It was Spring Break here in Staten Island, New York this past week. While many of my fellow teacher friends were hopping on airplanes to Caribbean climates, I chose a stay-cation in my Staten Island soap lab. I finally had a full week to be super creative with my soaping!
I chose to dedicate this week’s soap shenanigans to step outside of my normal soaping zone. I made soap with beer, soap with wine, Spanish Castile soap, soap inspired by the Arabian desert, and traditional African Black Soap with a recipe from Ghana.
I started doing my research on African Black Soap several months ago when a friend told me his wife was obsessed with it. It goes by many names – anago soap, alata simena, and dudu-osun – and it all depends on which part of Africa the recipe is derived from.
What’s interesting about African Black Soap is that no two soaps from different regions are alike. The reason is because it’s actually a tribal recipe, and the recipes that we have now were deduced from backward engineering, otherwise, they are tribal secrets. Secondly, the ingredients are solely based on what’s locally available; however, what each recipe has in common is an abundance of shea butter.
In the soap forum, Soapmakingfun.com, the ingredient derivatives are explained:
“Palm oil, palm kernel oil, cocoa butter and shea butter are commonly used as base oil, while the lye component, usually in the form of potash (potassium hydroxide), is derived from the ashes of plantain skins, cocoa pods, shea tree bark and the by-products of shea production.”
This is an unusual method of making bar soap because bar soap normally requires sodium hydroxide while liquid soap requires potassium hydroxide – this is why African Black Soap is softer and more crumbly than regular bar soap.
African Black Soap has many natural exfoliants and is generally slightly scratchy when using it. This makes it an incredible soap for troubled skin. Interestingly, even with the exfoliating component, it is also an excellent soap for sensitive skin. It’s generally just an excellent soap to use for people who are seeking a natural alternative for irritated skin.
“Black” soap is a bit of a misnomer to the rustic appearance as it is really a variety of browns. Truly, because of all the natural, local ingredients, batches can extremely vary in appearance.
The natural scent of this soap may not be appealing to many people as it smells a bit ashy, which is why I took my own twist on the recipe and added tea tree essential oil and lavender essential oil. Along with improving the fragrance, tea tree and lavender essential oils are also ideal for troubled and sensitive skin while maintaining the completely natural, synthetic-free state of the soap.
The beauty of this soap is how simultaneously clean, fresh, and soft your skin will feel after using it. It’s clear to see why so many people are raving about it, but don’t be fooled by mislabeling. I’ve seen a lot of brands marketing their products as traditional African Black Soap but then reading ingredient labels that have SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate), which is an added synthetic surfactant. Read your labels, know your products.
Why not grab a bar of Traditional African Black Soap and see what the craze is all about?