Black African Soap: Are The Legends True?

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BLACKSOAP1Photo: Courtesy of Dudu-Osun.
Introducing Worth It, a new series where we personally test-run some of the more oddball, high-priced, or hard-to-find products to determine whether they merit the effort or the cash. Here, you'll find a no-BS rundown of some of the beauty buys you've always wondered about, from wacko ingredients to buzzy, new tools.

A random sampling of things I've read about black African soap:

- It's the best thing for all skin types, clearing up acne, reducing oil, and moisturizing.
- It's an effective shampoo.
- And, laundry detergent.
- It will cure psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea.
- It prevents AND cures stretch marks.
- It shrinks pores.
- It exfoliates.
- It reduces wrinkles.
- It erases acne scarring.
- It cleans china.
- It might burn the crap out of your skin, so be careful.

Given all this, black African soap has been on my beauty to-do list for ages. When one of you friendly commenters gave us a nudge, I took it as a challenge to finally take the plunge. While I've given up on the notion that anything shrinks pores, and I hope we ALL know that the only way to actually remove stretch marks is to get a skin graft, the rest sounded like exciting possibilities. Oh, and the burning? Well, what's a little burning?

I did some research and ordered a bar of what appeared to be the best basic brand out there — Tropical Naturals Dudu Osun Black Soap. To be fair, all black African soap is pretty basic, and (depending on where you live) you shouldn't be paying more than six bucks for a bar. I'd seen this familiar green box in many a natural food store and on the occasional craft market table, and that, combined with the hundreds of favorable Amazon reviews, was all I needed to know. Part of the legend of black African soap is that it's a wunderkind of cheapo beauty products that somehow works better than the big-money items found at department stores. I didn't want the fanciest. I wanted the standard-est.

The soap is made from a base of dried plantain skins combined with various oils, ashes, shea butter, and sometimes honey. Each formula is a little different, but the idea is to balance the acne-fighting ingredients with super-moisturizing oils. What you typically get is a brown or black "bar" that may look like more of a crumbly clump if it's particularly raw.

blacksoap2Photo: Courtesy of Dudu-Osun.
Raw, cheap, and works for everything? I couldn't wait to get it on my face. Upon first usage, I followed the strict directions of the Internet. In researching this wonder product, I'd found many a disappointed blog post that wrote of burned or reddened skin, and so I took the precautions recommended by longtime users. If you want to try black African soap, don't apply the bar directly to your face — especially the first time. Work up a lather with your hands or a washcloth. Some soaps will still have bits of ash or other irritants that could scratch your skin, which I suspect is the culprit for many users.

The burning was real — but mild. I have truly sensitive skin (I once got a rash from Avène lotion), and when the sensation began I did panic for a moment, but the burn faded as soon as I rinsed. If you've ever gotten essential oils directly on your skin, you'll know this particular burn. Luckily, this soap rinses clean and leaves no residue. For me, at least, it did leave tightness.

Once upon a teenage time, I used to crave that just-washed tight feeling, but these days I don't want to strip my skin of any of those precious oils. Immediately, I knew I couldn't wash my face with this soap daily. My body, however? My summertime, subway-sweat-soaked body felt awesome. If you come home at the end of the day and JUST want to feel clean, this stuff does the trick. My arms and legs felt tingly and fresh and woken-up from all those prickly oils. It was an instant second wind. (Just in case, I checked, and my stretch marks were still there.)

Not to brag, but I'm having kind of a great clear-skin moment thanks to other products I'm using. I currently have no zits in sight, so to check on the efficacy of the acne-fighting effects, I outsourced the soap-testing for a week. Results were first mixed (body acne cleared up, but there were a few new face pimples). I'd chalked it up to the dreaded "purge period" sometimes seen with black African soap and am happy to report that my subject experienced an improved (if not absolutely perfected) complexion within a week.

So. Is it worth it? I must say that black African soap wasn't the holy-grail cleanser for me that it is for so many other people. I like it well enough as a body soap (especially for summer), but I didn't get the velvety skin texture reported by other users. I suspect this stuff might be ideal for oily and acne-prone skin — and maybe even for my skin once a week — but it was too harsh to become my beloved new cleanser.

Can you tell how hard it is for me to not be in love with this stuff? If only I weren't bound by the sacred vows of Worth It to be honest!

I love knowing that I'm washing with such a jam-packed powerhouse of natural ingredients, and I so wanted this to be The One. But, just because it's all-natural doesn't mean it's right for everyone. And, it doesn't mean that it will get rid of your stretch marks. Maybe black African soap isn't worth it for me. But, at five bucks a pop, I still think it's worth a shot.