Ingredient Spotlight

All About Shea Butter

6 minute read

Exclusively grown in the dry savannah belt of West and South Africa, the shea tree or karite tree, is harvested for many uses. Its most important and notable product is shea butter.

What is Shea Butter?

The buttery consistency and health benefits are used in a variety of products. Shea butter is extracted from the seeds of the tree's fruit. From moisturizers, soaps to hair care products, shea butter is often a significant ingredient. Additionally, shea butter is non-toxic, which means it is edible and can be used in cooking.

For centuries the powerhouse ingredient is considered "women's gold." It's nickname alludes to its importance for employment, farming cooperatives, and social enterprises. Due to the rigorous process of extracting the shea butter, women-led co-ops harvest the fruits and nuts.

Given its easy moldability and abundance of benefits, shea butter is a key ingredient in many personal care products. Some of the benefits of shea butter include:

  • Features vitamins A, E, and F to keep your skin moisturized and protects your skin barrier and its natural oils. Vitamin E also prevents and soothes wrinkles.
  • Ability to lock in moisture and soothe dry and irritated skin with emmolient properties.
  • Contains anti-inflammatory elements. Studies have shown that shea butter has antioxidant properties and the same efficacy as ceramide products.

Raw versus Refined?

When you purchase pure shea butter, you can get it in two forms, refined or unrefined (raw).

Refined: It is mainly used for cosmetics and soaps—refining shea butter filters out impurities, leaving the final product appearing pale and white.

Unrefined or Raw: keeps impurities and left au naturel. This gives it a pale yellowish color and has the typical odor commonly associated with shea butter.

Regardless, shea butter is a fatty compound that contains 85 to 90% fatty acids—being stearic and oleic acids. These compounds are what give shea butter its consistency.

What is Fair Trade Shea Butter?

Okay, now that you know what shea butter is, did you know you can purchase shea butter in its natural form?

If you decide to purchase shea butter, make sure you're buying from a credible retailer or cooperative. To do so, look for fair trade vendors and products to ensure the shea butter doesn't come from exploited workers.

According to the World Fair Trade Organization, there are ten principles of fair trade.

We rounded up three fair trade, legitimate retailers that foster fair trade initiatives.

We rounded up three fair trade, legitimate retailers that foster fair trade initiatives.

Shea Yeleen

Our mission encompasses revolutionizing the way shea butter is bought and sold worldwide. Shea Yeleen International is a unique social enterprise that includes a 501(c)3 nonprofit and a commercial entity that sells high-quality, unrefined shea butter products...
Currently, Shea Yeleen’s business model demonstrates a 5x increase in income for the shea producers — helping women who historically have lived on less than $2 a day to generate over $10 a day. In addition, shea butter cooperative members are provided with health insurance, access to savings groups, and provided with the training.


The Alaffia Foundation (TAF) is a 501(c)3 organization. TAF’s mission is to empower African communities through the advancement of Fair Trade, education, sustainable living and gender equality.
The Alaffia Foundation executes our Alaffia Empowerment Projects in Togo, West Africa that support Fair Trade producer communities. TAF provides a platform for individuals and organizations around the world to partner with Alaffia, by sharing resources, skills, time and money. This public support is critical to Alaffia impacting more lives in Togo.

Baraka Shea Butter

At Baraka, we strive to use business to bridge divides worldwide and create a genuine community impact through: Fair payment to producers and workers; Support of women, families, communities, and development in Ghana; The creation of high-quality products brought to the market in a fair, equitable, and environmentally sustainable manner; and Operating a profitable business that makes all of this sustainable.

How to Use Shea Butter?

You can use shea butter in many different ways. It's a versatile ingredient that can be transformed into creamy, balmy, and whipped textures. You can also use shea butter in its natural form. It melts with your body temperature, leaving your skin feeling silky smooth!

Next time you purchase a moisturizer or body wash, look at the ingredients label—you'll likely find shea butter listed on there.

Shea butter is the main ingredient in products like:

  • Body cream
  • Hand cream
  • Shaving cream
  • Massage butter
  • Body butter
  • Lip balm
  • Moisturizing agent in soaps

Since it's so versatile and easy to mold, shea butter is an excellent ingredient to DIY projects! Check out YouTuber Abetweene's tutorial on how to make whipped shea butter at home.

Our Picks

Shea Yeleen Coconut Melon Body Balm, $22

Alaffia Whipped Shea Butter & Coconut Oil, $16.99

Baraka Shea Butter Black Soap, from $5.49

Okay Pure Naturals African Shea  Butter Yellow Smoothing, $8.10

Nezza Naturals Whipped Shea Butter, $8.95

OYIN Whipped Shea Butter, $17.99