The biggest difference between shea butter and cocoa butter is their origin. Shea butter is extracted from shea nuts, and cocoa butter is extracted from cocoa beans. Cocoa beans are the fruits of the cocoa tree, which is native to the Amazon forests and can also be found in other parts of Peru and in Mexico. The shea nut tree is found exclusively in Africa. Both butters are fats and have similar uses, but they have slightly different properties.
Both products are extracted from their respective fruits through the application of pressure, but in different ways. For shea butter, the nuts are boiled and sun-dried before being ground up and made into a paste, from which the fat is extracted and churned into butter. Cocoa butter is extracted from cocoa beans through extrusion or the use of an expeller, a screw press, or a hydraulic press.
The beauty industry makes good use of both butters. One or the other can be found in many cosmetics, soaps, lotions and creams. Cocoa butter is commonly used to treat skin conditions and stretch marks. Shea butter is also used as a skin treatment and on stretch marks, as well as on hair. The skin conditions that both butters can help treat include dermatitis, psoriasis, and eczema.
Cocoa butter is a highly concentrated fat that melts at body temperature, meaning that it is easily and quickly absorbed into the skin. Shea butter is also readily absorbed into the skin because it has large amounts of fatty acids in it. Although both are popular moisturizers, cocoa butter is more likely to be used in aromatherapy or massage lotions and treatments, because many people consider it to smell better than shea butter.
A substance called cocoa mass polyphenol (CMP) is found in cocoa butter, and it makes the butter effective in alleviating stress and boosting the immune system when it is massaged into the skin. Shea butter contains vitamin A and vitamin E. These vitally important vitamins help keep skin and eyes healthy and are the reason why shea butter can also boost the immune system. Shea butter has cinnamic acid in it as well, which can help protect the skin from damage by ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Both shea butter and cocoa butter also are used in food, and they may be included in chocolate. Shea butter also can be found in other confections and in margarine. In Africa, shea butter tends to be used as a cooking fat.