Many have revered African black soap for having skin nourishing benefits due to a potential abundance of antioxidants. The soap is usually made from the ashes of plantain skin, cocoa pod, palm leaves, and palm oil from leaves or kernels. Some additional ingredients, depending on the makers of the soap, could be honey to soften skin and shea butter or cocoa butter for extra moisturizing (some black soap is more potent than others and can be drying).
Read on to learn how African black soap benefits the skin, plus more about its common ingredients.
African Black Soap
Type of ingredient: Cleanser.
Main benefits: Improves skin tone, reduces inflammation, deeply cleansing.
Who should use it: In general, African black soap can be used by all skin types but could irritate dry or sensitive skin.
How often can you use it: Can be used daily but may need to slowly incorporate into a routine.
Works well with: Sunscreen and moisturizers containing humectants, emollients, and occlusives.
Don't use with: Could be irritating if used with chemical exfoliants.
Meet the Expert
- Nana Otu is the founder of Coco Nyle Skin.
- Hadley King, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and a Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
- Jessica Weiser, MD, is board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University.
What Is African Black Soap?
African black soap is a plant-based cleanser, traditionally handmade using natural ingredients derived from West Africa. "Ghanaians, Nigerians, and other African countries have used black soap for many years," explains Otu, founder of Coco Nyle Skin. "African Black Soap originated with the Yoruba people in Nigeria and the Yoruba communities in Benin and Togo. Moreover, the soap holds great influences in different parts of Africa, which has led to it being attached to various names such as, ose dudu, alata samina, anago samina, and many more."
The meticulous process to create African black soap begins with sun-drying plantain peels. "The skin of palm leaves and cocoa pods are then baked in a clay oven to produce ash," says Otu. "Then, water is added to the ashes and filtered. Ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and cocoa butter are heated and added, and hand-stirred for 24 hours." The soap will then solidify and rise to the top of the mixture and is left to set for about two weeks before it's ready to be used in liquid or bar soap form, as a mask, or in moisturizers.
Also known as black soap or African soap, the product is packed with bacteria-fighting oils and phytochemicals found in plants, which according to a 2018 study, gives it deeply cleansing and nourishing properties for nearly all skin types.
Benefits of African Black Soap
- Protects against photoaging and fades discoloration: Black soap may help shed darkly pigmented skin cells caused by UV damage while also preventing further photoaging. Antioxidants in black soap may protect the skin from free radical damage, which is a cause of premature skin aging, wrinkles, and facial lines. "Unstable atoms with unpaired electrons are called free radicals," explains King. "Electrons like to be in pairs, so these unstable atoms scavenge the body to seek out other electrons so they can become a pair. This causes damage to cells, proteins, and DNA. And this damage can lead to inflammation, aging, and even cancer. The skin is constantly exposed to free radicals from UV radiation and pollution."
- Improves skin tone: Many users report that black soap firms and tones skin and improves skin texture for more supple and glowing skin. Weiser says the charcoal-like plantain leaves aid in cell turnover and exfoliation. "Additionally, vitamin A gradually turns over the skin surface cells to reveal fresh skin cells, which will also brighten and even skin tone," she adds.
- Reduces inflammation and skin irritations: Black soap may help reduce inflammation and skin irritations, soothing dry and irritated skin, and relieving dry patches, rashes, and red areas.
- Helps to heal problem skin: The combination of vitamin A and physical exfoliation might help ease the symptoms of skin conditions like acne. Anecdotally, users have said that black soap helps lessen, treat, and clear their acne and eliminates their blackheads, psoriasis, and eczema. Antibacterial action may help control acne and eczema, while shea butter, cocoa, and coconut oil could help to moisturize and soothe psoriasis and eczema.
- Has deep cleansing action: Black soap may be effective at removing makeup because of the oils and butters. "By the principle of like dissolves like, the oil components help to dissolve oils. It also gently exfoliates, which helps to cleanse the skin and remove debris," King says. And it's also a great option for shampooing your hair, especially if you're prone to lots of build-up and scalp issues.
- Alleviates razor bumps: It is often used by men when shaving because of its high shea butter content meant to protect the skin. Exfoliation also helps free trapped hairs under the skin, while sulfur is meant to soothe post-shaving irritation. Austin-based dermatologist Adam Mamelak, MD, adds that the moisturizing effect will soften the hair and therefore make shaving more manageable.
- Promotes faster hair growth: Black soap may also help increase hair growth, due to its high clarifying powers. A clean scalp that's free of debris and build-up is better primed for hair growth.
- Exfoliates: The ashes in black soap might provide physical exfoliating properties to remove dead skin cells, potentially improving fine lines, softening, and rejuvenating rough skin.
Those with sensitive or eczema-prone skin should use caution when considering African black soap because the vitamin A and exfoliating properties could trigger irritation.
Common Ingredients in Black Soap
- Plantain skins and leaves have a high concentration of iron and vitamins A and E. Vitamin E helps with tissue structure, is healing, and helps moisturize the skin, improving texture and tone. Vitamin A benefits collagen production. Allantoin in the leaves of plantain stimulates the growth of new skin cells.
- Cocoa powder softens and firms the skin. Its properties fight against free radicals, repair damaged skin, and renew skin cells.
- Cocoa butter is a natural fat extracted from the cacao bean. It’s been used for years as a moisturizer. It's vitamin-rich and helps the skin retain moisture and improves elasticity. Cocoa butter is also said to improve the appearance of stretch marks. It has also been used to ease skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and other rashes.
- Shea butter (karite butter), made from the nuts of the karite tree,helps to strengthen skin and repair damage. It has been used to heal burns, sores, and scars and to treat psoriasis and eczema. It also helps promote cell renewal.
- Palm oil is packed with antioxidants and two forms of vitamin E—tocopherol and tocotrienol—which is helpful in the treatment of acne and eczema and reduces cell damage caused by environmental toxins and free radicals.
- Palm kernel oil is extracted from the fruit seeds of the African palm tree. It is high in lauric acid, which has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties.
- Coconut oil has fatty acids that work to reinforce the skin’s lipid barrier and lock in moisture. Coconut oil may also help repair skin damage, dry skin, and eczema and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
Side Effects of African Black Soap
African black soap may be rough and could cause irritation, dry skin, stinging, burning, or breakouts in sensitive skin or if used too frequently. Because it's formulated with plant-based ingredients, there is also always the possibility of allergies.
While some with eczema may see improvement in symptoms with African black soap, Weiser is weary to suggest it to her patients. "I do not recommend the use of African black soap for eczema because most atopic patients have a compromised skin barrier that could be aggravated by some components of the soap." As such, she suggests doing a patch test for a few days before fully incorporating it into a routine.
How to Use It
To avoid the aforementioned irritations, you'll need to learn how to use African black soap safely. Otu says to ease into using it daily. "Try to use it about two to three times a week alongside a gentler cleanser." As a deep cleanser and exfoliator, be cautious and pay attention to your skin's response. Otu says the cleanser can be used as part of either a morning or night routine.
The Best Products With African Black Soap
There are a variety of different formulations on the market today that provide numerous skin benefits. One of our favorite African black soaps is from Shea Moisture. We love that it is made with certified organic ingredients, is all-natural, and comes in a bar soap form. The purifying formula promises to promote the healing of acne and balance the skin. It contains tea tree oil and tamarind extract meant to exfoliate and mattify oily skin. Those with dry skin may want to heed caution with this one as it may be too drying.
This liquid black soap cleanser includes soothing ingredients to combat the harshness that African black soap may have. The combination of honey, green tea extract, and sea buckthorn oil meant to hydrate and retain moisture in the skin. This formula was made with sensitive skin in mind and promises to balance the skin's bacteria and fade hyperpigmentation.
Dermatologists recommend the deep cleaning Nubian Heritage mask as it promises to treat blemishes while providing non-comedogenic moisture. Another reason to love this mask? It's made with salicylic acid, which helps minimize the appearance of pores.
Made in Nigeria, this cleansing bar is recommended for oily skin types. It's highly effective at soaking up excess oil, which can make it feel a bit drying, especially if you're already prone to dry skin. Also, be aware that this soap includes lemon and lime juice, which can sensitize the skin to UV rays. Be sure to follow up with a good moisturizer and sunscreen.
Black soap isn't limited to cleansers. SheaMoisture utilizes the ingredient in this moisturizer to try to help clear breakouts while hydrating the skin. Other components include tea tree oil meant to soothe and mattify, and tamarind extract meant to act as an astringent and natural exfoliator.
This overnight resurfacing serum combines the powers of African black soap with exfoliating AHAs and BHAs like glycolic and salicylic acid to shed layers of dead and dull skin to clear and prevent breakouts and fade post-breakout hyperpigmentation. Because there's quite a lot of powerful exfoliation action going on in one product, the serum could potentially irritate sensitive skin. Do a patch to rule out any sensitivities before fully integrating it into your routine.
This take on African black soap cleansers includes another buzzy skincare ingredient: real 24k gold. The gold is claimed to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to reduce acne and hyperpigmentation. Other key ingredients include activated charcoal meant to detoxify and salicylic acid meant to exfoliate and control breakouts.
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