Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Traditional African Black Soap

Blemishes, acne, uneven skin tone, eczema, psoriasis…. the list of skin and hair conditions that Traditional African Black Soap has been found to treat goes on and on. I have found it to be a wonderful all over cleanser, and have had customers rave about its use as a shampoo and all around soap.

In honor of the unique history of Traditional African Black Soap, I’ve decided to give you some valuable information regarding this wonderful product.

History of Black Soap

In every culture, out a need to clean hair, skin and clothing, homemakers developed a means of combining readily available oils, salts and botanicals to create “soap”.

The more I learn about natural soap making, the more I am amazed at this very technical, chemical process, because unlike many other scientific innovations, this was first developed by women working to maintain the household.

In Africa, Ghana specifically, the soap developed centuries ago by women used nearby natural resources to create a soap not only effective as a cleansing agent, but also maintaining healthy skin and hair. So effective, the recipe has not changed much since first formulated. If you look at the soap created by other cultures, it was has been in constantly re-engineered to make it more suitable for use.

Traditional African Black Soap has been used to help relieve acne, oily skin, clear blemishes and various other skin issues. Many swear by it for skin irritations and conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Traditional African Black soap is been used to achieve beautiful skin as well as for washing hair and bathing.

African Black Soap is known by many names based on the language in the area of Africa. It is also called Ose Dudu or Alata Samina.

How is Black Soap made?

Making African Black Soap begins with plantain skin. Plantains are a natural source of vitamins A & E and iron. (The Plantain is a popular food in Africa, South America & other parts of the world. It can be found in ethnic or international grocery stores such as Latino, Caribbean or African. It looks like banana but much bigger. However, the taste does not resemble that of a banana very much and plantains cannot be eaten raw.) The skin of the plantain is dried in the sun prior to being roasted in a clay oven. The heat must be constant in order to achieve a particular color, texture & smell. In some recipes, Cocoa Pod is used in combination with or instead of plantain skins. Cocoa Pod is the shell of the Cocoa fruit. The cocoa beans are used for making chocolate or cocoa butter among other things. The roasting of the plantains determines the color of the soap. The longer the plantains are roasted, the darker the soap.

The next step in the process is extremely important because if it is not done properly, with the right ingredients, there will be no soap. The roasted plantain skin is mixed water and filtered, then combined with palm oil, coconut oil and/or palm kernel oil to form the soap. For you more experienced soap makers, the ashes of the plantain skins and/or cocoa pod ashes are used as the alkaline agent (potash) in the saponifcation (mixing of alkali and oils to create soap) process. For those who make soap now, it would be the “lye” component. Handling the varying levels of alkalinity in this handmade potash is one of the reasons this recipe is not easily replicated outside of Africa.

The soap is then hand-stirred by local women for at least a day and then set out to cure for two weeks.

The roasting of the plantains determines the color of the soap. The longer the plantains are roasted, the darker the soap. African Black Soap is centuries old, has numerous benefits & is not scented. It can be used by anyone who wishes to improve the quality of their skin. At all costs.

Benefits of Black Soap

- Black soap is also a natural source of vitamins A & E and iron. This helps to strengthen the skin and hair.

- Black soap contains a high amount of glycerin, which absorbs moisture from the air and literally deposits it into the skin, making the skin soft and supple.

- For centuries, Ghanaians and Nigerians have used black soap to help relieve acne, oily skin, clear blemishes and various other skin issues. Many swear by it for skin irritations and conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.

- Men can use black soap in shaving. The high shea butter content leaves the skin smooth and protected.

- African black soap is unique in that it contains no preservatives, color enhancers, or fragrances. African black soap creates a soft lather without the animal fat additives that are commonly used in soaps made in the US.

The Commercialization of Black Soap

As the popularity of black soap and natural soaps increases, some retailers are using the label African black soap for commercially produced cleansers. Many of these soaps are not made based on a Traditional African Soap recipe at all. African Black Soap is soft in texture, sometimes crumbly and varies in color from very dark brown to very pale tan. Most have a marbled color combination of these hues. This variation in color is due in part to the natural nature of the soap, roasting times of the plantain skins and/or cocoa pods, different combinations/levels of natural oils and shea butter in soap.

The easiest Black Soaps on the market to identify as not Traditional African Black Soap are those that are molded into smooth perfectly formed bars. The soft texture and properties of natural African Black Soap are not malleable into perfectly smooth bars. Also, contrary to its name, Traditional African Black Soap is NEVER black in color. Black colored Black Soap is made that way by adding artificial colors or dyes.

However, the best way to make sure the soap you are considering purchasing is Traditional African Black Soap is to read the label. Genuine Black Soap will only have plantain and/or coco pod ash, indigenous oils (palm, palm kernel, coconut) and other natural ingredients such as shea butter, citrus juices (to balance PH), honey (be careful, this is natural but it is NOT VEGAN) which is used as a humectant. Any other chemicals such as SLS, artificial color or triclosan, it can be pretty safe in assuming it is not Natural African Black soap.

Liquid Black Soap

Would you believe that there is no such thing as Liquid Traditional African Black Soap? In actuality, when you see this statement, the truth lies in the fact that there is no way to produce liquid African Black Soap in the way one would produce a liquid soap beginning with alkaline and oils. However, it is possible to liquefy African Black Soap. Traditional African Black Soap’s soft and crumbly textures make it ideal for liquefaction.

It is just as important to read the label on Liquid African Black Soap as it is on African Black Soap. The best liquefied versions of Traditional African Black Soap will have a high content of actual African Black Soap in the product, meaning it should be very high on the ingredients list – second only to water would be the ideal. The lower African Black Soap is on the ingredients list, the less actual African Black Soap is contained in the product. Many producers use as little as 5% African Black Soap in their liquid African Black Soap products. Shea Essentials Liquid African Black Soap is 50% pure African Black Soap. 

Remember, the ingredients list will also identify any artificial chemical additives, which should be avoided.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Don't Hate, EXFOLIATE!

I have had numerous customers say that no matter how much moisturizer they apply to their skin, they still don’t seem to be able to stay hydrated. When they apply a moisturizer, there is really no change in the look and feel of their skin. If this is something you deal with as well, read on, I may have a cure for your issue.

EXFOLIATION! This is the simple act of removing the outermost layer of skin. I know that this may sound disgusting, but what is more disgusting is NOT removing this layer of skin.

First a little bit science. Skin is made up of three layers; the outer most is the epidermis, the middle layer is the dermis and the innermost layer is the hypodermis. New skin cells are created in the skin's middle layer, the dermis. Over time, cells migrate to the surface of the skin and become more acidic and saturated with keratin. Keratin is a protein and combined with the acidity of the epidermis, it helps to protect you from outside elements. Each skin cell's journey takes about 30 days. Once it reaches the surface, it has completed its life cycle and dies. These dead cells sloughing off to make way for new skin cells is a part of the natural rejuvenation process of the epidermis.

As we age, the process of cell turnover slows down. Cells start to pile up unevenly on the skin's surface, giving it a dry, rough, dull appearance. Exfoliation is beneficial because it removes those cells that are clinging on, revealing the fresher, younger skin cells below. The exfoliation process unclogs pores, keeps skin clean and helps reduce acne breakouts. Also, by removing dead skin cells, the process of exfoliation prepares skin to drink in moisturizers via live cells and make up can be applied more smoothly.

Your entire body is covered with skin most of which can benefit from some assisted exfoliation. Some areas are more sensitive than others, so not all exfoliation methods are good for use on all areas of your body. Below are a few items that can be used for healthy, mechanical (by way of scrubbing dead skin away) exfoliation of your skin. *Please note, there are other chemical methods for exfoliating, however I prefer the more natural method and only have experience with these methods.

Prior to exfoliating, be sure to cleanse skin. Starting with clean skin remove dirt, oil and containments from the surface of the skin which will make exfoliation easier and will lessen the chance of dirt, or contaminants from being infused into the new skin cells you are trying to reveal.


One would never expect that the loofahs have their origins in a dishrag – or rather, the dishrag vine. This plant is closely related to the cucumber or gourd family. They are edible and are actually quite a popular food source in Asia. Known there as ‘Chinese Okra”, loofah are cooked and eaten.

Loofahs have long been cultivated by Indian and Middle Eastern civilizations. The plant thrives in warm climate, but must be watered frequently. It tends to die when exposed to frost, so (when cultivated in the United States) it must be kept indoors and under close supervision during the cold season.

Loofah sponges are useful, but can breed bacteria especially in humid weather and moist environments like the bathroom and kitchen. We recommend drying a loofah sponge completely between uses, and throwing it away after a few months of use. The wood-like surface is excellent for exfoliating the skin ~ helping to reveal healthy, glowing skin and stimulating better blood circulation.

Loofah is recommended for use on most skin areas. It is mild and can even be used on the face. Be careful when using on under eye areas, it can be a little irritating to that tender area.


Perfect for use on the face, the fibers of a good Microderm Exfoliation cloth are 50-100 times thinner than human hair. These strong, ultrafine fibers are able to exfoliate the top layer of dead skin cells effectively, smoothing, softening and improving the clarity of the surface of your skin. This miraculous cloth removes dirt, makeup residue and impurities on skin that can lead to blemishes. By removing the top layer of dead skin cells, this cloth enhances the efficacy of other treatment products and moisturizers by allowing them to be applied more directly to living skin cells. By smoothing the skin's surface, it helps makeup glide on smoothly and more evenly. A Microderm Exfoliation Cloth gently polishes away dead skin cells on the surface of your skin, improving skin clarity and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles - resulting in a healthy radiance.


Body scrubs are a combination of an exfoliant (sugar, salt or pumice, small seeds like poppy seeds or ground nut shells) and a moisturizing medium (glycerin, oil, butters, etc.). The benefit is that you are moisturizing new skin as soon as it is revealed. Also, body scrubs are easy to use while in the tub or shower (be careful, it may leave the tub or shower slippery) and can have an endless variety of additives with nice fragrances and/or aromatherapy properties.

Body scrubs are great for all over use, but pay attention to the label, some ingredients may be a bit irritating to skin and use caution on sensitive areas. I find that sugar scrubs tend to be less irritating than salt, but salt scrubs can be a great addition to a detoxifying treatment.


Pumice is a type of extrusive volcanic rock, produced when lava with a very high content of water and gases (together these are called volatiles) is extruded (or thrown out of) a volcano. As the gas bubbles escape from the lava, it becomes frothy. When this lava cools and hardens, the result is a very light rock material filled with tiny bubbles of gas. Pumice is the only rock that floats on water, although it will eventually become waterlogged and sink.

As an exfoliater, pumice is available in rock or bar form as well as in powder form. The powder is usually an additive in some form of cream scrub. Pumice is recommended for use on very rough dry areas such as the heels, only. It is very abrasive and could be irritating to more sensitive skin.


Body and facial exfoliating brushes are wonderful for increasing circulation under the skin and removing dead skin cells. The wonder of these brushes is that they can be used wet or dry. Use them for a quick exfoliation prior to applying make-up or moisturizer or use them while bathing along with soap or body wash.

There are other ways to gently exfoliate skin, using natural sea sponges or even mesh shower sponges. These are perfect daily use and mild exfoliation of skin. There is such a thing as over exfoliation so we recommend when using anything other than sponges, that you allow a few days in between each exfoliation treatment. If your skin becomes irritated, or you experience abrasions, this is a sign of over-exfoliation. Allow skin a chance to heal prior to exfoliating again.

Exfoliation works wonders, using the above simple methods will reap benefits equivalent to many costly spa treatments which are marketed to reveal new, healthy skin. You will see results immediately, but remember to moisturize!

Your comments and question are welcome.
Abundance & Light

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Great Shea Debate Part I

Ever since I started working with shea butter over five years ago and began researching the qualities and properities of this natural emolient, I have come across a ton of conflicting information regarding shea butter.

There is very little first hand information, that is information directly from those who actually produce shea butter available - actually, I have found no information from a shea butter producer.  What I have come across is many articles and tibits from those who say that are experts, but give no credentials to back up their assertions.  Each of these "experts" have given conflicting information which makes it difficult for the average end-user to gain a clear picture of what denotes "good" shea and what denotes "bad" and the grey area in between these two.

I do not claim to be an expert.  What I do have is a bit of first hand information from handling the product, using it personally and using it to create skincare products.  I also have the tons of research I have done.  With that, I will attempt to discuss my findings, give as many facts as possible and shed a bit of light on some of the inconsistencies so that you can make a more educated decision when selecting shea butter.

Because this body of knowledge is so broad, this blog will have several parts, I cannot say how many as of yet, but I will let you know when I have written what I feel to be the final installment.

PART I of  "The Great Shea Debate" will cover critical analysis of the information available on shea butter.


The first thing you should do when you read any information regarding shea butter (or anything for that matter) is consider the source.  The internet has opened up the information superhighway and allows us easy access to loads of information on every topic imaginable, but it has also loosened the restrictions on who can make what kind of claims.  In the past, to have your information published in a book, newspaper or magazine, you would need to not only state what makes you an authority on the subject, but you had to provide documentation to that extent. Now, anyone can post information and make claims without any type of proof online.  So it is important to ask some important questions when doing research, including but not limited to:
  1.  Does this claim seem plausible? Simply use common sense.  If someone claims that shea butter cures cancer, that would seem a little far fetched...
  2. What are the writer's credentials?  How did this person become an expert?  How long have they worked with the product, were they apart of the production process?  Did they complete some sort of tests or study of shea butter?
  3. Where is the proof?  If a person states "research shows..." then they should also tell you about the research study that was conducted or give you a link to the study for you to read up on it.
I will not go into much more detail here.  For more information on critical thinking, check out these books:


I used to believe that if an institute released information, then that information must be true.  However, institutes should be critically analyzed much in the same way we would with an individual.  I don't want to mention specifics, but recently, I acquired new exotic pets that I saw for the first time in my local shopping mall.  The people selling them seemed to know everything about the pets and even distributed information from an institute that studied the animals.  Once I did a bit of research on the animals, I found that the institute this company was referring to was actually of their own creation to perpetuate what I have come to find out is actually many falsehoods about these pets.  So when you see information from an institute regarding shea or any other topic, check their credentials as well, what research have they actually done?  Are they linked in anyway to a company that may skew their research?

OK, I realized that I have not talked much about shea butter in this blog.  But I felt it important to lay a foundation for our further exploration.  So let me leave you with one specific item in regards to shea butter.


Many companies state that they offer pure "Grade A" shea butter.  But how do you grade shea butter?  According to the American Shea Butter Institute ( and I am paraphrasing - Shea Butter can be divided into five categories based on its quality, Grade A, Grade B, Grade C, Grade D
or Grade F.  You can check the website for further details, "Lab Testing and Grading", but the gist of the grading process is that based on the amount of nutrients and lack of contaminants, through their testing process, which currently is $600 per sample, the institute can determine if your sample is of the highest quality or Grade A, of premium quality, Grade B, of acceptable quality, Grade C, of medicore quality, Grade D or of a quality unfit for human use, Grade F. 

Now, I am not indicating that the American Shea Butter Institute is a false organization or that it has been set up by a shea butter company to further its agenda.  They appear to have annual conferences, of which I have not attended and I have not made an inquiry to the institute regarding their status.  However, I will note that there are no research study results or any clear research that the institute has done.  They do have a list "21 Uses for Shea Butter", but this appears to be andectodal in nature (information from word of mouth, instead of in depth research). 

So, I pose to you my observation, and this is my observation only.  From what I know of shea butter, it is a handmade product, produced outside of the US so its production is not regulated by the USDA.  All information I have found usually states that this is made by women in numerous different location, in pots that usually sit outdoors from the pictures I have seen online, and therefore there is no real consistency in how each batch of shea is made.

If I send a sample to be tested and graded, wouldn't that mean that the grade would only apply to that particular batch?  Wouldn't I have to get each batch of shea tested to assure the same grade of shea?  If so, at $600 per sample, the cost would be astronomical.

Your thoughts & comments are appreciated.