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Acne Pages: Black Soap

Updated on January 30, 2017

Background

Black soap is made according to a wide range of traditional recipes in several parts of Africa including Ghana and Nigeria. It is formulated as solid and liquid soap mixed with ash from plant material. Soaps with a similar recipe of plant ash and oils have been produced since antiquity (Routh et al 1996).

Brand Names

Brand names include:

  • Alaffia Authentic
  • Black Pride
  • Coastal Scents
  • Madina
  • Tourmaline Deep Clean

Product Names

The generic names of the this type of soap include:

  • African black soap
  • Alata simena
  • Anago
  • Black soap
  • Dudu-osan
  • Ose dudu

Key Ingredients

While the benefits of black soap are attributed to various ingredients and their qualities, in my opinion the key anti-acne quality of the soap is that it is a strong alkaline/base. (A neutral pH is 7, lower is acid and higher is alkaline.) Black ash is a byproduct of the process, but it can be filtered out to produce solid soaps that are not black in color (Onyegbado 2002).

Most acne treatments use an acid like salicyclic acid. But both acid and alkaline are effective exfoliants. That is they cause dying cells in the surface of the skin to be sloughed of, causing pores to be more open and less likely to accumulate bacteria and their byproducts. Acids have become more commonly used for this purpose largely because they are cheaper to manufacture in bulk.

The alkaline pH is produced when the main ingredients are ashes of various plant materials are combined with natural oils (e.g. palm oil, cocoa butter). Essentially the ashes produce potassium hydroxide, also known as caustic potash. Which all sounds a bit frightening but in my experience black soap is actually far milder and less irritating than the more acid-based treatments most people use for acne. In fact I found this type of soap is great for avoiding razor stubble and generally non-irritating.

Dudu-osan soap
Dudu-osan soap | Source

Recommended For:

As a Preventative: Black soap helps reduce blackhead and prevent acne from forming. So it is a good prevention product that is relative non-irritating and non-drying. However it does little to treat current acne outbreaks.

As a Milder Option: Black soap is not as hard on skin as many treatments, and it is also thought to help with wrinkles and age spots. So it can be a good choice for adult acne sufferers who want to avoid drying out their skin.

As an Organic Option: Because this soap is made entirely from organic materials it is favored by people who wish to avoid synthetic or artificial ingredients.

As a Skin Refiner: This soap is also reported to reduce blemishes and scarring, and so my have extra benefits for people with acne scarring.

Some people consider that this soap works best for people of African heritage. However, biologically speaking, there is no evidence that skin (or acne) differs based on heritage.

Cautions

Black soap is made in many very large and small ingredients. Because if its varying levels of potentially toxic ingredients I would suggest only buying from a producer that can provide a full ingredient list and is subject to safety and toxicity testing.

Product Recommendation

My personal recommendation is Nubian Heritage African Black Soap. This is a mild but effective soap. One bar is so inexpensive it is an Amazon "add on" item but you can also get a six pack that currently works out at less than three dollars a bar.

It may be wise to avoid handmade soaps of this type not subject to safety testing as these soaps can easily become contaminated with substances like heavy metals (Obi et al 2006).

References

Obi, E., Akunyili, D. N., Ekpo, B., & Orisakwe, O. E. (2006). Heavy metal hazards of Nigerian herbal remedies. Science of the Total Environment, 369(1), 35-41.

Onyegbado, C. O., Iyagba, E. T., & Offor, O. J. (2002). Solid soap production using plantain peel ash as source of alkali. Journal of Applied Sciences and Environmental Management, 6(1), 73-77.

Routh, H. B., Bhowmik, K. R., Parish, L. C., & Witkowski, J. A. (1996). Soaps: from the Phoenicians to the 20th century—a historical review. Clinics in dermatology, 14(1), 3-6.

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