Refined vs Unrefined Shea - Testing Batch 1

Above: batch one of the 2 whipped shea butters undergoing stringent testing – identical in every way except for the shea itself. The goal: to discover which is the better shea – refined or unrefined.

As I write this, I have been using both butters for about 4 weeks.

Let's have a look at how things went, shall we?


Both whipped butters have been primarily tested on extremities: feet, legs, arms, and hands. My method: testing the unrefined butter on the left side and the refined butter on the right side.

I always try to approach A/B testing products as scientifically as possible, but let's be honest here: we are talking about feel and perception, so it's kind of impossible to put numbers or 'solid facts' on any of this.

Nonetheless, the daily application of both butters was carried out methodically and according to 'strict (self-imposed) rules' as to amount, rub-in time etc.

I thought I was doing a bang-up job of everything too. As it turned out, my testing method had serious flaws.

But, we'll get to that bit in a minute.


Both butters go on easily and both need to be massaged in for a bit to be absorbed. They both leave a bit of 'greasy shine' to the skin.

There is, however, a denser, richer feel to the unrefined shea. Even when whipped to an airy lightness, I find the difference between the 2 butters tangible.

Moisturising and Skin-Nourishing Ability

Apart from the immediate sensory difference, it is not my impression that unrefined shea moisturizes or nourishes better than refined. In this respect, both butters deliver equally well.


Refined shea is as close to scent-free as you can get, while unrefined has a heavier, almost cocoa-butter-like scent.

I used the same essential oil combination for both whipped butters, but the unrefined needed an extra 4 drops to 'morph' the scent into something pleasant. The end result: the 2 butters smell slightly different.

Which is best?

In principle, I prefer scent-free raw materials because they are 'a blank canvas' to work with.

But working with unrefined shea – not nearly as heavy-smelling as cocoa butter – really isn't much of an issue – perhaps because I have worked so many times with heavier-smelling ingredients such as cocoa butter.

Admittedly, it took some years, but I finally started to get the hang of working with the inherent scent of a (smelly or heavy) ingredient and incorporating it as a component of the final scent. When you get the hang of, it, it's actually much easier than trying to mask the scent of a heavy ingredient. Creating a scent 'around cocoa butter' obivously makes for limitations as to choice of essential oils, but it is also quite an interesting challenge.

Flaws Revealed

As mentioned above: I try to approach this kind of product testing as scientifically as possible. And I would have sworn I had been using equal amounts of each product every day.

But guess what.

One of the jars was empty waaay before the other one.


Surprisingly, the unrefined shea turned out to be my fave.

Coming Up

We're not done with shea butter yet. While I am A/B testing refined vs. unrefined shea, I have been tasked with creating a non-greasy-feeling whipped shea butter/balm. So, we will be moving from one test directly into the next!


Mickey said…
Hi Lise, I love getting your "scientific studies"...hehe. I also prefer to begin with everything as unscrnted as possible. I have a query maybe you can help with. Im going to make a cream with borage oil, which has a "fatty" sort of scent...a little unpleasant. Its high in essential fatty acids, so it may even smell reminiscent of fish oil. Sooo, what's the best way to tone down or mask the scent as much as possible, while trying to "work with it"? I fear if I try to cover it completely I'll end up with another problem. Shea will also be going in this cream! Thanks in advance!
LisaLise said…
HI Mickey - I don't work with fragrance oils, so my input for you is all about essential oils. I find the woodsy and terpene-rich scents work well as a base (rosewood, cedar wood, juniper, rosemary) and will 'incorporate' the heavy scent as an unrecognizable component. You'll then want to add strong, rich scents such as geranium, ylang ylang, or rose and top off with a fruity/citrussy scent such as lemon, orange, blood orange, mandarin or grapefruit. Best of luck with it!
Mickey said…
Thank you Lise! I'll let you know how it turns out!
Unknown said…
Hi Lise! Loved your blog! We have been working with unrefined shea butter for almost 2 years now. We have stayed away from the refined because of the refining process. It does take some getting used to getting "above" the smell of shea (which I actually like, but some don't). But i really like the way you look at it, working "with" the inherent properties of this butter. I just find it to be an amazing butter. I too am looking at how to get around the "greasiness" of it, so look forward to your next blog on this! Some have suggested cornstarch or tapioca starch. We have yet to try it, but will here soon. In the winter people don't quite mind it so much, but summer here in FL my sales slow waaaayyyy down! I really like your suggestions on the eo's, we only use them also. Our latest is orange, patchouli and ylang ylang. It is funny, patchouli and ylang ylang are 2 that people either love or hate. No in between. But this has been well received. We call it harmony to match a rollerball blend I make. Previously harmony was rosemary and lavender, but changed it up to match. Thank you for sharing your information! Marie
LisaLise said…
Hi Marie! Thanks so much for your input! I am surprising myself a little at how much I grab the unrefined shea first - this after ages of using exclusively refined shea. I agree with you about the yang ylang and patchouli scents. I have never been able to get myself to work with patchouli (my nose refuses to let me), and I only incorporate ylang ylang when I need something to 'bend' a scent (which it is really good at). Your idea of using it with the unrefined shea is an excellent suggestion that I shall now have to try out!