Shea butter may be refined or unrefined. Unrefined shea butter is the purest form of shea butter, which is the most natural and the least processed. Since it is extracted manually, it is able to retain its vitamins, minerals, and other natural properties. It is subjected to a basic filtration process using clays, cheesecloth, or other methods. These can slightly alter the butter’s color, scent, and texture. It is melted, set into molds, and sold in the form of bars or sticks.
Unrefined shea butter is further categorized into grades ranging from A to F, with grade A being the best quality.
Refined shea butter, on the other hand, is the processed form. Apart from the filtration process, it also undergoes a deodorizing process by airing or usage of chemicals. It is also bleached to make the butter whiter. Addition of additives is common to add a suitable scent and increase the shelf life (preservatives) of the butter. All of these processes make the butter white and very smooth. A major disadvantage of using the refined version of shea butter is that all the processing it goes through reduces its nutritional value.
This refined version can be refined even further, which implies the involvement of more processes to make it even more smooth and white. This is often done when shea butter needs to incorporated into cosmetics or skin care products. Quite a few of the nutritional benefits get destroyed after so many refining processes. This type of shea butter is often referred to as ultra-refined or highly refined shea butter.
Some companies also market their shea butter as being organic. This is the unrefined version that has been grown and harvested using natural processes only. The healing and moisturizing properties of shea butter can be attributed to its nutritional value. Here is the nutritional data for shea butter.