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African black soap is revered by many 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, and 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 meant for extra moisturizing properties (some black soap is more potent than others and can be drying).
How exactly does African black soap help the skin? Read on for eight ways it may benefit 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 incorporate into a routine slowly.
Works well with: Sunscreen and moisturizers containing humectants, emollients, and occlusives.
Don't use with: It could be irritating if used with chemical exfoliants.
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 Nana 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 study, gives it deeply cleansing and nourishing properties for nearly all skin types.
Benefits of African Black Soap
- Protects Against Photoaging: Antioxidants in black soap 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 board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley 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. Dr. Jessica Weiser, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University, says the charcoal-like plantain leaves aids 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.
- Fades Discolorations: Black soap may help even out and fade brown spots and discolorations. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichnar says African black soap is useful for aging skin and hyperpigmentation "by shedding darkly pigmented cells on the skin's surface." Antioxidants also help to prevent hyperpigmentation that's caused by UV damage.
- 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. "Its ingredients have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties," says King. "For example, it's rich in vitamins A and E, both of which have antioxidant properties."
- Helps to Heal Problem Skin: The combination of vitamin A and physical exfoliation may ease the symptoms of skin conditions like acne. Users have said that black soap helps lessen, treat, and clear their acne, and gets rid of their blackheads, psoriasis, and eczema. "The soap is sulfur-rich, providing anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties," Zeichner explains. Antibacterial action can help control acne and eczema, while shea butter, cocoa, and coconut oil may help to moisturize and soothe psoriasis and eczema.
- Has Deep Cleansing Action: Black soap has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties and is great for deep pore cleansing. It also is 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 has antibacterial and antifungal properties as well."
- 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 reduces inflammation and acts as an antimicrobial. Austin-based dermatologist Dr. Adam Mamelak adds that the moisturizing effect will soften the hair and therefore make shaving easier and less irritating.
- Exfoliates: The ashes in black soap may 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, contains antioxidants, and has anti-inflammatory properties to 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 has vitamins A and E to fight against environmental damage and therefore fight the signs of aging. It 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 rashes, eczema, and psoriasis.
- Shea butter (karite butter) made from the nuts of the karite tree, also has vitamins A and E to strengthen skin and repair damage. It has been used to heal burns, sores, and scars, and to treat psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis. It helps promote cell renewal and diminish the appearance of wrinkles. It is also a good for treatment of acne scars because it is non-comedogenic and has anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.
- Palm oil is rich in antioxidants and two forms of vitamin E—tocopherol and tocotrienol—which is useful 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. It has cleansing and antibacterial properties, which make it useful for removing grime and makeup, and, when combined with other ingredients, it works as a natural deodorant.
Side Effects of African Black Soap
African black soap can be rough and 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 safely use African black soap. Otu says to ease into using it daily. "Try to use it about two to three times a week alongside a gentler cleanser." As an extremely effective 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 is 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 recommend it because it is made with certified organic ingredients, is all-natural, and comes in a bar soap form. The purifying formula promotes the healing of acne and balances the skin. It contains tea tree oil and tamarind extract 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 can have. The combination of honey, green tea extract, and sea buckthorn oil hydrates and retains moisture in the skin. This formula was made with sensitive skin in mind and works to balance the skin's bacteria and fade hyperpigmentation.
Dermatologists recommend the deep cleaning Nubian Heritage mask. The mask treats 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 extremely 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 both 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 blemish-fighting ingredient in this moisturizer to help clear breakouts while hydrating the skin. Other ingredients include tea tree oil to soothe and mattify, and tamarind extract as an astringent and natural exfoliator.
This overnight resurfacing serum combines the powers of African black soap with exfoliating AHA's and BHA's 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 into your routine.
This take on African black soap cleansers includes another buzzy skincare ingredient: real 24k gold. The gold is thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to reduce acne and hyperpigmentation. Other key ingredients include activated charcoal to detoxify and salicylic acid to exfoliate and control breakouts.
Up next: How to buy authentic African black soap.
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