There is no "official" recipe for African black soap, and there are dozens of varieties that vary from soap maker to soap maker. Nevertheless, there seems to be some consensus that African black soap is made from the ashes of plants, including plantain skins, cocoa pods, palm leaves, and shea tree bark. These ingredients are sun dried; roasted; and then water, oils and fats (such as palm oil, coconut oil, shea butter, and palm kernel oil), and sometimes honey, are added. The mixture is then cured for at least two weeks.
African black soap is used to cleanse the face, body, and hair, and is promoted as a natural remedy to relieve scalp itchiness and irritation. It is said to address skin conditions ranging from acne and oily skin, to eczema, fine lines, uneven skin tone, and razor bumps. While none of these claims have been validated with controlled studies, one small study suggests the soap may have good antifungal properties. Because African black soap is made with a variety of plant ingredients, it also can have exfoliating properties when used on the body and face.
African black soap should be used with caution in terms of applying directly on broken skin or skin areas affected by infections, psoriasis, or other serious skin conditions. Some of the plant ingredients may be irritating under these conditions. Some African black soaps have added synthetic fragrances or essential oils, and these may irritate sensitive skin as well; test on a small area of your skin before using on your entire face or body. Opt for a fair trade product if you have concerns about how the soap is produced, or about how the soap producers are treated and paid for their work.
(Jonathan SG, Efunshile AM, Olawuyi OJ, et al. Antifungal potentials of indigenous black soap commonly used in Ibadan, Nigeria. Academia Arena 2013;5:50-5.)