Difference between White and Yellow Shea Butter
By Theydiffer - May 27, 2017

Have you ever tried to make a DIY lotion? If you have, you probably have already realized that one of the most important ingredients is shea butter. However, most recipes do not really indicate whether you need white or yellow shea butter. Which one is better? Which one should you use? And how are they different? If you are clueless, do not worry. This article will discuss the difference between white and yellow shea butter.


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The word “white” in white shea butter can mean off-white or stark white. Off-white is unrefined shea butter and stark or pure white is refined or ultra-refined shea butter.

When you see an off-white or ivory-colored shea butter, it means it is unrefined. Unrefined shea butter goes through filtration typically by using a cheesecloth. It still contains fatty acids and vitamins and can be a great moisturizing component in cosmetics or on its own. It has a sweet, nutty aroma.

The other type of “white” shea butter is the pure white shea butter, which can be either refined or ultra-refined. When shea butter is pure white, it means it has undergone filtration, deodorizing, and bleaching. These processes not only remove the natural odor and color of the shea butter, but also its important nutrients. Because the beneficial properties have been removed and harsh chemicals and preservatives may have been used, stark white shea butter is usually considered the “unhealthy” type of shea butter.

Pure white shea butter is free of impurities and has a smooth texture. It may come in solid form in different shapes (poured into molds) or in liquid form. It is usually mass-produced and is one of the ingredients in commercial beauty products.

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On the other hand, yellow shea butter is raw shea butter. This means it has not undergone any filtration or bleaching process so it often still has impurities and a powerful nutty odor. It always comes as a paste, usually placed inside a jar or a tub (because it cannot be poured into molds).

Yellow shea butter is difficult to melt and apply to the skin and scalp. However, many people prefer to use it because it sticks to the surface longer and it is free of harmful chemicals as it has not undergone a refinement process.

It is important to note, however, there are Karite trees (trees that produce the nuts where shea butter is extracted from) that produce off-white raw shea butter instead of deep yellow shea butter. Usually, the local shea butter makers add in Borututu tree roots to achieve the yellow color. The Borututu tree, a plant from Africa known for its medicinal properties, is good for the liver and gallbladder.

White vs Yellow Shea Butter

What, then, is the difference between white and yellow shea butter?

White shea butter can be off-white (unrefined) or stark white (refined or ultra-refined). Off-white shea butter has undergone filtration usually by using a cheesecloth, whereas stark white shea butter is free of impurities and odor as it has undergone bleaching, filtration, and deodorizing. On the other hand, yellow shea butter is raw shea butter (sometimes, raw shea butter is ivory-colored so Borotutu roots are added to achieve the deep yellow color).

Stark white shea butter is odorless and may come in solid or liquid form (can be poured into molds). Off-white shea butter and yellow shea butter have that distinct nutty odor and are usually placed in tubs or jars as their pasty consistency means they cannot be poured into molds.

White shea butter, particularly the stark white shea butter, is considered unhealthy because it may contain harmful chemicals and preservatives from the refinement process. It may also lack the beneficial properties necessary to make your skin and scalp healthy. Yellow shea butter and the off-white shea butter are the healthier options because they do not contain harmful chemicals and still retain the beneficial nutrients, although they can be difficult to apply because of their consistency.

Comparison Chart

White Shea ButterYellow Shea Butter
Can be off-white (unrefined) or stark white (refined or ultra-refined)Raw shea butter
Stark white shea butter has undergone a refinement process; off-white shea butter has undergone a filtration process usually by using a cheese clothHas not undergone any refinement
Stark white shea butter is odorless and may come in solid or liquid form; easy to melt and apply; off-white shea butter is pasty and has a sweet, nutty aromaIs pasty and is placed in tubs or jars; can be difficult to melt and apply; has a powerful sweet, nutty aroma
Stark white shea butter may contain harmful chemicals and preservatives and may lack nutrients; off-white shea butter still has its natural beneficial propertiesYellow shea butter contains the natural nutrients of the Karite nut