A couple years ago I was in Tribal Eye in Toronto and found these little bags of what looked like dirt clods. The label said “Black Soap“, but it didn’t look anything like any soap I’d ever seen. Dry, crumbly, and full of brown and black bits, it was thoroughly underwhelming.
So of course I bought some. The internet told me it is made of roasted plantain leaves, unrefined shea butter (USA / Canada), cocoa pods, cocoa butter (USA / Canada), palm kernel oil, and other things. Or maybe not. The list seems to vary quite a bit. So does the information on how its made. But the end result always seems to be a dark cloddy mix of stuff, and it’s awesome.
I must admit I wasn’t expecting it to lather, so I was rather surprised when it did. It is a proper saponified soap, so I guess I should feel a bit foolish for thinking it wouldn’t. The lye comes from the roasted plantain leaves.
I no longer recommend using alkaline cleansers like soap or baking soda on your face; read this for more information.
Because the soap comes in little crumbly clumps, it dries out quickly. Dry soap is better than soggy soap, but there is such a thing as too dry in the soap world, so I highly recommend just breaking off the tiny amount you’ll need (about a pea-sized amount for your entire body) and using that. Store the rest of the soap in a plastic bag that’s been tied off with a twist tie to keep it as fresh as possible. It makes a difference, I promise.
The lather is less rich and creamy than the soaps I make, but you can’t argue with the results. I think black soap is the best anti-acne soap I’ve ever encountered. It’s wonderfully effective and exfoliating. It’s also as natural as soap gets—the lye hasn’t even been processed. There’s no fragrance, no colours, no petroleum byproducts. Nothing suspect at all. I highly recommend giving it a try! It’s easily purchased online, or if you live in Toronto, there’s always Tribal Eye in Kensington.
I had never heard of Black Soap until I was looking through your site. I found some at my local “hippy” store (as my sister calls it) to try after reading this post. I use it for my acne and I gave some to my work wife who loves it for her skin problems. It works a treat so thank you so much for the recommendation!
Yay! I LOVE my black soap, but this poor little entry gets pretty much no attention. I really should do something else on black soap to get people to pay attention to it because, as you now know, it is just awesome! It’s the only thing I wash my face with between face masks.
What is saponified soap?
Saponified soap is pretty much just a redundant way of saying soap. “Saponification” is the name of the reaction that turns fat into soap, so all true soap is saponified. Stuff that’s fake soap (aka sodium lauryl sulfate + mystery ingredients) hasn’t been through the saponification reaction. I included the term here basically just to emphasize that Black Soap is real soap, even if it is a bit unconventional 🙂
what is your routine skin care?
what do you use in your daily routine?
how often do you wash your face?
and with what you wash your face?
thanks love your blog
I generally use a combination of face masks, clay scrubs, and black soap to wash my face 🙂
Hi Carolina! My skin care routine consists mostly of argan oil—these days it’s 2–3 applications a day. Once ever 5–7 days I do a face mask, which is great for cleaning out my pores, boosting healing, and gently exfoliating my face. Once or twice a week I might wash my face with some black soap. And, in the winter I often end up using a light clay scrub as my face can get so dry that it goes a bit flaky between masks. I’m pretty low maintenance, really—this sort of sounds like a lot, but it might add up to 15 minutes of active effort a week.
What do you use as an everyday cleanser? I just ordered my black soap and it will be here tomorrow. And the argan oil will be here Friday. I can’t wait to start experimenting. Thank you for sharing all of your wonderful recipes.
I don’t usually wash my face everyday as it is so darn dry here. When I do, though, I usually go for black soap or my fizzy clay scrub 🙂
I’m slightly jealous. I live down south in Mississippi and I have oily skin. Do you think the black soap is too harsh for twice a day?
Don’t be—we just got another load of snow 🙁 Anything that’s not a major road is absolutely caked in ice, and some of the ruts are over a foot deep. My car got high-centered the other day and had to be towed out because my wheels couldn’t reach the ground 🙁
You’ll really need to judge for yourself if 2x a day is too much. I wouldn’t do it, but that’s because I have dry skin and live in a frozen desert 😛
I just ordered black soap! I can’t wait to try along with your willow bark toner I really hope my face will clear up!!!
Fantastic, I really hope so, too 🙂 I have had such wonderful luck with black soap, and so have friends who have tried it. It really cleared up my back nicely, and it’s always one of the first things I recommend to people who ask me for acne solutions (along with face masks, which are seriously amazing!).
I acutally have been using black soap for years! Being a black guy, I’ve found that most products are too drying on my skin and hair. Then I started to use black soap and found that not only can I use for my body, face and hair, but I no longer excessive dryness to either after moisturizing with a shea butter/coconut oil based homemade lotion. Black soap is amazing, as I said, it can be used from head to toe and I use it as the base of all my soap based products.
One thing to keep in mind is that it does have a high ph level, which can be a bit drying, but not as much as commercial products did to me. Just make sure to moisturize after using it.
How awesome to hear from the dude side of things, Ozone. I have tried to pass black soap onto guy friends & family members as none of them will do face masks with me 😛 I will be sure to mention your recommendation if anyone balks, haha.
Interesting… I love the idea of non-processed lye. It seems like it would be gentle on your face and great for sensitive skin. You should make some of your own, and then post the recipe for everyone to copycat 😀
Sadly, without access to cocoa pods, a large fire-heated stone oven, and a much better understanding of chemistry, I don’t think I’ll be trying to dupe black soap. I found this article on making it at home, but I don’t think whoever wrote it has any idea what’s going on as they described lye as being “known for its gentle healing properties.” BWAHAHA. Unless you consider a chemical burn to be gentle or healing, that’s utter crockery. The instructions are also horribly vague and could easily produce a soap that would either go rancid in no time, due to so little of the fat being saponified, or be very harsh on the skin due to too much lye. But it is really quite cheap—Saffire Blue sells it for about $10/lb.
As for the processed vs. non-processed lye… the only “benefits” you’re getting with black soap is the inclusion of all the ash, not just the lye that’s been distilled from it. I really have no idea if the non-lye parts of ash are good for your skin, lol, but the lye itself will be chemically identical, and no harder (or easier) on skin than lye from the store. That said, handmade soap usually is much easier on sensitive skin because it doesn’t contain irritating surfactants, and you can easily leave out irritating artificial fragrances 🙂
So i’ve been using this soap for a few weeks now on and off. I can’t say that it has cleared up by acne completely, BUT i can say that when my face breaks out if i am using the soap twice a day the spots seem to disappear a lot faster!! which is great!
We just got back from a short family vacation and I realized tonight that I had left the bag of black soap unsealed :(:(:( so tonight when i washed my face i definitely noticed that my face did not feel as tight after washing. I am just wondering would you happen to know if it loses its “power” if left unsealed.
I’m glad to hear its helping, Veronika 🙂 I can’t think of any reason it would lose its punch as it dries out—the only thing you’d be losing would be a bit of water as there’s no added scents. It is more likely from not having used the soap for a few days—it’s probably a difference in your skin moreso than the soap, especially if you were just somewhere with a differing level of humidity. That’s my best guess, anyways. Thanks for reading!
I LOVE BLACK SOAP. I too feel sad that this entry gets little attention! It smashed out my spots like a knight in shining armour. I swear by the stuff I love it I LOVE It. I use it everyday, have converted by manly man to it and keep shoving it under everyones noses and making them touch my face in excitement. Phew! Got that off my chest. Keep the good stuff comin’ humblebee!
Hi TJ! I’m thrilled to meet another adorer of black soap 🙂 It is probably the first thing I recommend to anyone who wants an easy anti-acne solution. Cheap, portable, unscented, and super effective. Brilliant stuff, truly 😀
Marie, how does black leave your face compared to gentle fragrance-free soap? Can it remove makeup grime, and does it leave twiggy bits in the bath that could clog up the plug hole?
I know the ingredients are meant to be really simple and natural in their pure forms, but I’m curious whether the chemical reaction with lye that turns it into soap, might negate some of the original awesomeness of the ingredients? (Using shea butter as an example) in its natural state it performs as a great, nourishing emollient for the skin; after processing, though, does it STILL behave as shea butter, or has it formed a new compound with the other ingredients, which will now have different properties when applied topically? Confusing chemistry stuff!
The curious side of me really wants to try this strange looking stuff.. The bargain-hunter side of me wants to find the best value source of it (however, there’s also the annoyingly more restrained, rational side of me arguing whether it would still be economical buying a huge tub, if I ended up using it once and hating it) 😛
The stuff I’d had my eye on is in a big 1kg bucket, and looks really moist and organic: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00FC0PBT8/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=2Y5ZVHJVD63LU&coliid=I18QF8EGRGFLWY , whereas your soap here looks really dry, light-coloured and clod-like. Do you reckon the wet squadge sold as Black Soap is legit, and whether the moisture would likely make it spoil?
Hmm.. So many awesome natural skin stuffs to decide over! It’s a hard life 😀
Hi Amber! I find black soap leaves my face super clean—I tend not to use it as a daily cleanser as my skin is already quite dry. I’d say it’s on par with a bar of my homemade soap. And no, there are no twigs or bits in it (any I’ve bought, at least).
You are correct that saponification changes ingredients. Tallow becomes sodium tallowate, coconut oil becomes sodium coconate, and so on and so forth. I am not enough of a chemist to comment on how much that changes the beneficial properties of the oils, though—I shall see if I can find one to ask.
The shea butter you linked to doesn’t look like any shea butter I’ve ever used—everything I’ve ever bought has been rather dry and cloddy to some extent, never creamy and wet. Not saying it’s fake or whatever just saying it doesn’t look like my stuff.
Give it a go though, really! I wouldn’t buy a kilo as I don’t think I’ve used a kilo in the entire time I’ve been using black soap 😛
Haven’t seen this question asked yet Marie so I’ll give it a go..I saw a review of the black soap on the SaffireBlue website, someone said they had “melted it down” (assuming in a crockpot, much like rebatching cold process soap) and put it into molds for easier gift-giving etc…have you tried this yourself..any thoughts? Thanks as usual!!
Hi Jan! I can’t say I have. I like mine in it’s original, crumbly state so I can just take just a wee crumbly pea-sized bit into the shower with me and use that, rather than try to use an entire bar like I would with regular soap. I read early on that was the best way to make it last, and I’ve never strayed from that.
I just picked up a bar of black soap from my nearest co-op after reading of how you rebatch it with a few more ingredients, like wax and oils. . Anyhoo, as I showered today I noticed it does drip really easily, so I will now cut it into smaller sized chunks taking a small amount into the shower at a time at a time. I have learned so much from yur site already!!!
Enjoy the soap and thanks for reading 😀
Have read many differing recipies regarding black soap here in South Africa. Maybe have another look see.
It’s not so much a lack of recipes as a lack of a source of cocoa pods and palm leaves that’s hindering me 😛 They aren’t hugely common here in Canada!
This looks very similar to a soap I made with cocoa powder, molasses and activated charcoal. It was soapish on the bottom of the bar, and dry and crumbly on top. Pieces break off and crumble easily. I thought the batch was a flop, but used it still the same as it is amazing on acne! And yes, it lathers really well.
Hmm, it sounds like your batch might have curdled? I’ve had some bars do this, and they sort of look like curdled milk in the pot. They set up, but with crumbly bits on the edges and excess oil in the mould. Does that sound about right?
Hi Marie, I was reading your post on black soap. Black soap is very versatile and helps with acne and other skin problems. As you mention if it’s not properly stored it becomes very dry. When this occurs it’s still usable. I put it in the blender with a tablespoon or two of coconut oil or whichever oil you prefer and some exfoliant like orange peel, teabags or pumice and blend. Essential oils can be added too but it’s optional. Blended it makes a great scrub that can be used on the face or body. So don’t throw it out….
I definitely never throw out any black soap 🙂 It’s way too good to be tossed out! Thanks for the fun ideas 🙂
This is very interesting. I don’t get bad acne but any zits that do show up seems to be particularly stubborn to beat. I looked up black soap on Saffire Blue and the smallest quantity they have is 454g – how much soap would that be? It sounds like quite a bit (I have a couple of sisters I can share with). Could you describe how the soap smells? One of the reviews said it smelled really bad and the other all just said “earthy” or “natural”.
A pound/454g of soap would be quite a lot. A normalish sized bar of black soap is ~150g, so 454g would have you set for a while! To me it barely smells of anything. Maybe a bit like dirt and a fairly expected soap smell? It’s not at all offensive or memorable.
When I read this post I had just returned from Morocco where I was staying with a host family who used “black soap” for all their bathing. There it was more like a gel substance that came in a plastic bag. I loved it. I ordered this black soap from your link. At first I loved how lathery it was and how clean my face/body felt. However after a few days of use I realized it was way too drying on my face, I had red chaffed looking patches. Also there seem to be tiny twigs in this batch and they were leaving scratches all over my body. SO I was wondering if it is possible to melt down this soap and dilute it with a more gentle soap. I am brand new to soap making and just made up my first batch of your all-purpose bars (they are still curing). Can you melt soaps and blend them together and if so how does that work? Thanks!
A gel! How interesting. You can definitely soak black soap in some water so soften it up a bit. I usually take a wee bit in my hand and work up the lather there to avoid wee sharp bits that seem to be in all the black soap I’ve ever used—my palms don’t mind, but my face would.
You could try doing something like this, but with black soap instead of scraps. Let me know if you try it!
I love your ideas and info. You are truly gifted. I absolutely love black soap. I too have not seen much info on it, other than some youtube videos. It is definitely different than the average bar of soap. I have to confess I crumbled a ridiculous amount and spread it through a CP batch. I love it but I haven’t decided if that’s acceptable or not?
It’s amazing either way.
Thanks, Katrina! You can definitely do that with black soap—I love how that would keep it quite a bit more stable, as I find it’s definitely crumbly and clumpy, and not very soap dish friendly as is. Are you enjoying using it that way? ‘Cause that’s about all that matters!
I bought a bar of black soap but it feels lye heavy! Does yours feel that way or did I get a bad one? Bought it for my acne prone teen, but as a soapmaker I can’t give it to her in good conscience if it’ll hurt her.
Hey! Honestly, I wouldn’t give any soap to an acne prone teenager. I’ve been working on big ‘ol article on why, but basically studies have shown that washing one’s face with soap creates an environment that acne-causing bacteria thrive in. The study I discuss in that article showed a group of acne prone teens had more acne after washing with soap for a couple weeks, while those using something like this had less!
I might give that a try! I don’t currently have any surfactants so it’ll have to wait. I was thinking more for her body, she uses OCM on her face and really likes the results but she needs something for the rest of herself.
From the research I’ve read it seems like soap on the body is more ok simply because people rarely shower and suds up their entire bodies 2x a day, but the use of high pH cleansers still forces the body to do the work of healing the acid mantle. I haven’t been able to find much information on just how arduous this is—is it like growing finger nails, or a scab? I’m still using soap on my body at this point in time, but that may change with more research.
We sometimes do an ACV rinse, the same way you would for your hair. That seems to help in the winter, especially with a babassu/mango butter moisturizer. Have you seen research on if the acid mantle is actually maintained better that way, or if it’s just a soap scum cleanser?
I haven’t been able to find any studies on this, likely because it’s a very uncommon practice.
I have been visiting your site since finding it and I am happy to see black soap here. Being from Ghana it is a West African phenomenon that we are seeing spread around the world. We call it Alata Samina and is made by our grandparents and has been used on us since we were kids even babies. Really it just helps our skin flourish with no issues. Though I think it is also due to our total skincare routine that goes with its usage. There is so much more in-depth information I get on it in Ghana than the U.S. We are also starting to see a rise in the fake versions of it. I tried a nicely packaged one only for it to have the worse effects on my skin by being to drying, it wasn’t until later that I found out other stuff were in it. I try to get the truly natural and original version now, even though it tends to be sticky.
How interesting! I purchased mine from a local company that makes it here in Calgary.
Black soap is AHMAYZInG!!!
I’m African so I’m lucky enough to not only know so much about it but also how to make it.
There’s different recipes handed down orally from generations to generations.
My grandma taught me how to make it adding in raw unrefined shea butter(that we make ourselves too), palm oil, cocoa powder and other yummy yummy ingredients.
Black soap can be really drying if you have sensitive or dry skin so you want to limit your usage to once daily and moisturize heavily after use.
For oily and acne prone skin tho, it’s the bomb!
Some people find it “scratchy” but that’s just the raw materials being exfoliating and all. You can rub it in your palms to make a lather instead.
Sorry for the long comment.