Black soap, also known as African black soap (anago soap, alata simena, and dudu-osun), has long been used to heal problem skin. It's good for thinning fine lines, evening out dark spots, eczema, razor bumps and eliminating blemishes.
It is also used to lightly exfoliate and give you healthier looking skin. The soap can be used on your body or hair and works for oily skin, dry skin, skin rashes, scalp irritations, body odors and is good for sensitive skin. There are many other claims to the benefits of black soap, which may be proven/disproven by the user.
Black soap is made from the ash of locally harvested plants and barks such as plantain, cocoa pods, palm tree leaves, and shea tree bark. First the leaves and bark are sun-dried and then roasted in a kettle or pot at an even, constant temperature, which is important to ensure color, texture and smell. Then water and various oils – palm oil, coconut oil, palm kernel oil (including shea butter and cocoa pod powder) – are added to the mixture and stirred for at least a day. After that, the "soap" is left to set for two weeks to cure.
Oftentimes the soap is made by women and is fair-traded, though not always. Black soap is traditionally made in west Africa, typically Ghana, from secret recipes. Different tribes and communities have adopted their own specific (secret) blend of oils and cooking techniques, which can be seen in the different color variations among black soap. The ash itself was often used to heal cuts. Varieties of black soap actually made in Africa tend to be pure, while soaps made in Europe or the United States sometimes have added artificial ingredients.
The plantain skins give the soap Vitamin A & E, and iron. Because the soap has the highest shea butter content of any soap, it purportedly also offers UV protection. Some people with caffeine sensitivities may need to test out soap that contains cocoa pods as there is some evidence that the caffeine can be transmitted through contact with the skin.
Shea Terra Organics offers an African Lemongrass and a Rose Hip facial soap made with 10 percent shea butter and pure black soap. When it comes out of the bottle it oozes like something out of a sci-fi flick, but it doesn't have much of a smell so it's pretty easy to get past the horror movie resemblance.
I've used the Shea Terra black soap and have noticed that my skin feels clean but doesn't feel like it's been scrubbed. It's hard to tell if my skin is improving due to the soap or from other causes, but either way it does look clearer. Some sites have said that black soap can be crumbly or have an "odd" smell, but the Shea Terra soap comes out smooth with very little smell at all.