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Know your shea: how to distinguish good/bad, real/fake, and dyed/unrefined shea butter?

know your shea shea butter shea production

This is what Grade A unrefined shea butter should look like

You’ve heard of the magical healing properties that shea butter can bring to your skin: fighting dryness, cracked skin, blemishes, stretch marks, baby’s diaper rash, sunburn, and a multitude of other uses.

But how can you be sure the shea butter you buy is the best quality possible, bringing the maximum healing power for your skin while being good for the environment and providing a stable income for women in Africa who make it? Here are some guidelines:

1. Choose Grade A, unrefined, naturally extracted shea

To achieve the maximum benefit for your skin, it’s important to choose Grade A natural unrefined shea butter.

  • Grade A refers to the best quality, unrefined, raw shea butter, extracted only using water
  • Grades B-E are refined with certain types of solvents, such as Hexane

2. Colour makes all the difference

Shea butterThe best quality Grade A unrefined shea butter has a greyish/off white colour.  (Heavily) refined shea butters are typically a pure white colour, so if your shea is pure white, it might be a sign that it is Grade C or below and has gone through a refinement process involving the use of harsh chemicals.
Another misconception is that yellow or gold coloured shea butter is the best quality. Yellow dye is often added to inferior quality butters to conceal their appearance and look appealing to overseas buyers (see images below). Deep yellow or gold-coloured butters have typically been dyed using flowers from a local tree called the Borututu tree. Don’t be fooled - if the butter was better quality, why would producers need a 'concealer'?

 dyed shea

Shea butter dyeing with Borututu flowers

dyed shea 2

Examples of inferior quality shea butter with yellow dyes and additives

3. The best, most nourishing handcrafted shea has an earthy, nutty smell and a slightly grainy texture

shea butter texture

With the best Grade A unrefined shea butter, you should expect a shelf life of 18 to 36 months. Shea butter that is not produced correctly can turn rancid in a much shorter time period. With that in mind, when you buy shea butter, you should keep in a sealed container away excess sunlight, moisture and humidity to avoid spoilage.

Also, beware of shea butters that are completely smooth to the touch. Handcrafted unrefined shea butter should have a slightly grainy texture, compared to refined butters that feel totally smooth on your skin. Please also note, according to United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the refinement process vastly reduces the nutrition value for your skin, up to 95% of vitamins (including Omega-9, an essential fatty acid, and the antioxidant Vitamin A) can be removed from refined grades. 

To maximize shea butter's benefits to your skin, it is recommended to only choose Grade A unrefined shea butter.

At Maame, we use only 100% natural unrefined grade A, fair trade shea butter in our products, ethically sourced from Ghana. Try our body butters and soaps today and experience the Maame difference.

Maame Cocoa Shea 60g

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