What is African Black Soap?

Here is a reader question on African black soap,

'I have been transitioning for the last year and recently came across a number of YouTubers who use and rave about African Black Soap. I really like that it makes my hair so soft and manageable when washing (and squeaky clean although I'm sure this means the natural oils are stripped). 

That leads me to my question.

1. What exactly is in African black soap?
2. What in the soap makes my hair so soft?
3. Since it's so squeaky clean, should I be worried about damage/dryness?'

1. What exactly is in African black soap

The process of making a soap (known as saponification) involves two simple ingredients - oil and lye (sodium hydroxide typically). 

African black soap is also made from oil and lye. The big difference is the lye is  not sodium hydroxide but is instead derived from plant ashes (potash).  This plant ash is rich in potassium carbonate which is a fairly gentle lye compared to sodium hydroxide (Bioresource Technology, pp 95-97, 2001). The plants used to make the potash do vary from community to community across West Africa but are all natural, local and in high supply, for example plantain skins, cocoa pods, palm leaves, ground nut shells, etc.

 2. What is in the soap that makes hair so soft?

I would have to add a disclaimer here that some people do not find any type of soap to be soft and moisturising to skin. Soap will always have a high pH and some people are more sensitive to that.

However, if you are looking for differences between African black soap and other natural traditionally made soaps then there are two stand out differences

a) the plant ash lye is not a particularly strong base compared to sodium hydroxide . This may mean the oil is not saponified to the same extent allowing African black soap to have a higher uncoverted oil content (possibly more moisturising soap)
b) unrefined oil is used for the African black soap process compared to most traditional soaps that generally use refined oils.

3. If hair is squeaky clean, should you worry about damage/dryness

There are many if's to answer this question

1. If you are going to follow up with a conditioner, temporary dryness from a shampoo is not generally a big deal.
2. If you find your hair squeaky clean and soft but not dry, there is nothing to worry about
3. If you routinely find that your hair is squeaky clean but dry and rough to the touch, you should probably consider using that product (soap or shampoo) for occasional clarifying rather than routine washing.

Are you a fan of African black soap or have you found it to be drying just like any other soap?

Original publication date: 17/12/2013


  1. I adore this post!! I am studying for my General Chemistry final exam and found this so interesting since I just learned about pH, pOH, carboxylic acids and saponification! Now I want to make my own soaps!!!!

  2. How cool! I hope you do make your own soap :)

  3. I use dudu osun black soap on my hair (monthly), body and face (daily). My skin/hair is already naturally dry so I don't really notice if the soap is drying or not. I use dudu osun because it is claimed to be all natural and also because I am trying to do my part to make the Nigerian economy better.

  4. I am a fan of african black soap. I liquify mine, add oils and tea tree oil to use as my facial cleanser. However the drying effect is great for my teen daughter's acne.

  5. I am in love with them.. African black soap contains antibacterial properties that aid in the prevention of acne, blemishes and other skin infections. :)


  6. Thank you so much for also mentioning that black soaps differ based on the country they made as a lot of people think there is only one type of black soap. This video was by far very informative. I use the Nigerian black soap and I love it, wish I could get my hands on the raw shea butter but it is close to impossible. I stay in South Africa and ordering from the US or UK works out to be more expensive for me.Have a nice day!


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