Many Western women, myself included, spend billions of dollars per year on facial products.
For me, this obsession started early. As soon as I started menstruating, my mother took me to Bloomingdale’s and treated me to my first set of cleanser, toner and moisturizer. As I recounted in an earlier article, my mother is a fanatic when it comes to beauty and preservation. So naturally, I too try to keep my face well moisturized, and am always on the hunt for the next magical potion to give me that inexplicable glow. I think I’ve just found one: Black African Soap.
It’s mostly unheard of here in the States, but it’s super popular in Africa (duh) where women use it to cleanse their face and wash their newborn babies. It makes your skin smooth like velvet, is non-irritating or drying and can be found on a lot of street corners in Brooklyn — and of courseonline.
In high school, I was very close with the school secretary. She was younger than I am now, and just cool. Her style was sometimes outrageous, but in a fun, “I’m young and still experimenting” way. We frequently swapped clothing and beauty advice, and one day I noticed that her skin literally looked like chocolate velvet. It was immaculate.
Even then I was on the lookout for new beauty products (I had experimented with Creme de la Mer in middle school) so I immediately asked her what she had done to her face. It certainly hadn’t looked the same a few months before, and I had to know her secret.
“African soap,” she said. “Black African soap, it’s like $2 and I found it on the corner in Brooklyn by house.”
“Black African soap. I guess women in Africa use it. I bought a bar and it cleared up my acne and everything,” she replied.
I was obsessed with getting my hands on this soap. Since I wasn’t allowed to take the subway too far by myself, I asked her to get me a bar. It took a while, as the street vendor kept moving, but eventually she brought me a couple of bars. I used the soap every day for two months, but since I already had pretty perfect skin in high school (don’t hate) I didn’t see much of a difference. This was also before online shopping was popular, or before I had a credit card.
Fast-forward to now, and I am constantly battling adult acne. My skin, once my pride and joy, is always erupting in small fits of dry patches, black heads and mild cystic acne. I think it’s because I’m an East Coaster, and I live in the West now. The regular products no longer work, and since I can’t afford my mother’s La Prairie and Sisley products, I am constantly experimenting with random stuff I find online. Needless to say, I’m not always satisfied.
Recently, however, I was on the bus in New York City, where I sat next to a beautiful black woman with that same skin texture that I had encountered on the secretary back in high school. Smooth, velvet-like and simply perfect. I instantly remembered the African Black Soap and knew I had to get my hands on it.
I purchased a bar on the Internet for $3.25 plus $3.95 shipping and handling as soon as I got home. Don’t you just hate when the shipping costs more than the product?
Six weeks later, I’m here to report to you that this stuff really works. Not only is my skin smoother — not quite velvety yet, though I’d like to think that I’m getting there — I haven’t had a serious outbreak since I started to use it. When you apply it to your face, it lathers slightly and you can feel the natural texture of the product working. It’s a little grainy, and can crumble a bit when first opened, but it’s not messy or anything. Like I said earlier, it doesn’t dry out your skin, and you’re left with a dewy and squeaky clean dermis. Apply a little moisturizer, and that’s it, you’re done. Two products, one for less than $5.
African soap is made from dried plantain skins (a plantain is the thing that looks like a banana in your grocery store, but isn’t). Along with palm leaves, kernel oil and cocoa pod powder, this concoction nourishes skin with vitamins such as A, E and iron. You know, the same things supposedly in your fancy, and expensive creams. The cocoa powder has special healing powers, whatever that means, and the palm and kernel oils help shape the whole thing into a bar of soap for easy, everyday use.
I’m not going to lie. The bar itself looks a little like feces. However, it gets the job done at an insanely low price. The smell is similar to incense — but not nearly as strong — and most varieties come mixed with shea butter and the like. Not only does it clear up skin, but supposedly it works on all skin types and after prolonged use helps reduce and prevent premature wrinkles and aging. It’s also is a great make-up remover, and can even be lathered and used as a mild shampoo.