For hundreds of years, women of West Africa – particularly in Ghana – made and used a vegetable-based soap to gently cleanse skin and hair. Known as African black soap to the West, locally it is called alata simena, sabulun salo, ose dudu, and anago soap.
Made with secret recipes passed down from generation to generation, there are several formulations of African black soap on the market today that may add in oats, honey, or aloe. But the core ingredients of traditionally made African black soap include native plants like plantain skins, cocoa pods, shea tree bark, or palm tree leaves. Once plant matter is collected, it is first sun dried and then roasted at a consistent temperature until it turns into ash. The ash is then added to water and various fats like palm oil, coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, and palm kernel oil. This mixture is then heated and hand-stirred for a least 24 hours until it begins to solidify before it’s scooped out and left to cure for two weeks.
What Makes African Black Soap Special?
Here’s an overview of the core ingredients found in traditional African black soap, along with their benefits:
Plantain Peels – Cooking bananas (or Musa paradisiaca) are a good source of antioxidants, protein, folic acid, thiamine, riboflavin, potassium, and vitamin C.
Cocoa Pods – Rich in antioxidants, cocoa pods – or the shells that house the treasured cocoa bean – also have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Coconut Oil – A well-rounded ingredient indeed, coconut oil cleans and moisturizes the skin, and helps kick start collagen production.
Palm Kernel Oil – Obtained from the seed of Elaeis guineensis, palm kernel oil is rife with several types of fatty acids.
Palm Oil – Derived from the fruit of the palm tree, unrefined palm oil (known as red palm oil) is abundant in vitamin E, alpha and beta carotene and other antioxidants, as well as essential fatty acids.
Shea Butter – Also plentiful in beneficial fatty acids, shea butter is a prized ingredient for silky smooth skin. It helps repair damaged skin tissues and boost the body’s ability to generate collagen.
This mixture of plants and fats have been used for centuries for beautiful skin and hair. Here’s how:
1. Natural Skin Cleanser
Like any soap should, African black soap is an effective topical cleanser. The lauric acid in palm kernel oil and coconut oil creates a nice lather and is naturally antimicrobial. Due to the presence of shea butter and other moisturizers in African black soap, it will clean your face and body without stripping oils from the skin.
2. Good for All Skin Types
Whether you have dry skin, oily skin, or a combination of the two, African black soap works wonders for every skin type. Thanks to the addition of coconut oil, this soap counteracts dryness by deeply hydrating the skin. It’s excellent for oily skin too since it adds moisture to the skin, which helps to correct and balance an overactive sebaceous gland.