What is African black soap ?
Before we review Alaffia African black soap, let’s first examine what black soap really is, shall we? African black soap is a centuries-old DIY cleaning agent popularized by the women of West Africa. Similar to conventional soap-making, African black soap is formed from saponifying a fat using a highly alkaline substance which results in a salt (soap) and glycerin. Soap-crafters usually add sodium (OH) or potassium hydroxide (KOH) to water to form lye, which is then reacted (mixed) with a solid or liquid fat (essentially an oil or butter) resulting in soap. For raw African black soap, the lye is made from roasted plantain skins and cocoa pod ashes.
This ash is alkaline enough to react with Shea butter or palm oil, which is how you end up with raw African black soap. The longer the plantain skins and cocoa pods are roasted, the darker the resulting black soap. African black soap ingredients might vary slightly (for instance some Ghanaian villages add the bark of Ago tree to plantain and cocoa pods). For the most part ingredients are largely naturally made lye and a fat, usually Shea butter and palm oil.
Click to watch: What is African Black Soap?
African Black Soap Alkalinity:
Even though the soap is left to cure for two weeks, the resulting African black soap tends to be extremely alkaline, between pH 8-11, because of the highly alkaline nature of the ashes used as lye. The alkalinity can sometimes cause irritation depending on skin’s sensitivity. For natural hair, high alkaline products including African black soap will cause the cuticle to swell and open up. Since cuticles are the gate keepers of products in and out of the hair shaft, raised cuticles are equivalent to a revolving door. In highly alkaline situations, natural hair will easily absorb a lot of moisture but will have trouble retaining that moisture resulting in dry, rough and porous strands, which are more susceptible to breakage. The simplest remedy to the alkaline nature of black soap using a pH optimized conditioner or a DIY acidic deep conditioner like this homemade yogurt deep conditioner.
Alaffia African Black Soap Review:
Ingredients: African Mint (Ocimum canum) Extract (Aqueous), Saponified Shea Butter* (Butyrospermum Parkii) and Palm Kernel Oil (Elaeis guineensis), Lauryl Glucoside, Tangerine Essential Oil (Citrus tangerina), Orange Essential Oil (Citrus dulcis), Lemongrass Essential Oil (Cymbopogon citratus), Litsea Essential Oil (Listea cubeba).
*Certified Fair for Life-Social and FairTrade by IMO.
The ingredients in alaffia black soap are self-explanatory save for Lauryl Glucoside. Despite the fancy chemical-sounding name, Lauryl glucose is actually a natural and biodegradable surfactant derived from glucose (sugar) from corn and lipid (fatty alcohols) from coconut. A surfactant is a cleaning agent. Lauryl glucoside is non-ionic – meaning it does not separate into ions in aqueous solutions. Lauryl glucoside is a great secondary surfactant in the black soap especially for natural hair care for four main reasons:
- A mild cleanser
- Excellent foaming properties
- Stabilizing emulsifier
- Conditioning properties
The main surfactant (cleanser) in Alaffia’s African black soap is the saponified Shea butter, which is an anionic (meaning negatively charged). If we were to look at a molecule of black soap (unfortunately there isn’t a microscope strong enough), it would have anionic head (negatively charged) while it’s tail end would be non-ionic or nonpolar. This structure is what determines the cleansing properties of the black soap. I’ll explain this better when we compare the difference between the black soap and conventional shampoo.
5 Things I like about Alaffia African black soap for natural hair:
- Pleasant and uplifting scent thanks to the combination of citrus essential oils
- Excellent gentle cleanser that doesn’t dry out natural hair
- Exceptional foaming capability (perhaps better than most black soaps I’ve tried)
- Semi-liquid consistency makes it so easy to disperse on the scalp
- Easily rinses off in warm water