Image of 4 Alaffia bar soaps including African bar soap with apple, coffee beans, and mint in the background

What is African black soap and how do you use it?

Last Updated: July 6, 2021

We’ve got the dirt on this cult beauty cleanser so you can join the legions of African black soap devotees who can’t believe they ever lived without it.

African black soap is having a moment. Like Dr. Bronner’s and Egyptian Magic, this alluring black bar is one of those time-honored natural beauty secrets people find hiding on the shelves of their local health food store and then rave to all their friends about it. Curiosity piqued?

So what is African black soap?

Photo of an assortment of African soaps

African black soap is traditionally made in West Africa from locally harvested plants like plantain skins and leaves, cocoa pods, and shea tree bark. The plants are sun-dried and roasted to produce ash, giving the soap its iconic dark color.

Learn more about the community commerce and investment in West Africa by companies who make African black soap like Alaffia from their founder Olowo-n’djo Tchala.

The ashes are then combined with palm oil, coconut oil, and shea butter before the mixture is left to cure. The resulting soap is chock-full of antibacterial oils, phytochemicals, and antioxidants, making it a deeply nourishing treat for nearly all skin types.

Raw vs. refined soap

Raw African black soap comes in a bar soap with a dark brown color and malleable texture. It often contains tiny chunks of plant matter that add to the black soap’s exfoliating properties. Raw black soap is free from added fragrance and its natural ingredients create an earthy scent.

Refined African black soap comes in a hard bar with brown or black coloring. Some refined black soaps contain artificial fragrances, parabens, and sulfates.

If you’re looking for a good refined black soap, check out Shea Moisture. Shea Moisture’s African black soap puts a modern twist on the traditional soap with added nutrients like soothing oats and hydrating aloe vera. It’s also got a natural fruity scent for those who don’t like the earthy tones of raw black soap.

Common African black soap ingredients

Ingredients vary depending on region and brand, but these are common ingredients you’ll find in many black soaps.

Plantain skins and leaves

Plantain skins and leaves contain vitamins A and E, which aid in collagen production, moisturize the skin, and help improve skin texture. Allantoin has germicidal and antibacterial properties that help soothe and protect skin.

Cocoa powder

Cocoa powder fights against free radicals, repairs damaged skin, and increases skin elasticity, which can help delay fine lines and wrinkles.

Cocoa butter

Packed with vitamins and phytochemicals, cocoa butter forms a protective barrier over the skin to hold in moisture, improve blood flow, and protect against damage from UV rays.

Shea butter

Shea butter has high concentrations of fatty acids and vitamins. It strengthens the skin, helps repair damage, and has anti-inflammatory and skin-softening properties.

Palm kernel oil

Palm kernel oil is rich in antioxidants and contains high amounts of vitamin E that aid in delaying signs of aging. It’s also high in lauric acid, which has antifungal and antibacterial properties.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is full of medium-chain fatty acids that contain antimicrobial properties and reinforce the skin’s lipid barrier, keeping skin moisturized and reducing inflammation.

Benefits of African black soap

Safe for most skin types

Most African black soaps are free from artificial fragrances, perfumes, and dyes. People with sensitive skin or those prone to allergic reactions have found black soap to be a great substitute for commercial soaps.

Deeply cleanses skin

All of the oils and butters in black soap make it a primo soap for makeup removal. It also lightly exfoliates the skin, aiding in the removal of daily dirt and debris.

Helps heal problem skin

The combination of vitamins A and E plus exfoliation and antibacterial properties all help skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, blackheads, and eczema. Shea butter and coconut oil work to soothe irritated skin.

Improves skin tone

The cell turnover and exfoliation associated with black soaps help shed darkly pigmented skin and keep your skin firm and glowing.

Reduces razor bumps

Shea butter and coconut oil moisturize and protect the skin from razor bumps and soothe any post-shave irritation. Light exfoliation eases ingrown hairs out of their follicles.


All of the ashes in African black soap make it a wonderful choice for natural exfoliation. Raw black soaps even have tiny chunks of plant matter that provide extra exfoliating power.

How to use African black soap

Blue hand washing illustration

Use African black soap just like any other soap. Wash your body, your face, leave a bar on your bathroom counter for handwashing — some folks even use it as a shampoo.

Because of the deep-cleansing and gentle exfoliation black soap provides, it’s a good idea to ease it into your skincare routine. Start by using black soap two to three times a week to see how your body reacts before making it your go-to cleanser.

Possible side effects

Blue water drops illustration

As with anything new you introduce your body to, skin irritation is possible. Some varieties of black soap have bits of plant matter that can be abrasive — especially on sensitive skin or for people with eczema.

Test it out for a couple days before fully incorporating it into your routine and discontinue use if you experience irritation or an allergic reaction.

Treat yourself to a bar of African black soap

With SheaMoisture African Black Soap Bar Soap, your skin is in the clear.

Specially formulated with organic shea butter, oats, aloe, palm ash, tamarind extract, tar, and plantain peel, this amazing bar of soap helps soothe skin and clear blemishes.

Mrs. Meyers cleaning products and Grove Co. cleaning caddy

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