If you’re anything like me, when you first got started in the wonderful world of DIY, shea butter and cocoa butter were two of the first ingredients you purchased. They’re fabulous, versatile butters, and I used (and continue to use!) them in all sorts of formulations. They aren’t the only butters out there, though—there are so many fabulous ones that can help you achieve buttery greatness and set your formulations apart. In this post I’m sharing three awesome butters you might not’ve worked with that I love. These butters aren’t really fancy or exotic, so you can use as the base for your formulations or blend them with other butters to create something unique and delightful.

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What is a butter?

The oils and butters we use in cosmetic formulation are fats – usually extracted from the seeds and nuts of plants.

If that fat is primarily comprised of unsaturated, or liquid, fatty acids, we get a liquid oil.

If it contains lots of saturated, or solid, fatty acids, we get a solid fat, which is often (but not always!) called a “butter”.

Sunflower oil, for example, is primarily comprised of oleic and linoleic acids, both of which are liquid and unsaturated. Sunflower does contain both palmitic and stearic acid, which are saturated fatty acids, but only at about 10% total, so the overall oil is liquid.

These are shea seeds!

In comparison, shea butter also has oleic and linoleic acids, but shea contains about 38% stearic acid and 4% palmitic acid—both solid fatty acids. This is enough saturated fat to make a soft, creamy, solid butter rather than a liquid oil.

Fun fact: C10-18 Triglycerides (Butter Pearls) are made up of a blend of palmitic and stearic acids. That’s why adding butter pearls to a liquid oil makes the oil feel buttery!

Coconut oil is also very rich in saturated fatty acids, but the most predominant one is lauric acid, which has a lower melting point than palmitic and stearic acids. Lauric acid melts around 43°C (109°F) and feels quite thin and slippy on the skin, while palmitic acid melts around 63°C (145°F) and stearic acid melts around 70°C (158°F), and both of those feel much more substantial and buttery. That high lauric acid composition is why coconut oil so readily tips between solid and liquid, melting around 25°C (77°F), and why we call it an oil rather than a butter.

The lighter alternative to shea butter

This first butter is soft and creamy like shea butter, but it’s far lighter. While shea is rich (and frankly greasy), this butter is wonderfully lightweight and fast absorbing!

The next time you’re reaching for a soft butter, why not grab mango butter? It’s fabulous for making lighter-feeling anhydrous products that are still creamy and indulgent.

Mango butter is made from the fat found in mango seeds. It’s white and creamy, and sadly smells nothing of mangoes (🥲). The refined version—which is all I’ve ever found—just smells a bit fatty. Mango butter is primarily made of stearic and oleic acids, and it melts around 35°C (95°F), which is quite close to the melting point of shea butter (roughly 37°C/99°F).

To start using mango butter: if you’ve got a whipped shea butter formulation that you love, try swapping half of the shea butter for mango butter and I think you’ll be thrilled by how much lighter the finished formulation is.

Formulations to try

Silicone-y skin feel

This next butter is a long-time favourite of mine; I discovered it early in my DIY days and it was an instant and lasting love (this post from 2012 is the first time it pops up on the blog). It has the most divine, silicone-y skin feel that is rich and nourishing, with a satiny skin finish that I’ve loved for over a decade.

Cupuaçu butter is a soft butter, but it’s stiffer than shea and mango, getting its solidity from a blend of palmitic, stearic, and arachidic acids. I love it in balms and body butter bars, where its silicone-y skin feel can really level up the entire formulation, but it’s also brilliant in emulsions.

When you’re shopping for cupuaçu butter you can find both refined and unrefined versions. In my experience the performance is the same, but the scent definitely isn’t. While the refined version doesn’t smell of anything, the unrefined version has a smell that I’d describe as a blend between cocoa and something tangy, like passionfruit. It’s not awful, but it’s also not amazing. I’d probably lean towards the refined version if you can only get one, especially if you’re scent sensitive.

The butter on the left is refined cupuaçu butter; the butter on the right is unrefined cupuaçu butter.

Get started with cupuaçu by just rubbing it on your skin. It’s divine 😄

Formulations to try

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Brittle not-cocoa

For our final butter: if you’re looking for an alternative to cocoa butter, try this! I love cocoa butter so very much, but sometimes you want something different, and that’s where kokum butter comes to the rescue!

Kokum butter is a bit harder than cocoa butter, with a melting point around 40°C (104°F) compared to cocoa’s 34°C (93°F)—this difference could be useful if you live somewhere warm. Kokum gets its brittle hardness from stearic and palmitic acids, and it’s a great option to create the backbone of a solid body butter bar.

Kokum also has a softer, creamy stage between solid and liquid that we don’t really get with cocoa butter, which tends to go from solid to liquid without much of a buttery mid-stage.

The refined version doesn’t smell like much of anything, making it really versatile in your formulations.

Formulations to try

It turns out I’ve shared very few kokum butter formulations 😱 For more options, try using kokum butter instead of cocoa butter in formulations that call for cocoa butter.

The not-butter

This last butter is actually a category of “butters” that you might want to avoid. These are the butters you might’ve seen for sale and thought “huh, I didn’t know that plant made a butter”—things like strawberry butter, green tea butter, lemon butter, and hemp seed butter.

And you’re right—those plants don’t make butters. These “butters” are sometimes referred to as pseudo butters. If you look at the ingredient list/INCI you’ll see they are primarily made from hydrogenated vegetable oil and get their names from the addition of an oil, extract, flavour, and/or essential oil that fit the ‘theme’.

Pseudo butters are sort of like self-raising flour. There’s nothing magical about self-raising flour; it’s not made from a special type of wheat that is self-raising—it’s just normal flour that has already had leaveners like baking powder mixed into it. This can be a very useful shortcut, but it can also be a hinderance if you need a different amount or type of leavener.

Pseudo butters aren’t bad, and you certainly don’t have to avoid them, but you should be aware that they aren’t “real” butters. It’s hydrogenation—the conversion of unsaturated fats to saturated ones—that give them their buttery feel. And, since the bulk of each one is an inexpensive hydrogenated oil, they aren’t all that different from one another.

If you already have hemp seed oil I’d skip the ‘hemp seed butter” and instead try combining your hemp oil with some mango butter for a similar buttery, hemp-y experience! You could also purchase plain hydrogenated soybean oil and make your own psuedo butters by blending it with different oil-soluble ingredients like carrier oils, extracts, and essential oils.

Price-wise, pseudo butters tend to be more expensive than common butters like shea butter and cocoa butter, and cheaper than less common butters like cupuaçu and kokum.

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What are your favourite butters?