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There are all kinds of fancy, new multitasking skincare products on the market. But one of the most comprehensive products out there has been around for centuries, emerging out of pure necessity. We’re talking about African black soap, a plant-based soap that originated in West Africa and has been used for centuries to protect skin from the effects of an arid, sunny climate.
“The main ingredients are plantain leaves or cocoa pods that are cooked down to charcoal ash. Some brands may also contain shea butter, coconut oil, and palm kernel oil,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ife J. Rodney, founder of Eternal Dermatology in Fulton, MD. “Black soap has been long used for its antibacterial properties. It reduces common skin bacteria and is ideal for oily and acne-prone skin. Additionally, the soothing shea butter helps to ease skin inflammation from razor bumps and rashes,” she says. In short, there’s really nothing it can’t do. Rodney adds that it’s generally fairly safe for all skin types, though those with sensitive skin should be a bit more targeted in how they use it (keep reading for more on that).
Ahead, the best African black soaps out there.
Best Overall: SheaMoisture African Black Soap Bar
The addition of shea butter and aloe leaf juice make this more hydrating than other African black soaps out there, a good universal crowd-pleaser for a wide variety of skin types. It also has a nice scent (derived from an essential oil blend). As an added benefit, all of the ingredients are ethically-traded and sustainably produced.
Best Budget: Nubian Heritage African Black Soap Bar
Affordable and effective, this pick detoxifies and balances the skin, and boasts the addition of nourishing oats, aloe, and vitamin E. FYI, it does contain synthetic colors and fragrance, so it may not be the best choice for those with extremely sensitive or easily irritated skin.
Best Liquid: SheaMoisture African Black Soap Body Wash
For those who don’t love a bar, this alternative offers many of the same benefits, in an easy-to-use liquid form. African black soap is combined with shea butter, oats, and aloe, in a balancing formula that’s great for cleansing the skin below your chin.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Alaffia Authentic African Black Soap Bar
Gentle, unscented, and with minimal ingredients, Rodney says this option is great for anyone with sensitive skin. To the point of minimal ingredients, there are only two in the bar: shea butter and palm kernel oil. Devoted fans rave about how well it works, and it’s also worth pointing out that it’s a Fair Trade product, another aspect that Rodney says she always looks for when choosing an African black soap.
Best Multi-Tasker: Sky Organics African Black Soap
No matter whether you want to use this on your face or body, to heal breakouts, fade spots, or soothe eczema, this organic black soap can do it all. The minimal ingredient list contains only natural options, with no added sulfates, fragrances, or dyes, making it an especially great pick for the sensitive set.
Best for Scars: Incredible by Nature African Black Soap
One of Rodney’s favorites, she says this pick is great for minor spots and wrinkles. It excels at diminishing scars too and offers protection against free radicals, which is always a good thing. It’s also made in Africa, a piece of criteria Rodney says she always seeks out.
Best Scent: Alaffia Authentic African Black Soap All-in-One
This liquid soap earns major points for coming in a variety of refreshing scents like eucalyptus, tea tree, peppermint, and tangerine citrus, just to name a few. Bonus: It works equally as well as body wash, shampoo, face cleanser, and shaving soap—you get the picture.
Best for Body: Shea Radiance African Black Soap Body Wash
This liquid pick is unique because it contains salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid that helps dissolve excess oil to unclog pores (making this a great choice for those prone to body breakouts). It’s available both unscented and in two scents, and has a delightfully creamy texture that makes it an especially nice body wash.
Best for Dry Skin: Sheanefit Raw African Black Soap
This combines three heavy-hitting hydrators with the traditional African black soap base: shea butter, coconut oil, and palm kernel oil, making it a good choice for those who might find other African black soaps too drying. Also nice: It comes in a variety of different-sized blocks, ranging from one pound all the way up to 10 pounds.
Best for Oily Skin: Tropical Naturals Dudu-Osun African Black Soap
As a general rule of thumb, all-black soap is a good option for those with oily skin, but Rodney says this one works especially well on oily or acne-prone complexions. Bonus points for the addition of honey, which is both hydrating and has natural anti-bacterial properties. Happy Amazon reviewers rave about how clean and refreshed it makes their skin feel.
Best for Eczema: SheaMoisture African Black Soap Eczema & Psoriasis Therapy
The natural anti-bacterial properties coupled with the hydrating shea butter that’s found in most formulas make African black soap a good option for addressing common skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis. But this option goes above and beyond, incorporating other ingredients—think tea tree oil, willow bark extract, and a blend of natural oils—to further up the soothing ante for those dealing with these types of issues.
Best on Amazon: Our Earth’s Secrets Raw African Black Soap
There’s no shortage of black soap options to be found on Amazon, but this is one of the best-sellers in the category, consistently pulling in top-notch reviews. Made in Ghana with traditional African ingredients and techniques, there are no additives or chemicals in the mix. Satisfied shoppers repeatedly comment on how well it works to address a variety of skin issues, ranging from acne to eczema.
African black soap is a true multi-tasking skincare product, with the ability to do way more than just cleanse. The SheaMoisture African Black Soap Bar is our overall favorite, great for a variety of skin types. If you have sensitive skin, try the Alaffia African Black Soap Bar, which boasts only two ingredients. And while it may not be the traditional version, there are liquid options of African black soap available as well. The SheaMoisture African Black Soap Soothing Body Wash and Shea Radiance African Black Soap Body Wash are two of our favorites.
What to Look For in African Black Soap
While many formulas contain shea butter, not all of them do, and it’s a must to seek out if you have dry skin, says Rodney.
The “recipe” for African black soap is fairly simple; Rodney says ideally you should find one that’s free of additives such as fragrance and preservatives.
Not an absolute must, but Rodney says it is good to look for this distinction if you want to make sure that the people who are producing these products, particularly for the ones made in Africa, are being paid a fair rate.
How do you use African black soap?
Don’t apply the soap directly to the skin, as it can potentially cause dryness and irritation—especially if you have sensitive skin to begin with, cautions Rodney. “Wet the soap and your clean hands with warm water, then lather. Gently apply the lather to your face in circular motions for 30 seconds, then rinse with warm water and pat dry,” she advises, adding that you don’t need to use a washcloth or scrub your skin.
Does African black soap work for acne?
In short, yes, though the results vary. It can help control excess sebum and unclog blocked pores, which is especially beneficial in a mild acne case, says Rodney. If your acne is more severe, you’ll likely need to see a dermatologist, though the good news is that African black soap can be used in combination with other acne meds your doctor may prescribe, she says.
How do you store African black soap?
“Even small amounts of moisture in the air can make the black soap melt, so I recommend storing it in a dry, airtight container, away from other soaps,” advises Rodney.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Ife J. Rodney is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist and the founder of Eternal Dermatology in Fulton, MD. She specializes in all areas of cosmetic, surgical, and medical dermatology for all skin types.