shea butter

Shea butter has been clinically tested for use against a cold, and it was found to have a better effect compared to traditional nose drops. Further research found that taking 30 g/d of a shea butter spread within 6 weeks resulted in a reduction in cholesterol levels. The BMI was also positively affected, with a reduction of 0.6%.

Buy shea butter – what to consider?

When buying shea butter you should always make sure to buy an unrefined product. As already mentioned, the unrefined butter contains more natural nutrients than the refined butter, since many of these important ingredients are lost during refining. In drugstores and supermarkets, however, you can usually only find refined shea butter. This refined shea butter is pure white and has hardly any odor. These are also often mixed with chemical additives and scented oils, which reduce the health-promoting effects. Therefore it is better to choose the more expensive, but natural and pure shea butter. But you should pay attention to the listed ingredient in order to be sure  no further oils, fats or other additives are contained.

Sources: Krist, Sabine (2013): Lexikon der Pflanzlichen Öle und Fett. Vienna: Springer Verlag. | Braunschweig, R. (2020): Pflanzenöle - über 50 starke Helfer für Genuss und Hautpflege. Wiggensbach: Stadelmann Verlag.

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