How to Use Black Soap Safely & Effectively

Monday, January 25, 2016

What is Black Soap

Black soap also called anago soap, alata samina or ose dudu is made from the ash of plants and bark such as plantain, cocoa pods, palm tree leaves, and shea tree bark.

How Black Soap is Made

First the leaves and bark are sun-dried and then roasted in a kettle or pot at an even, constant temperature. Water and various oils – palm oil, coconut oil, palm kernel oil (including shea butter and cocoa pod powder) – are added to the mixture and stirred for at least a day. The soap then cures for two weeks before it's ready to use.

Traditionally black soap is made in West Africa but most producers of the soap are in Ghana. Different communities have their own specific blend of oils and cooking techniques, which can be seen in the different colour variations among black soaps.  Black soap made on the African continent tend to be pure, while soaps made in Europe or the United States sometimes have added artificial ingredients and fragrances.

The plantain skins give the soap Vitamin A & E, and iron. Because the soap has the highest shea butter content of any soap, it purportedly also offers a slight amount of UV protection. It's not enough to replace your sunscreen though. People with caffeine sensitivities may need to test out soap that contains cocoa pods as there is some evidence that the caffeine can be transmitted through contact with the skin. Read more here.

The Benefits of Using Black Soap
  • Softer more supple skin
  • Alleviates razor bumps
  • Exfoliant
  • Gentle, deep cleanser
  • Fades skin discolourations
  • Reduces inflammation and soothes irritated skin

 How to Use Black Soap

First of all you need to establish a few things - where did you get your black soap? As I mentioned earlier different communities have their own specific blend(s). Was the soap made in Africa? You want the most natural black soap you ca get your hands on with no synthetic extras or fragrances.

Please test it out on your inner elbow skin first as you would with any new beauty treatment. Black soap works by deeply and gently cleansing the skin (or hair) without harsh chemicals. Natural additives like shea or cocoa butter are often added to enhance the soap while the ash from the plantain skins saponify the oils turning them into soap unlike traditional soap that uses sodium hydroxide.

A good "authentic" black soap will be firm but not hard like traditional soaps (you can break it easily and it crumbles). When you use first start using black soap you may experience "purging" where it seems like your skin is getting worse or drier. The soap contains ash and sodium, you may notice a tingling or slight burning sensation when you initially use it. This is normal and went away for me after a few days. But please do a patch test before committing to using it as your primary cleanser.

A little goes a long way. The soap lathers up fairly well so you don't need a massive chunk at a time; unless like me you use it everywhere. Because black soap formulations vary, you may have different results such as overdrying or tingling. If you experience any unpleasant effects, use soap less often or less soap at each cleansing. A marble-sized ball is more than enough to wash the face.

If you have dry skin and the first week of dryness doesn't go away try grating some of the soap and mixing in jojoba, rosehip or Vitamin E oil into a clean, dry container. Jojoba oil is the closest oil to naturally-occurring scalp and face oils. Rosehip oil is kind to most skin types; contains essential fatty acids, vitamin C and is an effective replacement oil if you have a nut allergy. Argan oil has a very high concentration of vitamin E and fatty acids. Experimenting with oil is also a great way to create your own unique blend that fits in your budget and lifestyle.

In bar form, black soap is softer than most soap and may look like rancid chocolate - be careful to store it properly. It's also typically a shade of brown, instead of black. The high glycerin content and its hydrophilic nature means it should be stored in a plastic bag or dry area away from the tub and shower.

When using raw chunks of the soap, make sure there are no whole particles of tree bark or pods in the bar that can scratch or tear skin. Apply the lather to your face with your fingertips and gently rub it in. Wash and rinse with cool water and don't use toner to help reduce stinging and redness. To avoid or reduce any unpleasant effects, do not leave the soap on your face for a long period of time. Do not use a face-buffer or exfoliant - the soap will make your skin feel raw if you use it with an exfoliating tool.

If you are caffeine-sensitive, you might test the soap on the inside of your arm because it’s derived from cacao pods, which contain caffeine and can be absorbed through the skin. You may want to avoid using it if you are extremely latex-sensitive as shea butter contains small amounts of naturally occurring latex. When exposed to air, black soap can develop a thin, white film. It's not going "off" or losing its efficacy - it can still be used.

Let me know of any soap hacks you may have and good or bad experiences you've had with black soap.

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