Top 9 Biggest Differences Between Shea Butter and Cocoa Butter

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A lot of people wonder about the difference between shea butter vs. cocoa butter. Since both of these are so often recommended to treat stretch marks (as well as natural moisturizers), many people want to know which is the best—or at least, which one they need to use.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the most significant differences between the two organic kinds of butter and hopefully help you figure out which is best for you.

By the way, bear in mind that we’re talking about organic butters here, not necessarily about any lotions that contain either of these.

  1. The Origin

    Obviously, by far the biggest point of difference between shea butter and cocoa butter is where they originate from.

    Shea butter comes from the nuts of the shea tree, whereas cocoa butter comes, obviously, from cocoa beans.

    They come from very different places:

    • the shea tree grows in Africa,
    • whereas the cocoa tree grows in South and Central America, mainly.
  2. The Method of Extraction

    We’ll try to keep this one easy, as we have little doubt you don’t really care very much about how your product is extracted. But it’s an interesting point of difference between the two.

    Both butters are extracted from the fruits of their respective trees.

    To make shea butter, shea nuts are boiled (only a little) and then sun-dried and grounded into a paste. From this paste, the fat is extracted and churned until it reaches that creamy, buttery consistency.

    Cocoa butter, on the other hand, is extracted straight from the cocoa bean, either through a hydraulic press, an extrusion, or expeller.

  3. The Shelf Life

    It might come as a shock since both of these are so similar, but shea butter and cocoa butter have a very different shelf life.

    While cocoa butter can go for up to 5 years without spoiling, shea butter usually goes bad within a year or two.

    In fact, cocoa butter is often used as a natural preservative for DIY body butters and creams, so a blend of the two might get you a longer shelf life than the shea butter alone.

  4. The Skin Type

    It seems these butters are not created equally.

    Shea butter is generally recommended for all skin types because it’s recognized as a non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t clog your pores).

    Cocoa butter, on the other hand, will. So cocoa butter can often be too ‘thick’ for people with oily, acne-prone skin. It’s a great moisturizer, but if you’re an oily type, it might prove counter-productive for you.

  5. The Vitamins

    While both of these kinds of butter are excellent for you, they have a somewhat different vitamin content.

    Both contain Vitamin E, which is super-rich in antioxidants and thus protects your skin against the damage caused by free radicals.

    Both cocoa butter and shea butter contain acids that will effectively lock in the moisture and thus strengthen the moisture barrier of the skin. This is what makes them both so popular for treating dry skin and other conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.

    However, shea butter has the added bonus of also containing vitamin A.

    This makes it particularly useful for treating acne, stretch marks, and combating the signs of aging.

    Vitamin A encourages skin regeneration and the production of new, healthy cells.

    Vitamin A is also responsible for evening out the skin tone and can even provide a mild protection against the UV rays emitted by the sun.

  6. The Scent

    Another big difference between these two organic butters, and a major deciding factor for those thinking of purchasing one, is the smell.

    As you can imagine, cocoa butter has that yummy, chocolate-y smell that makes you feel like you’ve just spent the past seven hours inside a delicious bakery.

    Shea butter, on the other hand, has a less powerful odor (it’s somewhat nutty), and many find it a little too ‘rough’. It doesn’t smell like your average body lotion or butter.

    And that’s a good thing, because it means shea butter hasn’t been enhanced by unhealthy fragrance, but since we’re used to a nice smell when we apply lotion, the scent of shea butter is a deal-breaker for some.

  7. The Appearance

    This one’s to be expected really since the fruits of these two trees are so different in appearance also.

    Shea butter tends to range in color from a light ivory to a yellowy tint.

    Bear in mind, when purchasing shea butter, that although the pure white color may be more appealing (because it won’t stain skin/clothes), it means that more solvents have been used in it and as such, it’s less pure. So, if you want a shea butter with as many active ingredients as possible, you’d better look for a yellowy one.

    Cocoa butter, on the other hand, leans toward a more brown-ish shade. That is not to say it is brown, however. (Many are surprised by this) Generally, cocoa butter is similar in color to shea, but darker.

  8. The Skin Benefits

    In this particular category, shea butter definitely seems to come out the winner.

    Whereas both shea and cocoa butter are extremely nourishing and moisturizing for the skin, the amount of vitamin A in shea butter does also make it preferable for treating some conditions.

    Studies have shown that shea butter has anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it great for a variety of skin issues, like lesions, acne, eczema, and stretch marks.

  9. The Absorption

    Last but not least, one other main area in which shea butter and cocoa butter differ is in how well they react with the skin.

    Obviously, when we’re applying moisturizer, we want a product that will do the job, but also one that won’t take forever to absorb and won’t stain our clothes.

    It seems that here also, shea butter is the winner because although both of them are fairly well absorbed, shea butter tends to be just a little bit quicker and leaves a less greasy after-feel.

Tip: While these differences are quite notable, it’s important to remember that cocoa butter and shea butter share many of the same benefits.

Shea vs Cocoa Butter – Which One Is the Best for Me?

This depends on what you’re looking for.

  • If you want to treat a particular condition, such as acne or stretch marks, then shea butter might be the obvious choice, since it has more potential of healing these ailments (also because it won’t clog the pores).
  • Tip: If you’re looking to use shea butter for stretch marks, then might we recommend checking out our review of the best shea butter products?
  • However, if you’re looking to use the butter for eczema or psoriasis, the answer is a bit trickier. While they’re both highly nourishing, cocoa butter contains cocoa mass polyphenol, which prevents the body from producing antibodies that cause the skin to react to specific allergens.
  • If you suffer from either of these conditions, you’ll have noticed that some fabrics or factors such as dust can make the itching worse. Well, cocoa butter soothes that more than shea butter would.

Lastly, if you’re simply in the market for a good moisturizer, then either of these works. Remember that although different, both cocoa butter and shea butter can soothe and hydrate dry skin, are an excellent remedy for chapped lips and dry heels, and can soothe mild rashes.

So, if you’re just interested in these for their impressive skincare properties, then really the choice is one based on smell, price, and general preference, because they’re both efficient.

Alternatively, if you’re craving the best of both worlds, you can combine the two in your very own DIY whipped body butter.