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Shea Oil vs Shea Olein: What’s the Difference and Why It Matters

Shea Oil vs Shea Olein
Shea Oil vs Shea Olein

Shea oil and shea olein are two products derived from shea butter, a natural fat extracted from the nuts of the shea tree, which grows in the savannah regions of West and Central Africa. Shea butter has been used for centuries by the local people for various purposes, such as cooking, skin care, hair care, medicine, and candle making.

It seems, though, not many people know that there is a difference between shea oil and shea olein, and that this difference can affect their properties and applications.

In this article, we will explain what shea oil and shea olein are, how they are produced, and what benefits they offer.

What is Shea Oil?

Shea oil is a by-product of shea butter extraction. Shea butter is made from the kernels of shea tree seeds, and when the butter is melted, the oil is removed to produce shea oil as a separate product and prevent the shea butter from being too oily. Shea oil is a liquid oil that has a golden yellow appearance and a mild nutty aroma. It has a high content of unsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins.

What is Shea Olein?

Shea olein is a fractionated oil that is obtained from shea butter. To produce shea olein, shea butter is melted and the oleic oil is separated from the solid parts. The oleic oil is lower in stearic fatty acid content, which is what gives shea butter its solid characteristics. Shea olein is also a liquid oil that has a golden yellow appearance, but it is generally unscented. It has a higher content of unsaponifiable compounds (minimum 6%), which are the non-fatty components of oils that have beneficial effects on the skin.

What are the Benefits of Shea Oil and Shea Olein?

Both shea oil and shea olein have many applications in different industries, such as food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and biofuels. They share many properties as they are both derived from the same source. They are both edible and can be used as cooking oils, margarine ingredients, chocolate substitutes, or nutritional supplements. They are both widely used in the cosmetic industry as moisturizers, emollients, anti-inflammatories, anti-aging agents, and sun protection agents. They can be found in products such as soap, lotion, cream, shampoo, conditioner, lip balm, and makeup.

They are both suitable for sensitive skin types and can help soothe skin conditions such as eczema, cracked heels, or damaged skin.

Nonetheless, there are also some differences between shea oil and shea olein that can affect their suitability for different purposes. Let's dive into this.

  • Shea oil tends to be more moisturizing and better for dry skin types as it contains higher levels of linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid that helps preserve the integrity of the skin barrier and retain moisture. It also reduces acne and inflammation.

  • Shea olein tends to be more concentrated in unsaponifiable compounds than shea oil. Unsaponifiable compounds are the non-fatty components of oils that have beneficial effects on the skin. They include phytosterols (plant steroids), triterpene alcohols (anti-inflammatory agents), tocopherols (vitamin E), carotenoids (antioxidants), and squalene (moisturizer).

  • Shea olein is more suitable for blending with other oils or ingredients than shea oil. This is because it has a lower melting point and a higher oxidative stability than shea oil. This means that it remains liquid at room temperature and does not go rancid easily.

  • Shea olein is an ideal biofuel because it has a high cetane number (a measure of the ignition quality of diesel fuel), a low cloud point (the temperature at which wax crystals form in diesel fuel), and a high oxidative stability. These properties make shea olein compatible with diesel fuel or biodiesel without compromising the engine performance or causing any technical problems.

How to Use Shea Oil and Shea Olein?

Shea oil and shea olein can be used in various ways depending on your needs and preferences. Here are some tips on how to use them:

  • For cooking: It's advisable to use shea olein as cooking oils for frying or baking. Shea olein has high smoke points (the temperature at which an oil starts to burn) of 232°C (450°F) and it has mild flavors that do not overpower the taste of your food.

  • For skin care: You can use either shea oil or shea olein as moisturizers for your face and body. You can apply them directly to your skin or mix them with your favorite facial moisturizer, hand cream, or body lotion. They will help hydrate, nourish, and protect your skin from dryness, aging, and sun damage.

  • For hair care: Both types of oil are excellent as conditioners for your hair. You can apply them to your hair after shampooing or use them as leave-in treatments. Both shea oil and shea olein will help soften, detangle, and add shine to your hair. They will also prevent split ends, breakage, and frizz.

  • For biofuel: Use shea olein as a biofuel for your diesel engine. You can blend it with diesel fuel or biodiesel in any proportion without any modification to your engine. You can also use it as a pure fuel if you have a compatible engine. Shea olein is a natural and sustainable biofuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, enhances energy security, creates rural development opportunities, and supports biodiversity.

Simply put, you need to know that shea oil and shea olein are products from shea butter with different properties and uses. Shea oil is more moisturizing, while shea olein is more concentrated and suitable for biofuel.


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