Shea Butter vs. Cocoa Butter: What’s the Difference

Last Update: November 15, 2023

As you begin filling your bathroom cabinet with clean skin care products, you might notice a few standout ingredients taking center stage. To moisturize and nourish dry skin, nothing beats creamy shea butter and cocoa butter. Both are derived from trees—cocoa butter is extracted from the fruits of a cacao tree, and shea butter comes from the kernels of the shea tree [1][2]. But despite these similarities, there are a lot of differences between these two body butter ingredients. Let’s dive into a comparison of shea butter and cocoa butter and discuss why you’d want to opt for one over the other. We’ll also share the top Thrive Market products and DIY recipes that feature these moisturizing ingredients.

What Is Shea Butter?

shea butter vs. cocoa butter

Shea butter is extracted from the kernels of the shea (or karite) tree, which looks similar to an oak and is native to West Africa [3]. Lost Crops of Africa: Volume II: Vegetables (2006) estimates 500 million trees of fruiting age exist, which is about equal to the number of almond trees globally.

The fruit of shea trees resemble a large plum or small avocado. In the fruit’s center, is a smooth-skinned nut (aka the kernel) where the prized fat is stored. It’s composed of triglycerides with oleic, stearic, linoleic, and palmitic fatty acids. Lost Crops also shares that shea butter ranges in texture from a creamy paste to something like firm butter. In addition to being a popular ingredient in beauty products like lotions, moisturizers, and body wash, the kernel’s oil is also used in regional African dishes like fritters and griddle cakes.

What Is Cocoa Butter?

shea butter vs. cocoa butter

Cocoa butter comes from the cacao fruit tree native to Central and South America, and is sometimes referred to as theobroma oil. This pale-yellow substance is an edible vegetable fat extracted from cocoa beans, and is used to make everything from chocolate to toiletries [4].

Benefits of Shea Butter

A 2010 study found that the cinnamic acid and lupeol cinnamate in shea butter helped reduce skin inflammation. Shea butter is also believed to be uber-moisturizing thanks to a host of vitamins and fatty acids, which is why so many people trust it on their skin.

Does shea butter clog pores?

Here’s some good news for congested skin: pure shea butter doesn’t clog pores. According to the American Shea Butter Institute, shea butter is non-comedogenic and naturally mimics the moisturizers in your skin’s sebum. That means shea butter plays a trick on your skin by thinking it already has enough sebum, which may help stop overproduction. This is different from cocoa butter, where it is believed to clog pores [5].

Is shea butter good for hair?

The fatty acids in shea butter may help increase shine and reduce frizz, making your mane easier to tame.

Cocoa Butter Benefits

Cocoa butter is a popular skin care ingredient for good reason—it’s believed to be highly moisturizing.

UV protection

Studies have noted cocoa butter benefits may also extend beyond lotions and creams and may help protect skin from UV damage. “A number of studies have identified a role of cocoa flavanols in protecting skin from damage from UV light, believed to be mediated through factors, such as generation of ROS and inflammatory markers such as prostaglandins, NO, leukotrienes, and histamine.”

Overall skin health

A 2014 study in Europe found cocoa butter may have the potential to help treat a variety of skin conditions: “A growing body of evidence from clinical and bench research has begun to provide scientific validation for the use of cocoa-derived phytochemicals as an effective approach for skin protection.”

More research still needs to be done, but cocoa butter might still be worth adding to your routine in the meantime. Cocoa butter differs from shea butter as it is believed to be a pore-clogging ingredient, so be sure to avoid using it on your face if breakouts are a concern.

Shea Butter Products

Shea butter is known for being a deeply moisturizing ingredient for parched skin—here are five ways to try it.

Nourish Organic Moisturizing Shea Butter

Organic shea butter is the only ingredient in this moisturizing cream from Nourish Organic. The butter absorbs quickly and can be used all over the body—especially drier areas like elbows, knees, and feet.

Alaffia Everyday Shea Butter, Unscented

This 11-ounce bottle is handcrafted with unrefined shea butter and extra moisturizing, even for sensitive skin.

Lavanila The Healthy Body Butter – Grapefruit

In this citrusy cream, shea butter and cocoa butter combine to create a non-greasy formula that helps moisturize skin from head to toe.

Recipes With Shea Butter

Shea butter is an accessible ingredient you can use in homemade beauty products.

Homemade Shea Butter Lip Balm

Here’s a minty, DIY lip balm that’ll soften your lips anytime. And since it’s made with only four simple ingredients, this recipe means you’ll always know what’s inside.

5-Ingredient Body Butter

After a shower, your skin will drink up this homemade body butter. Shea butter is one of the main ingredients along with coconut oil, almond oil, vitamin E oil, and a few drops of your favorite essential oil.

Cocoa Butter Products

Cocoa butter might be just what your skin needs. Here are our top picks from Thrive Market!

Now Foods Pure Cocoa Butter

Use this natural moisturizer for everything—sunburns, chapped skin, scar tissue, stretch marks, or as your daily go-to.

Andalou Naturals Kukui Cocoa Nourishing Body Butter

Travel to the tropics without leaving your bathroom. This cocoa body butter from Andalou Naturals blends Hawaiian kukui flower, cocoa butter, shea butter, evening primrose oil, and aloe vera to deeply nourish skin.

Badger Organic Cocoa Butter Lip Balm, Vanilla Bean

Enjoy this creamy treatment featuring certified organic and fair trade cocoa butter. The subtle dark chocolate flavor, plus mellow vanilla bean, makes for a sweet treat for your lips.

Pangea Organics Body Polish, Brazilian Brown Sugar & Cocoa Butter

Get glowing with this effective scrub that helps remove dead skin cells with organic brown sugar, cocoa butter, and sea salt.

True Moringa Truth Pink Yarrow Cocoa Lip Whip

For smoother lips, try this blend of nourishing moringa leaves and cocoa butter. Plus, the fresh pink hue is the perfect finish for a quick and simple makeup look.

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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