Shea Nut Oil vs Shea Butter

Shea Oil vs Shea Butter: Benefits for Skin and Hair


Khadija B.
October 30, 2022

Shea butter, a natural moisturizer found in African Shea nuts has been used for centuries to soothe skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. It’s also an ingredient that helps heal the surface of your body by retaining essential moisture which can be beneficial if you suffer from dryness or chapped lips!

Because of the oleic fatty acids, as well as other essential fatty acids, shea is known soften and restore moisture to skin, prevent hair breakage, and be an excellent ingredient for taking care of natural hair.

While Shea Nut Oil provides all of the benefits of shea in a concentrated oil and is easier to apply, there are specific situations where using Shea Butter is the better options. These are mainly scenarios where the you want to avoid the risk of excess oil destroying clothing or getting places where it should not be.

We dive into more below!

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Shea Oil vs Shea Butter: What’s the Difference?

Shea Butter

Shea Butter is extracted from the kernels of the shea fruit. This process includes cracking open the nut, grinding it into a powder, and then boiling the powder in water. The oil rises too the top and solidifies into Shea Butter.

Pure unrefined shea butter does not have any chemical processing. The natural products are organically a great moisturizer and do not have any preservatives, additives, or bleaching agents.

Types of Shea Butter

There are three types of Shea Butter to choose from: Unrefined, Refined, and Ultra-Refined.

  • Unrefined (Virgin) Shea Butter is made through a cold pressing process without any filtering systems that remove or reduce nourishing components. It is only passed through a cheese cloth to remove shea nut skins.
  • Because it is unrefined it is very sensitive to changes in temperature and can be difficult to work with. The naturally grainy texture of the unrefined product leads cosmetic companies to shy away from using virgin shea butter.
  • Refined Shea has been passed through one or more filtering systems, which can included using chemicals to remove the natural nutty smell. These treatments will often leave it whiter in color and preservatives are usually added.
  • Ultra Refined Shea Butter is extracted using solvents, and is typically filtered and then refiltered. This processing leaves it with a softer texture and makes it easier to use. It also unfortunately begins to strip away some of the beneficial ingredients and nutrients.
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Shea Oil

Shea oil is made by melting Shea butter and removing the oleic oil from the solid parts. This process lowers the content of stearic acid, which is what gives shea butter its solid and creamy texture.

What is Shea Oil?

Shea oil is the highly-nutritive vegetable oil derived from processing shea butter.

Benefits of Shea Oil:

  • Easy to apply and absorbs into skin quickly
  • Higher oleic acid content means it is just as effective at moisturizing as the heavier shea butter version
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How Does Shea Oil Compare to Shea Butter

Shea Butter and Shea Oil’s physical properties and benefits as daily moisturizer come from its fatty acids composition. The fatty acids we mainly care about are linoleic acid, stearic acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acid.

  • Linoleic acids produce the ceramides that help improve the strength and resilience of the skin. It protects the skin by helping retain moisture. It also has anti inflammatory properties, and is frequently missing from skin of those who suffer from acne.
  • Stearic acid give shea butter its solid and creamy composition
  • Palmitic acid is an effective emollient that softens the skin and assists with retaining moisture. It’s ability to form a protective layer on the skin that prevents moisture makes it helpful for those battling dry skin conditions.
  • Oleic Acid is a fatty acid that is similar to the skin’s natural sebum. It helps the skin heal and has both moisturizing benefits and anti inflammatory properties.

Typical fatty acid breakdown of Shea oil vs shea butter:

Typical Fatty Acid Content of Shea Butter vs. Shea Oil

Similarities between Shea Oil and Shea Butter

Because they are both products of the nuts of the shea tree, they have many of the same benefits. Because pure shea oil is made by fractionating shea butter and leaving behind all of the solid and waxy substances, you get all of the benefits of shea in a versatile, liquid oil.

Uses of Shea Butter and Shea Oil

Shea Butter vs Shea Oil for Dry Skin

Shea oil is more effective at battling dry skin, mainly because of it’s essential fatty acids makeup. A few things to know:

  • Shea oil has a higher concentration of linoleic acid, which is the omega 6 fatty acid that helps retain moisture and preserve skin integrity.
  • The process to make shea oil strips it of the nutty aroma that Shea Butter. This makes it a a good carrier oil where you plan to scent it with essential oils.
  • As shea butter is hard in colder temperatures, shea oil can be a little easier to apply if you do not leave in warmer temperatures.

Shea Butter vs Shea Oil for Hair

Shea oil stands out for its usefulness in hair care because it is a lightweight, concentrated oil that is nourishing enough to moisturize dry hair.

There are a few downsides to using shea butter on your hair. The first is that the waxy texture can build up on the hair overtime. While shea has lots of benefits in treating damaged hair and scalp, the lighter consistency of the oil form makes it to be delivered.

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Summary: Shea Nut Oil Benefits Make it A Great Alternative to Shea Butter

Shea nut oil is a lightweight version that delivers all of the benefits of shea in an easier to use and manage form. It is ideal as an moisturizer for your skin and can be used for your hair. The only draw back to shea oil is that it can cause of bit of a mess. I tend to use the shea butter form most when I am travelling, to avoid the risk of spilling oil everywhere.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Is Shea Oil Good for the Face?

Shea oily makes a great moisturizer for your face. It is an excellent emollient and is packed with anti-aging properties. Just as important, it is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction or clog your pores.

Which is Better for Skin: Shea Butter or Coconut Oil?

Both shea butter and coconut oil are excellent moisturizers. For those without oily skin, they can be used interchangeably or together. Those with oily skin would be best suited by avoiding coconut oil.

Does Shea Oil Clog Pores?

Shea Oil is unlikely to clog your pores. While no one can guarantee how you skin will react to any oil, shea nut oil has a comedogenic rating of 2, which makes it one of the least likely moisturizers to clog your pores.

Is Shea Nut Oil the Same as Shea Butter Oil?

Shea nut oil and shea butter oil are the same thing. Shea nut oil is the rich carrier oil made from fractionating Shea Butter. This process makes it easier to work with and highly stable and a favorite in the beauty industry.

Is Shea Nut Oil Good For Hair Growth?

Shea nut oil is great for hair growth because of its effectiveness in moisturizing dry scalp and hair. Apply to dry hair and leave in for at least a half hour.

If you have fine hair, apply to the ends only. Applying it to your roots can create an oily appearance.

Is Shea Nut Oil Good For Oily Skin?

Shea butter is a better option for those with oily skin, although both can be used. Since shea butter is non-comedogenic it is unlikely to clog pores and cause further skin problems to those with oily skin.

Khadija B.