The joys of African black soap

This traditional ingredient has been around for centuries, so isn't it high time that you added it to your beauty routine?

Hair & Beauty

When we say that herbalism - the study and practice of plants as medicine - has been around for a long time, we mean it. Sixty-thousand years, as a matter of fact. For millennia, humans have relied on plants as a way of healing ailments, from the use of myrrh as a painkiller to hemp for arthritis relief. While it may seem as if we’ve lost touch with these practices, herbalism is still very much around today. But thanks to research and an increased understanding of plants and the human body, medicines, cosmetics and other applications have developed far beyond anything our ancestors could have imagined.

Yet, there are still certain natural formulas that require no processing or complex chemical additions. They aren’t produced by a multi-national brand or backed by an A-list celebrity, but formed through years of experimentation, with recipes passed down by oral tradition from generation to generation. And what better endorsement is there than a history of proven success? One of these very products is African black soap, with its seemingly endless skin benefits and completely natural ingredients. It joins a handful of herbalist cosmetics that have garnered interest in recent years, from Jamaican black castor oil to shea butter. But what exactly is it and what can it do for your skin?

R&R Luxury Liquid Black Soap
R&R Luxury Liquid Black Soap, £15

Back to our roots

African black soap can be traced back to West Africa where the Yoruba people mix natural oils with the ash of local plants - depending on what is available - like cocoa pods, palm leaves, plantain skins and shea tree bark. The plants are then harvested and sun-dried before being burnt until ashy. But why not just use the plants in their original form? Although they have benefits when utilised in other applications, the ash in African black soap has an exfoliating and balancing effect, clearing away rough patches on the skin while absorbing excess oils.

The oils are added to the ash along with water, before being heated and hand-stirred. These oils can include coconut, shea butter and palm oil, all of which have the ability to boost hydration and soothe certain skin conditions. Once the ingredients have been appropriately mixed together, the soap is then left to set and cure (a process that allows the water to evaporate) before it can be used or packaged and sold.

Kaé Black Hamman Soap with Eucalyptus
Kaé Black Hamman Soap with Eucalyptus, £18

What not to buy

As with any product that earns a certain amount of popularity, African black soap has been picked up by non-traditional brands that are prone to altering its recipe. This usually means bulking out the product with inexpensive ingredients or using additives to increase shelf life. When buying African black soap, a quick glance at the ingredients should tell you everything you need to know about whether it’s been adapted. Unlike the many skincare products that we see on the shelves in shops, this soap should have no dyes, fragrances or fancy colourings on its label. An authentic product will contain only a handful of ingredients.

Natural Jem African Black Soap
Natural Jem African Black Soap, £5

What can it be used for?

African black soap really is a miracle worker with benefits for dry, oily or normal skin types as well as specific skin issues. Here are just a few ailments that African black soap has been shown to alleviate:

  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Shaving rashes
  • Psoriasis
  • Fungal skin infections
  • Scarring
  • Eczema

You can use African black soap as often as is appropriate for your skin type. And thanks to its lack of harsh chemicals, it can be used on the face to cleanse and exfoliate. It can even be used to remove make-up! Plus, its antimicrobial properties help fight against acne as it cleanses away the pimple-causing bacteria that live on oily areas of the skin.

Mamado African Black Soap Infused with Coconut
Mamado African Black Soap Infused with Coconut, £6.95

Thinking of trying African black soap?

Always read the label to ensure that the product does not contain any ingredients that you know to be irritating to your skin. If these are clear then it will undoubtedly become a new staple in your skincare routine.

What the experts say

Eni Salawu, founder of Natural Jem, says: “African black soap is a true multi-tasking skincare product, with the ability to do way more than just cleanse. It’s a good option for addressing common skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis and costs a fraction of the price to highend products. Also, if you really shop around, you can find good Fairtrade brands that ensure employees based in Africa are paid a fair rate.”

Feature image c/o River Island.

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