Everything You Need To Know About Adding African Black Soap Into Your Skincare Routine

If you're looking for a natural, plant-based cleanser that packs a punch when it comes to your most common skin issues  — yes, this includes acne — then African black soap is about to become your skin's new bestie.


This nifty soap originated in Nigeria, thanks to the genius of the Yoruba people. Originally called ose dudu, which directly translates to "black soap," this versatile cleanser has helped treat various skin concerns over the years, and the modern skincare industry is finally catching on (via Real Simple). According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, African black soap can work wonders for skin diseases and irritations. Psoriasis, rashes, and contact dermatitis don't stand a chance against the superpowers of this soap. The study also found that people commonly use it to treat other, less serious skin conditions, like uneven skin tone and discoloration. Seventy percent of the participants surveyed said that they use African black soap for overall skin care, with 51% saying that they are very satisfied with the results.


It appears we've been missing out on a skincare miracle that can tackle almost any problem we might encounter. If you're already sold on the benefits, read on for everything you need to know about adding African Black Soap into your skincare routine.

So, what is African black soap?

African black soap is an ancient cleanser that's been used by African cultures long before the rest of the world got wind of it. This soap is made from different ingredients depending on the region it comes from, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. But no matter its origin, it appears the benefits remain the same. It's no wonder the skincare industry is taking to it like ducks to water.


"African black soap is becoming popular in the U.S., given the rise in consumer interest and desire for clean, natural, and organic skincare," founder of Nokware Skincare, Tutuwa Awhoi, told Well + Good. Tutuwa added that there is research to back up some of the skincare benefits of African black soap, making it all the more desirable. In fact, beauty product formulator Erica Douglas refers to it as the "super soap of all soaps." Even though the recipe is unique to the culture that produces the soap, the key ingredients, of which ash is one, remain the same. Yes, African black soap includes ash from different plants depending on the region. This is what makes it different from all the other skincare products out there. "The vitamin-rich ash is the magical secret that gives African black soap the ability to not just clean the skin, but to help soothe skin issues such as eczema and psoriasis, reduce hyperpigmentation, and help fight off bacteria that causes acne," Douglas explains.


There are different types of African black soap

As we've already established, not all African black soaps are created with the exact same ingredients, and according to Byrdie, more than 100 different types of black soap exist. Traditional black soap is usually made by mixing cocoa pod powder, ashes of plantain skins, and palm oil with water. Other recipes might use ashes from different plants, like the leaves of palm trees or shea tree bark, along with tropical honey, palm oil, shea butter, or coconut oil.


The best part about all original African black soaps is that they're handmade by women living in villages in Western Africa. The recipes for these soaps are also somewhat of a secret and are passed down from generation to generation. The soap's formulation as well as the methods used to produce it all have an impact on the end result, which means a knockoff definitely won't leave you with the same benefits as the real thing.

African black soap is packed with natural ingredients

The most common ingredients in African black soap include palm kernel oil, palm oil, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, coconut oil, shea butter, and plantain skins and leaves. These ingredients are what give black soap that magic touch when it comes to treating skin issues (via Byrdie).


Palm kernel oil contains lauric acid, which has antibacterial and antifungal properties, according to a 2018 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Palm oil, on the other hand, contains two different types of vitamin E known as tocotrienol and tocopherol, which a 2016 study published in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal found can help treat acne and eczema. Cocoa powder and butter are excellent at treating damaged skin and improving elasticity and cell renewal, a 2014 study published in Nutrients discovered. 

Coconut oil helps repair the skin by strengthening the skin barrier and works great to make wrinkles less visible while also treating eczema, according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. Shea butter helps repair the skin while working to strengthen it. It can treat eczema, sores, burns, scars, and even psoriasis, a 2017 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences concluded. Finally, as for the plantain skins and leaves used, a 2017 study published in the Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research found that the allantoin present in these plants encourages new skin cells to grow.


You can use African black soap in different ways

African black soap can be utilized in different ways — it's good for more than just washing your face, believe it or not. The soap can also be used as a face mask, a body wash, or even a body scrub.

When using African black soap as a face mask, you can cut it into smaller chunks and then let it soak in hot water. Simply add tea tree oil, baking soda, and honey to the mixture (via New Directions Aromatics). Now it's ready to apply to your face and neck. You should let it sit until it dries before gently rinsing it off. If the rest of your skin needs some TLC, especially if you suffer from conditions like rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis, you can use black soap as a body wash. It's as simple as letting the soap dissolve in hot, clean water and then lathering it all over your body like you would your usual body wash.


If you love to scrub it up, you can mix your black soap with sugar (white and brown both work), and then use it on your skin.

African black soap works well for all skin types

Those who have acne-prone and oily skin usually find that African black soap is a lifesaver. "It has the natural ability to remove excess oil from skin like a magnet," beauty product formulator Erica Douglas told Well + Good. She did, however, add that sensitive skin types might experience dryness and irritation after using it. This is because black soap surpasses the skin's natural alkaline levels, drying it out. Douglas suggests doing a patch test before washing your face with it.


Dermatologist Caroline Robinson, M.D., told Real Simple that she usually refrains from recommending African black soap to those with sensitive skin for this very reason. "I especially advise them to avoid it if their skin feels tight or squeaky clean post-wash, as this can be a sign of a compromised skin barrier devoid of natural oils," Robinson says. This doesn't mean that people with sensitive skin can't use it at all, it really depends on how sensitive your skin is. If you don't struggle with excessive dryness or other issues like eczema, Robinson says you could give African black soap a go.

No matter your skin type, Robinson stresses that it's vital you always apply a good moisturizer after washing your face with African black soap. This will prevent your skin from drying out. "I would advise against daily use and opt for three times a week use if you are not prone to acne or dry skin," Robinson says.


African black soap can help fight acne

While a miracle cure for acne doesn't exist, African black soap comes pretty close. It gets rid of all the nasties that commonly cause acne breakouts, leaving you with clearer skin. "One of the most effective benefits of African black soap is its ability to exfoliate and remove dirt, oil, and bacteria from beneath the skin," beauty product formulator Erica Douglas told Well + Good. She added that African black soap works great to treat existing breakouts but can also work wonders when it comes to preventing future pimples from popping up. 


According to Healthline, African black soap has the ability to balance the naturally occurring oils on your skin, while the shea ingredients work to repair skin cells. It also kicks Propionibacterium acnes (one of the bacteria responsible for acne) to the curb. Thanks to its vitamin E and A content, African black soap can also help fade acne scars. Now, say hello to that glow.

African black soap is anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory

African black soap packs a punch when it comes to ridding the skin of bacteria and keeping inflammation at bay. According to Healthline, the soap is rich in antioxidants, thanks to its vitamin E and A content. These compounds help protect the skin against free radical damage while also serving as a great treatment for skin conditions like rosacea. African black soap can also help ease irritated or itchy skin, so if you suffer from other inflammatory skin conditions like allergies, eczema, contact dermatitis, or even psoriasis, African black soap might help ease the symptoms. If you want to use the soap to treat these conditions specifically, Healthline recommends you look for one that has oatmeal on its list of ingredients.


African black soap can also help get rid of various types of fungus. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology Research found that African black soap is more effective at getting rid of certain types of bacteria than other medicated soaps. The soap is also a real hero when it comes to killing certain types of fungus, including the type that causes conditions like athlete's foot and toenail fungus.

African black soap can help soothe and exfoliate your skin

African black soap includes various natural oils and butters in its list of ingredients, and these skin-loving compounds can help moisturize and soothe your skin with each use. The vitamin E content not only moisturizes but works to repair your skin barrier, which helps keep moisture locked in. The shea butter found in most African black soaps also works to effectively hydrate the skin. It imitates your skin's natural oils while also being non-comedogenic, which means you don't have to worry about it clogging your pores (via Well + Good).


On the other hand, African black soap also serves as an excellent physical exfoliator, thanks to the grains of ash found in its ingredient list. These small particles gently remove dead skin cells with every wash, which can help treat issues like dead skin build-up, fine lines, and dull skin, according to Byrdie.

It can protect the skin against free radical damage and photoaging

Our skin is our first line of defense against outside forces like free radicals, pollution, and UV rays, so it's imperative we keep it healthy to prevent damage. Speaking to Byrdie, board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D., explained that free radicals refer to unstable atoms whose electrons are looking to bind to something else. "Electrons like to be in pairs, so these unstable atoms scavenge the body to seek out other electrons so they can become a pair. This causes damage to cells, proteins, and DNA," Hadley explains, adding, "And this damage can lead to inflammation, aging, and even cancer. The skin is constantly exposed to free radicals from UV radiation and pollution."


Luckily, African black soap can help protect the skin against these volatile atoms, thanks to the antioxidants in its ingredient list. A 2012 study published in Dermatology Research and Practice found that African black soap can prevent free radical damage to the skin, which, in turn, helps prevent premature aging. African black soap's coconut oil and shea butter content also help stimulate collagen production, which improves the skin's elasticity, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, according to Healthline. Black soap also works to prevent photoaging and helps to reduce the dark marks that typically form due to excess sun exposure.

African black soap can improve your skin tone and texture

Most of us would try almost anything to get the smooth, glowing complexion of our dreams, and African black soap might help us achieve just that.

Many who have used the soap boast that it improved the texture and elasticity of their skin while also providing them with that sought-after glow. Board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University, Jessica Weiser, M.D., told Byrdie that the plantain leaves in the soap have exfoliation properties that are responsible for these near-miraculous results. According to Healthline, the soap's natural form also work as an exfoliant. It isn't smooth like the common soaps you buy at the drugstore, and its naturally rough surface works great to exfoliate and smooth the skin.


The soap's vitamin A content also plays a vital role. "Additionally, vitamin A gradually turns over the skin surface cells to reveal fresh skin cells, which will also brighten and even skin tone," Weiser explains.

For those who shave, African black soap can also help ease those pesky razor bumps. The shea butter content protects and soothes the skin, while the soap's exfoliating properties help to remove the small hairs that tend to get caught under the skin while shaving. The soap can also make the hair softer, providing you with a fuss-free shave, dermatologist Adam Mamelak, M.D., says.

How to use African black soap as a facial cleanser

African black soap in its original form can serve as a great exfoliator, thanks to its rough texture, but if you want to use it as an ordinary facial cleanser, you'll have to take a few extra steps before using it. Healthline suggests you break the soap into smaller chunks to make using it easier. Rub a chunk between your hands, and then apply the soapy residue to your face. Alternatively, you can dissolve the soap in water and use it as a liquid cleanser instead.


When you use African black soap directly on your face as an exfoliator, you need to be extra careful. Since the soap's texture is so rough, you should make sure you scrub very gently. If you want to use it on a rash, it's recommended you use a washcloth soaked with the soap since this will prevent you from irritating the rash any further. Always rinse off the black soap's residue with lukewarm water and apply a good moisturizer afterward. This will keep your skin from drying out while also helping it to reap the benefits of the hydrating ingredients found in the soap.

How to incorporate African black soap into your skincare routine

When it comes to incorporating African black soap into your skincare routine, slow and steady wins the race. When you're just starting out, Healthline suggests you refrain from using it daily and rather cleanse your face with it a few times a week. You can slowly start to use it more frequently as your skin adjusts.


If you have sensitive or dry skin, you should be extra cautious, and WebMD suggests you look for African black soap that includes shea butter to tone down its drying effects. Stylecraze advises you to use a small amount of soap when starting out to help your skin adjust. You should also follow up your black soap cleansing session with a good moisturizer to combat any dryness. Those with oily skin can opt for non-comedogenic moisturizing ingredients like sweet almond or virgin coconut oil. African black soap can dry out even oily skin, which can lead to more breakouts, so it's crucial you keep your skin moisturized (via MedicineNet).

African black soap can cause some side effects

Even though African black soap can be an amazing addition to your skincare routine, it still has some side effects you need to watch out for. As we've already established, African black soap has a tendency to dry out the skin. This happens because the soap is really good at getting rid of extra oil and impurities. The good news is that your skin will usually rebalance itself a couple of days after using the soap. You also shouldn't be surprised if you feel a slight tingle or burning sensation when you first apply African black soap to your face. 


You might even experience some redness, but this is typically nothing to worry about and will dissipate within a few days. If irritation persists, however, it might be a sign that the soap does not agree with your skin. "If you experience a rash, itching, or burning, you should avoid using black soap," Shaziya Allarakha, M.D., explains in an article she wrote for MedicineNet.

How to properly store African black soap

Since African black soap is handmade, you need to take extra care of how you store it to ensure it stays in tip-top shape. First of all, the Sapo Company recommends you cut your soap into smaller pieces and store what you're not using in an airtight container. This can be a Ziplock bag or even plastic wrapping. This is because African black soap has a tendency to develop a white film on the surface when coming into contact with air for prolonged periods of time. Storing it properly ensures your soap stays fresh and ready to use.


In addition to properly storing the unused soap, you should also take care of how you store the soap you're using. Since African black soap isn't anything like typical drugstore soaps, you can't leave it sitting in water. It has a tendency to absorb moisture, and you'll be left with a soggy bar (gross!). Instead, use a soap dish that allows water to drain from the bar without leaving it sitting in a puddle, and if you can, don't store the soap in the bathroom or near a sink where it's constantly exposed to moisture.