By: Mia Taylor / Photo Credit: @alaffia
If we are talking about a group of people that are the OGs of innovation and sustainability, look no further than West Africans. One of their most well-known innovations? Anago soap or alata samina – more commonly known as African black soap.
What is African black soap and what is it good for?
Authentic African black soap comes from the Yoruba people, originating from Nigeria, Benin, and Togo–today the soap is also a staple product of Ghana. The simple soap mixture is made from ash-derived alkalis or plant ash, mixed with a variety of natural oils. African black soap has been around for centuries in one form or another and played a major role in the early economy of pre-colonial Yoruba. Through the years black soap became known for evening skin tone and relieving hyperpigmentation and razor bumps. Some people even laud it as a great make-up remover. Holistic dermatologists recommend black soap for soothing psoriasis, fighting fungal skin infections, and fading scars.
Recently, the soap has become extremely popular, especially on social media. Influencers are crediting black soap for their clear, “perfect” skin and putting an end to their acne. Now the soap and its imitators are popping up in beauty stores and major retailers worldwide, but how do you know if what you’re buying is real African black soap? Simply read the ingredients. Checking the back of the package will help you identify not only a product’s authenticity but how it might react with your skin. (Double points if the soap is manufactured in Africa.)
What ingredients to look for
According to the African Journal of Biotechnology, you can expect anything from palm kernel oil and cocoa pod ash to plantain skins and shea tree bark, but what you shouldn’t see is a bunch of chemicals. With more than 100 different varieties of black soap, ingredients will differ depending on region and production method, but one thing you shouldn’t see is laundry list of complex words. Authentic black soap should only contain 2-5 natural ingredients.
Authentic black soap should only contain 2-5 natural ingredients
One major offender is Shea Moisture, their ingredients list reads like a chemistry textbook; glycerin, sodium chloride, tetrasodium etidronate, pentasodium pentetate, fragrance, and iron oxides. Definite no-gos when it comes to traditional, natural African black soap. Also, real black soap is not purely black, unlike this brand. Authentic black soap contains flecks of brown, grey, and black; a marbled mix of shea butter, plant ash, and oil.
One of my favorite brands of black soap is Alaffia’s unscented liquid black soap (they have a bar version too). The ingredients are really simple just shea butter and palm kernel oil. Okay Pure Naturals offers different varieties of black soap including coconut, peppermint, and lavender. All natural and all imported from Ghana.
All in all, African black soap feels luxurious on the skin and leaves you smelling great. Some soaps, no matter how authentic, can dry and irritate the skin, so make sure you’re using a quality moisturizer or oil after you shower.
Curious how to use black soap? YouTuber Sekinah Sekinah breaks it down in the video below.
Have you ever used African black soap and what’s your favorite way to use it? Let us know in the comments down below!