You already know I am a big fan of Moroccan black soap, a soft soap made with olive oil. But I had never tried its cousin, African black soap, made with shea butter. Shea butter comes from the nut of the Shea tree, that grows mainly in West African countries, particularly Ghana and NIgeria. It is very popular in Western countries now, and it is frequently used in cosmetics. However, the quality can be lacking. Unrefined shea butter should be white or creamy in colour, and have a nutty scent. For the best quality African soap, choose one that is preferably organic and unrefined. It comes with varying degrees of solidity, depending on the recipe used, but essentially it is made with Shea butter, plantain leaves and oil (either coconut or palm kernel).
Why is African Black soap good for you?
First of all, because unlike supermarket shower gels, it is made from natural ingredients and doesn’t contain harmful chemicals such as parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate, the two main culprits, but also perfumes that can irritate the skin. You might also come accross ingredients that are downright dangerous, such triclosan and phtalates. Secondly, you can find it in all types of containers and buy a big batch of it, so it is less plastic in your bathroom. It lasts for a while so it will probably end up saving you quite a bit of money too. Another important aspect to consider is that black soap is often made traditionally and sold by women working as independent traders. I would much rather my money goes to them than big brands or supermarkets!
Benefits for the skin and hair
Shea butter is one of my favourite ingredients for soap-making, because it is just so nice to work with. It’s creamy, it’s rich, it’s deeply moisturising and it has a slight nutty scent, unlike coconut butter than can be a bit overpowering. Shea has been used for skincare for centuries across Africa, and in many families, children are lathered in it daily, leaving their skin soft and protected. It contains a large variety of vitamins and nutrients, most importantly vitamins A and E.
Black soap thus ticks the boxes for me: very moisturising and gentle on the skin, no fragrance nor artificial ingredients so great for the whole family. It also has antibacterial and antifungal properties, which can make it useful for people suffering from candida or skin infection , and it also seems to help with eczema in some cases.
African Black soap can also be used on the hair, although I have to admit I haven’t tried it yet. My hair is quite thin and generally reacts pretty badly to any hard or handmade shampoo, so I have gone back to using organic bottled shampoo for now, until I find better!However, curly ladies seem to have great results with black soap, as it moisturises the scalp and adds curl definition. You simply need to dilute the soap with a bit of warm water, and you can add a few drops of oil for extra care.