What is African black soap?

African black soap (also called African soap or black soap) is the latest skin care product to reach "holy grail" status, and for good reason.

Touted as a solution for breakouts, hyperpigmentation, stretch marks, and everything in between,

black soap is the ultimate beauty buy for those on a budget. A one-size-fits-all approach to flawless skin? Sign us up!

And unlike the synthetic soaps you find at the drugstore, authentic black soap is handmade from plant-based ingredients in Africa. Each fair-trade purchase supports sustainable production and, in some cases, directly benefits communities in need.

Still not convinced? Read on to learn more about this cult favorite and how you can add it to your routine.

1. It's antibacterial

Natural antibacterial properties make African black soap an excellent alternative to chemical-laden cleansers. In fact, it may actually remove more bacteria than chemical cleansers do. Despite its strength, black soap is gentle enough to use on your face, hands, and body.

2. It's safe for all skin types

If you have dry or sensitive skin, you know that scented soaps and lotions are off-limits. African black soap is naturally fragrance-free — just make sure your chosen product is labeled "unscented."

People with oily or combination skin are also in the clear! Black soap can help balance your skin's natural oil production without stripping necessary oils or adding excess oil to your skin.

3. It's moisturizing

Shea butter is a crucial ingredient in black soap. While shea can help relieve itchiness and soothe dry skin, cocoa and coconut oil add moisture.

4. It won't make your skin oily

If you have combination skin, this makes choosing the right soap that much easier. Shea may add moisture, but coconut oil may help prevent overactive oil glands.

5. It helps soothe irritation

African black soap may also soothe itchiness and irritation caused by eczema, contact dermatitis, and skin allergies. It may even help clear rashes related to eczema and psoriasis. To maximize these benefits, find a soap with oatmeal added.

6. It's anti-inflammatory

Black soap is rich in vitamins A and E. These vitamins are both antioxidants, which help combat free radicals and attacks on otherwise healthy skin tissues. This may be helpful for people who have inflammatory conditions like rosacea.

7. It helps fight acne

On that note, black soap may also help fight acne. In addition to balancing your skin's natural oils, the soap's shea content may help repair damaged cells. Its antimicrobial properties may even clear severe acne caused by Propionibacterium acnes bacteria.

8. It may help reduce fine lines

Shea butter and coconut oil may help reduce collagen loss and encourage new development. In turn, this can help plump up fine lines and wrinkles. The rough texture of the soap can also exfoliate dead skin cells that make fine lines more noticeable.

9. It helps protect against photoaging

Antioxidants found in shea butter can help protect your skin from photoaging. Over time, sun exposure can cause sun spots (age spots), but black soap may offer another barrier.

10. It helps improve skin texture

African black soap is chock-full of natural ingredients, but part of its benefits come from its form. When left unprocessed, the raw ingredients that make up black soap leave the product far less smooth than the average drugstore soap bar. This makes it a natural exfoliant, which may help improve skin texture.

11. It helps prevent razor burn and related rashes

Exfoliation is another key factor in keeping your skin smooth after shaving, waxing, or other methods of hair removal. Exfoliating will help remove dead skin cells before they can clog your hair follicles. The moisture in African black soap may also help prevent the lumps and bumps that result from razor burn.

12. It may help reduce hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation is often caused by acne scarring and sun damage — two things that African black soap may help soothe or prevent.

13. It may help minimize the appearance of scars and stretch marks

Thanks to its shea butter and vitamin E content, black soap may help reduce the redness and overall appearance of stretch marks and other scars. It may also help minimize related itchiness.

14. It's antifungal

One study on the effects of African black soap found the product effective for seven types of fungus — this includes the common Candida albicans yeast. You can safely use African black soap to help treat conditions like toenail fungus and athlete's foot.

Where do all these benefits come from?

The benefits of African black soap lie in its ingredients. This includes a combination of:

  • cocoa pods
  • coconut oil
  • palm tree leaf derivatives, including palm kernel oil and palm oil
  • plantain bark, which contains iron, as well as vitamins A and E
  • shea butter

Keep in mind that the ingredient makeup of black soap largely varies based on the region of Africa it's made from. For example, plantains are found in Central and Western Africa, but not in eastern regions.

You may also find black soap with added essential oils, such as eucalyptus, to promote relaxation. Some African black soap bars contain added oatmeal or aloe vera.

How to use African black soap

Real, unprocessed African black soap has a rough texture. Although the natural texture is ideal for removing dead skin during exfoliation, you'll want to smooth it out before using it as a regular cleanser.

To do this, simply pull a small chunk of soap off of the bar and rub in between your hands. If you prefer a liquid cleanser, you can dissolve your piece of soap in water before use.

You can apply the bar directly to your skin if you're looking for exfoliation, but be gentle! The rough texture is already an exfoliant in itself, so you don't have to scrub. You may also consider rubbing the bar on a soft washcloth first for gentle cleansing or use on rashes.

With whatever method you choose, make sure that you thoroughly rinse the soap off with lukewarm water after use.

Afterward, apply your favorite moisturizer to your damp skin. This will help lock in the soap's natural hydrating effects.

Potential side effects and risks

Although African black soap can work well for all skin types, using it correctly is key to preventing unnecessary side effects.

Some people find black soap to be drying. You may be able to reduce your risk for this by adding a teaspoon of raw honey to your soap mixture.

To do this:

  1. Gently break a piece of the soap bar off and drop it in a small mixing bowl.
  2. Use a spoon or fork to break the soap down into smaller pieces.
  3. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of raw honey to the bowl.
  4. Mix the honey and soap together to create a black soap paste. You can add more honey as needed.

If you're new to raw black soap, consider using it once every couple of days to start. You can gradually increase your use as your skin gets used to the soap. It's possible to be allergic to any soap. If your skin becomes irritated or develops a rash, discontinue use.

Natural black soap is also rough, so it can irritate or even break your skin if you're not careful. Stinging and burning are also possible. If you're using a raw block of soap, use gentle, circular motions as you glide it along your skin.

The best way to prevent skin breakage is to smooth out the soap and combine it with water, or use it with a washcloth.

Products to try

Real, traditional African black soap is handmade. Once the ingredients are combined, the soap is heated and left to cure for several days before use.

If you want to reap the most benefits, it's important to find the real thing. Purchasing authentic black soap also helps ensure that proceeds from the products go back to the communities that actually create the soap. These are often labeled as "fair trade" products.

Depending on the region it's made in, African black soap can also be found under the guise of other names, such as Anago or Yoruba soaps.

Due to the soap's popularity, there are an increasing number of knock-off products. You can tell the soap is a dud if it has synthetic ingredients or additives that aren't in raw black soap (basically anything not plant-based!).

Look for some of the following products to make sure you're buying the real thing while also supporting related communities:

The bottom line

African black soap is packed with essential nutrients designed to enhance your skin's natural complexion and help you glow from the inside out. For maximum results, work your way up to using the soap morning and night.

If you begin experiencing any unusual rashes or irritation, discontinue use until you can see your doctor or dermatologist. They can help determine what's causing your symptoms and whether you should permanently stop using black soap.

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