Grainy Body Butter? Here's Why


So, you've made a lovely body butter with your favorite avocado oil and it sets beautifully. Life is a joy! Your skin is loving the creamy smoothness of your very own creation, and you are patting your back at how fabulous you are.

A few days pass.

Or maybe a week.

Suddenly – without warning – you open the jar to grab a dab and, shock! The contents has completely changed! Your creamy smooth, lovely body butter is now grainy and looks like this.




You assess the situation. You stare in disbelief. Then (if you're anything like me), the unpleasant utterations make their way across your lips.

Why? Why does this happen?


There is a Reason

The reason is almost always shea butter. If not treated just so, shea will go grainy – even in an emulsion. I've seen it turn everything from a simple body butter to a complicated cream into a grainy, undesirable porridge.

In this case, I was a bit dumbfounded, because I was quite sure there was no shea in my body butter.

In checking my notes, the culprit revealed itself.

It was disguised, but it was indeed shea butter.


Above: The Culprit! The 'aloe butter' in this body butter is predominately shea with a bit of oil and aloe powder mixed in.


Why This Happens

Shea butter is a temperamental in much the same way chocolate is. Have you ever heard someone speak of tempering chocolate? To achieve the perfect texture, chocolate (and shea), need to be heated to a max temperature, then kept at a lower heat and stirred for a period to ensure that it solidfies as desired.

If chocolate isn't tempered, it will take on a 'greyish' and dull appearance and won't have that lovely 'snap' when bitten into.

Shea risks going grainy.

Shea butter consists of approximately 5% palmitic acid and 40% stearic acid (and other acids). Each have a different melting and solidification point. If not heated and cooled correctly, the fatty acids will crystallize into lumps and the shea goes grainy.

A lot of people have a love/hate relationship with shea butter for this very reason. I totally understand, because the struggle for perfect texture with shea is quite real.


What to do About it

If your product is an emulsion, I'm afraid it's destined for the bin, but if your product is 100% fat-based, then there is a relatively simple solution.

Remelt and stir.

Gently.

Carefully.

At low heat.


The ideal procedure is to transfer your product to a glass container to remelt.

Here, however, there was such a small amount of body butter left that I placed the container directly into the microwave.


After 2 periods of 60 seconds at the lowest heat setting, the mixture was stirred and then allowed to set.


A Note About Cooling

Some shea seems to set better at room temerature and some shea seems to set better if cooled quickly.

The million dollar question: which shea does best with which method? I truly wish I could tell you, but I'm still working on that one.

There are as many different qualities of shea as there are chocolate. Even though I have ordered shea from the same reputable supplier for years, and it may still behave differently from batch to batch. As a rule of thumb though, the refined shea I use behaves best when allowed to set at room temperature.

Sometimes, working with natural ingredients can be more fun than others.


Here's the result of this remelt. Smooth, creamy and just like it is supposed to be!


More info about Shea (and Chocolate) and the Chemistry of Tempering and Rendering Fats

Battling Shea Butter Graininess and Winning
Food Science - Why temper chocolate?
Heating and Holding Butters and Graininess - Susan Barclay Nichols
Shea and its different fatty acid profiles
Purification process of shea butter


Comments

Signe said…
Interesting! I don't remember that I've ever had that kind of problem with shea, but my problem is that my whipped shea body butter always goes too hard.
Lise M Andersen said…
Hi Signe,

How cool you've never experienced graininess! Do you work with unrefined or refined shea?

Also, do you mix your shea with oil when you make whipped butter? If you use an 80/20 shea/oil mix, you should have a perfect texture. :)
Signe said…
I think mine is refined, but I'm not sure. I use about 25% oil and rest is shea butter, when I make whipped body butter. I quess I always whip too long time, the result is harder than plain shea butter itself. One reason can be low temperature, my home is kind of cold in winter times...
Lise M Andersen said…
Hi Signe,

That's quite interesting that you can add 25% oil to the shea and still get such a hard result. You mention possibly over whipping - that might be the answer. I have always whipped as little time as possible… now of course, I'll have to try and see if I can recreate 'your texture'by doing the same thing! :)
María Zamora said…
I definitely gave up with shea just because of that, y really hate it. After time, and also after raiding that actually I don't make that many products, I changed to cocoa butter + oil, or a mix of them with beeswax (sometimes also with coconut oil). And I love it, hard enough to keep and melts lovely in contact with skin.
In my opinion, after experimentation each make their own selection of favourite products ;)
Lise M Andersen said…
Hi María - I do know what you mean! Have you read Signes comments above? I'm super curious now about exploring working with shea as the exclusive butter in a body butter and whipping it. Even though I know it is practically mission impossible, I would love to crack the shea code once and for all!
Anonymous said…
I' have a product that this happened to. But I also has beeswax and Ewax mixed in my oils. Is it still safe to remelt it and whip again?
Lise M Andersen said…
Hi Anon - You might find it works to remelt and cool again. If it's a small portion, I'd give it a go but melt slowly over low heat and stir while it's cooling until it starts to tturn viscous - then pour up.
Hi there,
Love your website. thank you!

I make a shea butter body butter - the recipe is from several blogs online and research. I use 20% shea to oil ratio. Oils I typically use are grapeseed, olive or almond along with cacao butter. I heat up mix then freeze until there is just a slight frozen film on top, beat with a stand up mixer, re freeze (4-5 mins), beat again, no more than 3 x typically. I get a super light, melt on your skin fluffy loveliness. It will degrade in heat - I shipped some to a dear friend and she ended up with a puddle of grainy shea and oil.

Yesterday I tried adding beeswax to the mix and using same process. I just mailed to another friend - LOL - to see how it goes. I am wondering if you have any suggestions? Maybe I'm doing something wrong from the gate by freezing and perhaps overbearing?? thank you!
Lise M Andersen said…
Hi Claudia - Thanks for your kind words about my blog. I have written a book about working with shea butter that adresses this kind of problem (and offers several formulas and tutorials for different products with shea). Your problem is due to a combination of things - among others- the condition of the shea when you start. If you check LisaLise.com/shop you can read more about what the book contains. :)