Cleaning shea nuts in Mali.

Woman cleaning shea nuts in Ouelessebougou, Mali.

Traditionally produced in areas across West Africa, especially Ghana and Togo, African black soap is a multi-purpose cleanser that can be used on the entire body. It’s been used to remedy everything from acne (and its attendant scarring), to allaying the discomforts of eczema and psoriasis, alleviating dandruff and itchy scalp, and reducing fine lines and wrinkles.

This soap has been around for centuries, and like most other soaps, it’s essentially a mixture of lipids (fats, waxes, and fat-soluble vitamins) and ashes. But unlike other handmade soaps, this stuff doesn’t require the use of lye — or, as it is more sinisterly known, caustic soda. The absence of lye makes African black soap much softer overall, and almost putty-like when wet, with a crumbly and uneven surface. Incidentally, real African black soap is never uniformly black, and if you spot one that is, it’s probably not the real deal. Real African black soap varies from brown or beige to gray.

A bunch of ripe plantains

A bunch of plantains.

This distinctive color and texture is rooted in the way the soap is made, which starts with plantains, a more robust version of a banana. Plantains are rich in essential nutrients and oils — in particular vitamins A and E — which are great for your skin. To begin, the peels of the plantain are dried under the sun, and the desiccated skins are then roasted in a clay oven. From this foundation, various recipes can include cocoa pods, shea tree bark, or regular banana leaves. Usually, water and a combination of palm oil, coconut oil, and shea butter are then added and stirred for at least a full day. The mixture is filtered and set aside to cure, eventually hardening into a black soap.

While these basics of producing African black soap are mostly known, specific recipes differ according to whoever is making it, with over a hundred identified formulas. Traditionally, the recipes are closely guarded and highly proprietary. As a result, there is a huge spectrum of size, shape, and color — sometimes even from the same vendor — when shopping for this stuff. But beware: African black soaps that are sold on the mainstream market in the United States often contain only a small percentage of pure black soap, with additives that debase the natural, organic properties of the original recipe. Derivatives such as liquid black soap and shampoos also likely only have a fraction of pure black soap in them. Many European and American companies also add black dyes to deepen the color (which, again, just indicates that it’s fake).

Shea butter being made in Togo, West Africa

A woman makes shea butter in Togo, West Africa.

Fortunately for the soap-smiths out there, the greatest thing about the formula for African black soap is that it requires no lye, a caustic substance that burn your skin and make you blind. As such, this soap is a great initial foray for those looking to make their own. While we noted that a traditional recipe for true African black soap is hard to come by, thanks to (duh) the Internet, it is possible to cobble together an fairly accurate version. We’ll help you with the first step. Happy suds!

Ingredients:
Cacao bean pods
Plantain skins
Coconut palm oil
Shea butter

1.) Remove the cocoa beans from the pods and burn over low flame until they turn to ash.
2.) Burn the plantain skins to ash.
3.) Add water to the cocoa bean and plantain skin ashes.
4.) Place the coconut palm oil in a double boiler.
5.) Add the ashes and shea butter to mixture.
6.) Cook over low heat, stirring until mixture becomes smooth.
7.) Soap should start to solidify and float to the top of liquid. Use a spoon to scoop it out.
8.) Place the soap mixture in a mold of your choice.
9) Allow two weeks for soap to cure before using.
10) Take a bath and enjoy.

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42 Comments

  1. pat martin
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 1:28 AM | Permalink

    Wow I never knew the work and small details that go into making the black soap or the shea butter. Thanks I have a better appreciation for this skin soothing product.

  2. reishi
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 1:49 AM | Permalink

    I would pay 12.00 a bar for this soap.

  3. maureen
    Posted May 11, 2012 at 1:42 AM | Permalink

    I would pay to buy some that someone would make….i wish i had free time to make….but i don't. Maybe Kaufmann can find a source-ready made that is the "real-deal" from the (duh!) internet? Very interesting! article!

  4. Karen Peters
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 4:27 AM | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing your pictures and information on ABS. I'm wondeirng how much of each ingredients should be added?

  5. Jimeen Cleveland
    Posted July 10, 2012 at 12:38 PM | Permalink

    who is selling this soap? how can I get this real black soap?

  6. MARVINA THOMAS
    Posted July 23, 2012 at 10:48 AM | Permalink

    I WOULD LOVE TO BUY 24 BARS OF THE REAL BLACK SOAP FOR MY WHOLE FAMILY.

    PLEASE EMAIL ME.

    THANK YOU

  7. Sarah
    Posted July 29, 2012 at 11:46 AM | Permalink

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but when you add ashes to water you have a form of lye (Potassium hydroxide). They don't strain the ashes out, which is likely the cause of the coloration. Here's an article which may help you understand the process. http://candleandsoap.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ&a

  8. Lisa
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 5:09 PM | Permalink

    Sarah is right,the plantain ashes & water ARE the lye. That's how our great grannies made their soap,from wood ash and fat. But making your own lye from wood ash is a very imprecise business. These women have the wisdom of generations behind them so can make their traditional soap safely and skinsafe!

  9. Candice
    Posted August 20, 2012 at 10:26 PM | Permalink

    Sara and Lisa are correct and because lye from wood ash is very imprecise, that is the reason you will find the different variations "even among the same vendors" it is also why you must let the soap cure. While it would normally take 4-6 weeks for soap to cure, it only takes approximately 2 weeks for soft soaps to cure, which is what black soap sounds like.

  10. Rita
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 8:56 AM | Permalink

    I'm from kenya how can I get ths soap?

  11. Posted March 12, 2013 at 5:43 AM | Permalink

    You can get Authentic Black Soap from Au Natural 360. It's called Priti Blq Soap. It's a luxuriously handcrafted liquid African Black Soap. They have bar soap too.

  12. Dawodu Musibau Aremu
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 9:26 PM | Permalink

    Interested foreing buyers can contact me on my e~mail address. Black soap is made in my grandmother's town known as Igbuora in Ibarapa area of Oyo State in Nigeria. i can supply in commercial quantity.

  13. Cheryse
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 4:57 AM | Permalink

    Hi, im from Trinidad and there are a few people who supposedly sell 'the original blacksoap' but i am interested in purshasing a few myself. please contact to give me the info on how i can thank you

  14. Posted April 27, 2013 at 7:25 PM | Permalink

    Hello, I sell that amazing authentic black soap in my store Black Butterfly Beauty Bar located in Austin, Texas or online at http://www.shopblackbutterfly.com.... By far, the best soap I've ever used in my life….I get so many people from all walks of life who swear by this soap…..Great article!…

  15. Jean
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 2:28 AM | Permalink

    I've seen a numberof recipes for African black soap, and want to make my own. Getting plaintain skins is no problem, but where can I find cocao pods?

  16. ginene
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 9:50 AM | Permalink

    very grateful for finding this information through you, i am looking forward to start making my own black soap

  17. Marsha
    Posted November 14, 2013 at 7:51 AM | Permalink

    Um, if the author actually knew one iota about chemistry..or scienece in general, they'd know that ashes contain potassium and sodium hydroxides, which are the 2 types of lye used for making solid and liquid soap.

  18. aziyza
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 8:14 AM | Permalink

    To Sarah and Lisa, the ashes mixed with water is actually potassium hydroxide(potash), however most have used the term lye interchangeably when referring to sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide.

  19. Nene
    Posted January 27, 2014 at 7:20 AM | Permalink

    Anyone who is interested in buying original native blacksoap (straight from the village and 100% natural, shea butter (natural) and also palm oil (very good for anti aging) should contact me on awele20@live.com. I can supply in large/commercial quantity. Thanks.

  20. LaTrise
    Posted July 9, 2014 at 12:36 AM | Permalink

    Hi how can I get this soap? Please send contact info.

  21. Jessica
    Posted December 22, 2014 at 7:42 PM | Permalink

    This soap does contain lye! Lye comes from ashes. Different kinds of ash create different strengths of lye which is extracted by letting the ash soak in the water. All true soap contains lye.

  22. BeccaRah
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 6:09 AM | Permalink

    Wrong. Plantain skins produce potassium hydroxide, not sodium hydroxide. But because they're not reduced to crystals, the plantain skin KOH is FAR FAR less caustic than a synthetic sodium hydroxide or KOH crystals.
    The general idea that there is no lye in this soap isn't totally right but it's not totally wrong either. If it lathers, then there is lye. If there is no lye, then it's not soap. That's a fact.

  23. BeccaRah
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 6:22 AM | Permalink

    And I'm not so sure that the chemical makeup of lye is common knowledge… Really not worth the insult.

  24. Kojo
    Posted February 13, 2015 at 9:35 AM | Permalink

    I just made some and trust me,its so amazing.

  25. Posted March 1, 2015 at 12:58 PM | Permalink

    I sell the amazing authentic black soap in my online store here http://www.sandehandmadenatural.com. I sell both bars and liquid versions. I offer the best quality Raw African Black Soaps by far! Read the reviews on my site at SANDE Handmade Natural. Really great article!

    http://www.sandehandmadenatural.com/Handmade-Soap

  26. Mar
    Posted March 29, 2015 at 10:21 AM | Permalink

    Hi Kojo, I'm not clear, you made African black soap? or potasium hydroxide using ashes?

    Im wondering if African blk soap using commercial potassium hydroxide will have the same qualities as if made with potassium ashes?

  27. Dean Brown
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 9:36 AM | Permalink

    Greetings Dawodu, I am interested in Getting the Black soap directly from you. Can you email me with info? my email is dubshak77@yahoo.com and my cell # is 678-768-0068. Its all I use now and I love it. I live near Atlanta, Georgia in the Southeastern United States I am selling it in liquified form to introduce it to more people here.

  28. Jeny
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 10:59 AM | Permalink

    Soap-a-licious.com makes one it's awesome "

  29. D-IV
    Posted May 25, 2015 at 1:52 PM | Permalink

    Hi, nice blog. I am very interested in making my own black soap but would love to have the exact measurements. Also, if possible a a one stop distributerof the exact ingredients needed.
    Thanks!

  30. PRISCILLA
    Posted May 31, 2015 at 12:54 PM | Permalink

    HELLO ALL,
    I HAVE BLACK SOAP FOR SALE. IT IS MADE FROM THE OLD KNOWN INGREDIENTS WITH AN ADDITION OF HONEY AND SHARE BUTTER FOR A FINER YOU. INTERESTED, CONTACT ME.
    bestheirs@gmail.com

  31. Abdulai
    Posted June 28, 2015 at 12:28 PM | Permalink

    We sell African Black Soap on our website http://www.minabeautycenter.com . Cheap

  32. Abdulai
    Posted June 28, 2015 at 12:34 PM | Permalink
  33. Abdulai
    Posted June 28, 2015 at 12:35 PM | Permalink
  34. Ahuvah
    Posted July 20, 2015 at 9:32 PM | Permalink

    They say that there is no lye, but that's not necessarily true. The ash from the material they are burning that is being stirred for a day turns into a sort of pot ash or lye. That is why you cannot use it for two weeks

  35. Judy
    Posted July 31, 2015 at 12:34 PM | Permalink

    Will you share the recipe??? I'm finding all about the ingredients but NOT the amounts of each to use…..

  36. Posted July 31, 2015 at 10:30 PM | Permalink

    I've seen a numberof recipes for African black soap, and want to make my own. Getting plaintain skins is no problem, but where can I find cocao pods?

  37. Posted January 19, 2016 at 1:09 PM | Permalink

    We have large quantities of Black soaps ready for export, kindly contact me on ramgnine@gmail.com or +233248657583 for metric tonnes and shipping. We are located in Ghana West Africa the origin and best quality

  38. sheila
    Posted March 21, 2016 at 10:58 PM | Permalink

    I just finished making this soap about 20 mins ago waiting for the two week cure time

  39. mif
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 7:19 PM | Permalink

    what yields did you use?

  40. Marie
    Posted July 5, 2016 at 2:58 PM | Permalink

    Hi Sheila,

    Can you let us know how your soap turned out? I would like to make some myself and not sure if the water shoudl be strained from the ash mixture of if the ash should remain in the water and then mixed with oil. thanks for your response

  41. Posted August 10, 2016 at 3:05 PM | Permalink

    I make African Black Soap, and sell it like hotcakes at markets and from my website. While some people don’t consider it “authentic” I can assure you I only add the finest ingredients to my soap. And yes it is soap, I add a generous amount of African black powder to my skin-nourishing soap. You won’t regret it. http://www.oceanbreezeskincare.bigcartel.com/product/african-black-soap

  42. Posted November 16, 2016 at 11:43 PM | Permalink

    For the people looking for black soap:

    The best non-dehydrating black soap I’ve ever had was from this company called Nzuri Gold http://www.nzurigold.com and I love it! It makes my skin feel smooth and soft. You can even have them make a custom ital skin care product for you.

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