What to Know Before Using African Black Soap

Updated 12/08/19
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African black soap is a cherished ingredient in beauty, not least because it's commonly considered safe and beneficial for all skin types. For the most part, people who use African black soap find it has beneficial, even healing properties. However, while some find the soap moisturizing, others do find it drying, even going so far to say that it burns skin. Everyone is different, and black soap can not only have varying proportions and types of ingredients, but depending on where you're getting your products, they can vary from batch to batch. Black soap is made by combining potash from either plantain skins or cocoa pods with palm kernel oil, and because plants don't grow the same every time, batches can vary even from the same brand. It’s possible that one batch could be fine for you, while another has more of an ingredient that could possibly cause a skin reaction.

What Is African Black Soap?

African black soap (ose duduoriginated with the Yoruba people in Nigeria and other West-African nations. It is derived from plantain skins and is known for its various skincare benefits.

Upon first use, even those with oily skin might notice that the skin feels dry and tight, which should last for a week. In theory, this is caused by the soap drawing out impurities and excess oils, and the Ph levels of the skin will eventually balance out after a few days. The soap can also cause a tingling, sometimes burning sensation, leading to reddened skin. This also eventually resolves for most people, but before going full-throttle and using African black soap on your face, do a patch test on another part of your body. It's also important to know you shouldn't put the soap directly on your skin, because it will cause burns.

Wash and rinse the soap off with cool water, as it will help reduce the possibility of both stinging and redness. If you have sensitive or reactive skin, don’t leave the soap on your skin for a long period of time. In general, you can expect to experience tingling or burning in acne areas, open sores, and cuts. If your skin feels "squeaky clean" afterward, it means the skin is too dry. 

Because raw black soap can dry out even the oiliest of skin, black soaps that include shea butter or other moisturizing ingredients will probably be best for those with dry skin. If it's still drying out your skin, use less. A little goes a long way, and using too much will definitely be drying to already parched skin. If you have sensitive and dry skin, start out by using it only once every day or two. Be sure to use moisturizer or a hydrating serum or oil afterward, as well. For those with oily and acne-prone skin, African black soap can be a miracle product. It’s a great deep pore cleanser as it's a natural exfoliant. For some oily skin types, it can keep the skin hydrated without increasing oil. However, if you have oily skin, you should still moisturize with with a non-comedogenic lotion or oil after use, like Tatcha's Water Cream or La Roche-Posay's Effaclar Mat.

If you break out in a rash or contact dermatitis, discontinue use and consult your dermatologist. If you are latex-allergic, you could have latex-fruit syndrome, which is a reaction to the plantain ash in black soap, as well as palm and coconut oil. If you have a chocolate allergy or are sensitive to caffeine, the high concentration of cocoa pods could be an issue.

When it's exposed to the air, black soap can develop a thin white-colored film—this is not mold. You might want to cut off a portion of the bar, or cut and roll it into small balls and place them in a Ziploc bag. This will prevent the film, and make day-to-day use easier. Store it in a cool, dry place. If you buy bulk amounts, wrap them in plastic, and then put them in a bag. If it doesn't seem to be lasting long, you’re not storing it properly. Because African black soap contains glycerin, it can soften and start to slowly disintegrate when left exposed. It also absorbs water, so keep it dry to prevent it from dissolving. Place the bar on a wooden soap dish with slats to allow the soap to drain.


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