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What's So Special About African Black Soap?

When people search the internet for black soap, they are usually looking for African Black Soap. It’s an ancient, specialty soap, made using centuries-old recipes and methods passed through generations, from the hands of elders who have done it since their parents taught them.

What Is African Black Soap?

African Black Soap is made mostly in West Africa, specifically Ghana and Nigeria. The secret is in the ashes of cocoa pods, plantain leaves, and palm fronds, in various combinations, which are mixed with honey, shea butter, and other oils, and then stirred in the African sun for several weeks in a slow soap-making process. (Doesn’t that sound romantic?) It is called dudu osun, or ose dudu. (Dudu means “black” in several West African dialects.) An authentic piece of this type of soap looks like a lumpy piece of wood; brownish in color, with an earthy, fairly neutral smell. If it smells like perfume, or is perfectly pitch black, it isn’t the real African version.

What are the benefits of African Black Soap?

So, what can this age-old recipe do for you? There are lots of claims made about what African Black Soap (ABS) can do. Some are probably accurate, and some likely aren’t. Most of the claims revolve around relieving dry or irritated skin, psoriasis, eczema, and acne. In fact, for those who believe in the benefits, there is almost nothing that this little, plain-looking bar can’t do! And, there is some evidence to support it. So, let’s examine the reasons for some of the beneficial effects of black soap.

  • Charred plantain skins contain large amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and iron, all three of which are fortifying and healing to skin cells.
  • Most true ABS contains a high percentage of shea butter, which can also be healing to the skin, and has some inherent sun protection.
  • Tropical honey is often used in the soap, and honey has been shown for ages to have moisturizing and healing capabilities, as well as mild antibacterial properties.
  • A bar of real ABS, made in Africa by small, local manufacturers, is likely to have WAY more natural ingredients than the soap on the grocery store shelves. This is a benefit all its own, especially if you are concerned with decreasing the number of chemicals and toxins in your life!
  • When you purchase authentic African Black Soap, you're supporting the African community in which it is lovingly made.
A word of caution: while you can find real African Black Soap online, several of the best-selling brands have some pretty ridiculous ingredient lists that would leave any soap-making, African woman shaking her head in disgust. Just because it’s called “black soap” doesn’t mean it’s truly what you are trying to find.

    What is Osmia's Black Clay Facial Soap?

    Osmia’s black soap is different. It isn’t made by Nigerian women (though I would love to see that process one day). We make it by hand, in our sustainably-built shop, in the mountains of Colorado, in small batches, using natural and certified organic ingredients. (That also sounds romantic!)  We call ours Black Clay Facial Soap, so you know right away that it's made with black clay, and that it's for your face. We don't want you to get confused and think you are buying ABS, because that's not what ours is. However, while it’s not the African recipe, it actually contains many of the same compounds, and has a similar profile in terms of its use and benefits.

    Our Black Clay Facial Soap is black in color because of two ingredients: black clay (also called magnetite), and pure Dead Sea mud. (Note: there's no charcoal in this bar.) We choose these ingredients for many of the same reasons the wise African women use charred plantain skins. Black clay is rich in iron oxide, and mud from the Dead Sea is likely the most mineral and protein rich mud in the world, loaded with sulfur, which has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities. As with the iron-containing, charred plaintain skins in ABS, the minerals in our soap all act to draw water to the skin, and soften the appearance of flaky spots and fine lines by plumping up those little skin cells. The mud is also very finely granular, and acts as a mild exfoliant, keeping the top layer of cells vibrant. Finally, there is a small astringent effect of the Dead Sea mud, making it an excellent skin toner.

    In addition, Osmia’s vegan black soap contains organic coconut milk, which is impressive in its ability to clean deeply, but very gently. The fat in the milk helps bind and remove dirt and oils, and the proteins prevent stripping of the top layer of skin. Coconut milk is very high in antioxidants, and has a mild antibacterial action as well.  The gentle cleansing action and antibacterial effect are two of the qualities that make honey an effective ingredient in many ABS recipes.

    The plant oils in the soap, which ultimately get turned into soap molecules (see nerdy explanation here), are carefully chosen to nourish and balance delicate facial skin. Mango butter, rich in essential fatty acids, and organic, cold-pressed avocado oil, high in Vitamins A, B1, B2, and E, are two of the specialty oils we use. (Also included are the following certified organic oils: extra-virgin olive, organic, RSPO palm kernel, coconut, sweet almond, castor bean, and jojoba.) The mild, unisex scent is achieved by adding a tiny amount of wild-harvested balsam of peru, two types of cedarwood essential oils, and organic lemon and bergaptene-free bergamot essential oils. 

    Osmia's Black Clay Facial Soap seems to work for a diverse group of consumers, including acne-prone teens, mature (over 50) women, men who use the soap for shaving, and especially those with perioral dermatitis. In fact, I initially developed the soap as part of my effort to create natural products that would help mitigate my own PD symptoms. If you're struggling with skin issues, search the Black Clay Facial Soap reviews for your skin concern, and you can read about people's individual experiences using our little black bar.

    Those are the basic facts about black soap, both the traditional African kind, and the Osmia kind. Both are excellent choices for normal or troubled skin, from acne to mild dermatitis to combination skin. The traditional version is appropriate for use all over, while Osmia’s version is more specifically designed for thinner, more temperamental facial skin.

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