Shea, Cocoa, Mango & Kokum Butter for Natural Skincare Beauty

What is a vegetable butter? How are they made? Where do they come from? What are the similarities and differences? Which one is best for my skin type? We will try to address all of those questions here... read on!

Shea, Cocoa, Mango and Kokum Butters are saturated vegetable fats which are high in antioxidants that seal in moisture to deeply moisturize skin. Cocoa butter is edible when combined with cocoa powder to make chocolate. But did you know that shea butter is used to cook with in some countries or that mango butter can calm the itch from an insect bite?

All of these vegetable butters are solid at room temperature and they are all packed with vitamins and nutrients.  These are all perishable, so keep an eye on the production or expiration dates. While they are generally able to act as substitutes for each other, there are some differences that make each butter unique.  Depending on your intended use, you may prefer one over the other.  Let’s take a look at each butter in more detail.

 shea, cocoa, cacao, mango, butter, compare, contrast, difference, skin, skincare


kokum nut tree india blog butter


Shea Butter

Perhaps one of the most popular vegetable butter is shea. It is extracted from the nuts of the sacred Karite tree, which means “Tree of Life” that grows mainly in West and Central Africa.  Raw shea butter has an ivory color with a nutty, earthy odor to it.  This semi-solid butter contains vitamins, antioxidants and essential fatty acids like vitamin A, E, D and F and is ideal for sensitive skin.  The emollient and healing properties make shea butter an all around great choice for serious skin moisturizing! 

The majority of butters have 2 distinct parts: the saponifiable and the unsaponifiable portions.  In soapmaking, the saponifiables are converted into soap with sodium hydroxide (lye) while the unsaponifiables are not – they fail to react to lye leaving behind the good stuff!  The saponifiable part contains most of the moisturizing properties while the unsaponifiable part contains most of the healing properties.  Shea butter has a very large healing portion, which can range from 5% to 17%.  To compare, other butters have a healing portion of about 1% or less but have intense moisturizing benefits.  With the large healing portion, it’s no wonder that with regular daily use, shea butter can help, heal or treat many skin conditions.

We choose to use shea butter in almost all of our soap recipes.  Read on and you'll see why.  See the bottom of this page for our soap collection!

There are so many benefits for using raw shea butter on skin.  Most anti-aging and anti-wrinkle creams available today contain retinoids, which are vitamin A derived.  While shea butter contains a lesser amount of retinoids, it doesn’t cause the skin irritations that can occur with the usually expensive store bought creams.  Vitamin A is an essential antioxidant to improve many skin conditions including acne, wrinkles, eczema, psoriasis, stretch marks, sunburn, frostbite, dry or flaky skin and it also provides a low level SPF of about 6 which mildly helps reduce UV damage!

Another superstar antioxidant, vitamin E, helps protect skin from cell damage (fights free radicals).  When raw shea butter is rubbed directly into the skin, the healing portion can help to diminish the appearance of scars while also boosting the natural collagen levels to strengthen and improve skin elasticity.  Vitamin D will also play a part to help protect and rejuvenate the skin.

A lesser known vitamin F that’s found in raw shea butter is actually a collection of essential fatty acids (EFA’s) like oleic, stearic and linoleic acids.  They have excellent moisturizing qualities by creating a protective barrier over skin to seal in moisture and preventing any irritants from coming into direct contact with skin thus lessen aggravating skin conditions.  These fatty acids also play a vital role in overall skin health when it comes to healing wounds, skin regeneration and growth.

However, buyer beware!  Not all shea butter is created equal.  Some are refined, bleached, deodorized or processed in some way that will deteriorate some of these skin loving qualities!  The same is true when searching for products that contain shea butter.  If shea butter is not in the first few ingredients, you may not want that product to achieve the full effects of raw shea butter.  Raw, 100% unrefined African shea butter gives your skin the best benefits, not the water based lotions and creams that are chemical laden which provide little benefit.  This brand of raw shea butter is great for everyday moisturizing.


Cocoa Butter

The most distinguishable of the butters is cocoa butter because of its rich, mild, and creamy chocolate aroma. The Theobroma cacao tree is indigenous to the tropics of West Africa and South & Central America.  Also known as Theobroma oil, cocoa butter is a pale yellow, edible fat that is fermented, dried and extracted from cacao beans.  The beans grow in pods which can contain 30-50 beans which are fermented and dried.  Each of those beans contains 40-45% cocoa butter!  In 2014, worldwide production of cocoa butter was 4.6 million tons – mostly for chocolate manufacturing.  To make a pound of chocolate, approximately 300-600 beans are needed depending on the percentage of cocoa content (dark vs. milk chocolate).  One person can open about 2,000 pods per day – that’s handling between 60,000 and 100,000 beans per day!

There are 3 types of cacao beans. The first type, Forastero beans, account for 80-90% of the worlds cocoa production.  They grow heartier and are more disease resistant, delivering higher yields which equates to cheaper beans than the other 2 types.  The second type, Criollo beans tend to be prone to disease so very few countries produce it.  Venezuela is the worlds largest producer of Criollo beans and are the most expensive and prized bean.  The last type of cocoa bean is Trinitario, from Trinidad, is a hybrid of Forastero and Criollo beans.  These beans are more resistant to disease that Criollo beans, have a higher quality and can yield higher amounts of cocoa butter.

Once extraction is completed, the contents of the beans are ground, liquefied and separated into two parts: cocoa butter and cocoa solids (powder).  The cocoa solids contain caffeine, about 12mg per 1 tablespoon while the cocoa butter only contains trace amounts of caffeine, if any at all.  For comparison, a cup of coffee can contain 80-175mg of caffeine depending on the strength.

Cacao beans contain vitamins E and K.  The powerful antioxidant in cocoa butter, vitamin E, is a natural collagen booster.  This allows cocoa butter to help diminish stretch marks, lessen the appearance of scar tissue, improve the skins elasticity and allows the skin to heal more effectively.  It also contributes to collagen production which in turn also aids with improving the elasticity of the skin.

This highly concentrated stable fat has been used for thousands of years as an excellent moisturizer for topical applications in skincare, not just to eat!  Shelf life of raw, unrefined cocoa butter is about 2 years from production but it tends to dry out faster than shea butter so it needs to be stored properly in airtight containers. 


Mango Butter

Mango butter (mango kernel fat) is extracted from the stone (seed) of the tropical mango, an irregular egg shaped fruit which is also known as mangifera indica.  The ripe orange, fragrant fleshy portion and the skin of the mango account for about 85% of the fruits weight.  There are over 200 varieties of mangoes, making it such a popular fruit around the world.  Mango trees can grow upwards of 100 feet tall and are grown in numerous countries close to the equator such as Philippines, India, China, Brazil and Mexico to name a few.  Mangoes are vitamin and nutrient dense with vitamins A, C, E, Folate and Omega 6 & 9 fatty acids making mangoes a super free radical fighter to combat wrinkles and fine lines. 

Once the stones are removed, dried and roasted, the butter is extracted by hydraulic pressure or with solvents.  With a slight fruity odor, raw mango butter is off white and packed with so much goodness. It is solid at room temperature but melts at about 86 degrees so it melts upon contact with skin.  Most of the mango butter available today is refined, bleached and deodorized which removes the color and scent.  The consistency is firmer than shea butter, but not nearly as hard or brittle as cocoa butter.  The shelf life is about 2 years from date of production.

The high vitamin, antioxidant and nutrient content make it a popular anti-aging ingredient for a glowing and youthful look!  The quickly absorbing mango butter instantly increases moisture and production of collagen to aid in skins elasticity while slowing the degeneration of skin cells.  Some swear by the benefits of mango butter for almost endless topical uses such as helping pre or post sunburn, frostbite, skin rashes, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis or frizzy hair while also relieving the itchiness from insect bites!  While there is very little clinical research on the benefits of mango butter, some also use for pregnancy stretch marks, soothe acne scars, to calm allergies or stimulate the scalp for healthy hair growth. 


Kokum Butter (updated 2020)

Garcinia indica, a plant in the mangosteen family, commonly known as kokum, is a fruit-bearing tree that has culinary, pharmaceutical, and industrial uses. Highly moisturizing, kokum butter helps heal dry and cracked skin especially lips, elbows, knees and soles of feet. It may also aid in improving the appearance of scars and stretch marks. Kokum butter is rich in essential fatty acids, which softens the skin and helps promote elasticity.

Below are the known benefits of Kokum butter:

  • Helps prevent drying of the skin
  • Helps heal ulcers, heal fissures & cracks of the lips, hands and soles of feet
  • Helps regenerates skin cells & reduces degeneration of skin cells
  • Non-pore clogging (non-comodegenic)
  • Contains 80% stearic-oleic-stearic triglycerides
  • Contains antioxidant properties (Vitamin E galore!!)
  • Helps stabilize emulsions
  • High oxidative stability
  • Softens the skin and restores skin flexibility & elasticity

Because of its rich emollient properties, kokum butter is easily absorbed by the skin and lips, so it’s healing properties can penetrate deep into the layers of the dermis rather quickly. 


What is best for you?

Your skin is the largest organ in your body so it’s best to treat it with loving care.  When choosing a butter to use on your skin, it’s really a matter of personal preference.  You really can’t go wrong, unless you have severe allergies to tree nuts, a chocolate sensitivity or have allergies to the urushiol of mango skin, bark or leaves (the irritant in poison ivy and sumac).  While the chances are very low that an allergic reaction can occur from any of these 4 butters, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!  Using a commercial, grocery store lotion, containing advertised shea butter, check the label – if it’s the 20th ingredient, you may not want that for the skin benefits you’re looking for.  These lotions may be fine for your skin, but rubbing raw shea butter directly into your skin may cause irritations in some people.  Just try another butter with a patch test first.

While all four of these butters are available as 100% raw and unrefined, there are all also refined versions available.  With the refining process, chemical solvents are often used that can strip some of the vitamin and nutrients out, making the refined versions less effective when used on skin, lips or hair.  Uses of these butters are fairly interchangeable in skincare products.  Shea butter has dominated the skincare industry for years but can it stay there?

Natural skincare is essential for noticeably soft, smooth and nourished skin.  Try these natural options as opposed to chemical laden products on the market and you will notice the difference.  Always read the ingredient panel to be sure you know what you’re getting, too! 


Shea Butter Cocoa Butter Mango Butter Kokum Butter
Source extracted from the nuts of the Karite tree (means "Tree of Life") (INCI name - Butyrospermum Parkii) extracted from the beans of the Cacao tree (INCI name - Theobroma cacao) extracted from the stone (seed) of the Mango tree (INCI name - Mangifera Indica) a plant in the mangosteen family, commonly known as kokum (INCI name - Garcinia indica)
Color ivory pale yellow off-white off-white
Odor earthy, nutty, smokey mild chocolate little to none, slightly sweet mild nutty and earthy
Vitamins A, E, D, F E, K A, C, E, Folate, Omega 9 E, Omegas 3 & 6
Found West & Central Africa West Africa,
Central & South America
Numerous countries, including South Asia, India, Philippines, Pakistan, China, West Indies, Mexico India
Melting Point 90° F 95° F - 97.7° F 86° F 90° F - 104° F
Allergen possible for those with severe tree nut allergies possible for those with a chocolate allergy or sensitivity possible for those with an allergy to urushiol possible trigger for those with sensitive nut allergies
Shelf Life 12-18 months 2 years 2 years 2 years
Properties & Uses rapidly absorbed into skin, very conditioning, anti inflammatory, humectant, SPF (UV) protection, helps produce collagen to lessen the appearance for wrinkles, fine lines and stretch marks, fights free radicals, increase skins elasticity, vitamin F protects and rejuvenates dry and soothes dry skin or damaged hair, deeply moisturizing, used in creams, lotions and soap and balms also called Theobroma oil, an edible saturated fat, used in chocolate manufacturing along with cocoa powder, moisturizer in skincare, helps when topically applied to stretch marks, hydrates and nourishes by forming a protective barrier over skin to seal in moisture, deeply moisturizing, used in soaps, balms, lotions and creams absorbs quickly into skin, may help the degeneration of skin cells causing wrinkles and fine lines thus increasing a youthful look, increases skins elasticity, ability to protect against sunburn and frostbite, can treat eczema, relieve itch from insect bites, helps with stretch marks, lighter than shea or cocoa, can stimulate scalp for cell regeneration and hair regrowth, deeply moisturizing, used in soaps, balms, creams and lotions melts on contact with skin and lips, prevents drying,can help heal ulcers, fissures or cracks of lips, hands or soles of feet, helps regenerate skin cells and reduce degeneration of skin cells, will not clog pores, vitamin E as a strong antioxidant, softens and restores skin flexibility and elasticity, also acts as an anti-inflammatory by creating a natural skin barrier

 What is your favorite vegetable butter for your skincare regime?






  • Thank you for sharing all this great information. Just what I was looking for you covered it all. Thanks!!

  • This was great! Thank you so much for all the organized information :)

  • Thank you for your thoughtful info. Makes me want to order more skin products.
    Stay well.

  • Thank you!! Your blog pop up while researching kokum butter. This really help me.

    Mia Jay
  • Thank you for answering alk my silent questions


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