I was interested to know the comparison of a standard potash salt bar and the African black soap as the reported benefits sounded like that of any well made potash soap.
After testing it, I am confident that my original suspicions were correct and that a standard potash soap is more convenient for the same results. Except for supporting cottage industry in Africa, the mess in the soap holder due to the dark colour and the lack of extra benefit makes it undesirable.
Original Black African Soap is made from palm oil, coconut oil and salt. The major difference from other soaps is the lye used. Plantain skins and/or Cocoa pods are burnt and the ash is used to make the lye. It is favoured for its gentle cleansing and healing properties.
Many natural soap makers shortcut the process by buying a bag of "Black African" soap ash and add it into their standard natural soap batter except it is often Caustic Soda lye not Potash lye.
I have made a variation of African Black soap. I made a potash (Potassium Hydroxide)salt bar in contrast to soda ash (Sodium Hydroxide) as this is the lye you get when using ash. I took a shortcut here and using potash flakes but added roasted banana ash. Plantain is a starchy banana used for cooking which I don't have. I roasted a stem of small banana's and some leaf to charcoal and powdered it in my kitchen blender to add into the soap batter. I am not concerned about the difference as banana has a lot of nutrient.
To preserve the vitamins I deviated from tradition and blended banana leaf to a fibrous paste and percolated water through it and also drained and saved banana sap from an entire stem to use.
Banana leaves are not eaten because of the fibre but food is often cooked in it and the goodness from the leaf does enter the food. It is used for skin conditions with success. Ayurvedic medicine has a long list of uses for the entire banana plant and fruit.
Traditionally no scent's would be added but I did add a little Neem essential oil. Neem is excellent for skin and may other uses but I find its odour unattractive.
I added a little clay, as I have heard an African soap maker say the colour comes from dirt. I can understand that there would be dirt in the ash when it is gathered up. This has desirable properties for skin also.
I used a ratio of 15% Himalayan fine ground salt dissolved it in my water (leaf percolate). Not all of it dissolved which I was fine with.
I used some of the leaf percolated water into the charcoal so I could add into the batter more easily. I used the rest of the leaf water and sap as my lye water but once the lye dissolved it began to thicken like soap batter come to trace. I quickly added it to the oils and blended adding the charcoal and Neem Oil. It was thickening quicker than I was comfortable with and mixed in another good splash of water before pouring it into the moulds.
The soap heated up more than a standard potash salt bar which I think may be from the natural sugars in the sap and leaf juice.
The pH dropped under 8 on the second day.
It is very dark and I may have used too much charcoal. It's bubble and creamy but does have a very little bit of gritty feeling and some tiny bits of charcoal can be seen on your skin before rinsing off. Charcoal has has health benefits and we will see how this works.
I used my Palm Oil, Potassium Hydroxide hard bar soap recipe.
About 1/2 cup of dry banana charcoal.
1 teaspoon Red Aussie Clay
I will update as the soap matures and my friends use and review it.
Six Months later... After using this soap myself and getting reviews from friends who used it I am confident to conclude that my original suspicion is correct and that Black African soap is no more beneficial than a natural potash bar of soap. The negative aspects of BA soap make it undesirable to use. Being black it is prone to leaving a mess in the soap holder and using plantain ash no better than using skin friendly essential oils.
I did enjoy sitting by my fire poking at it to get the banana ash but that as for soap its inconvenient.
Except for supporting cottage industries from Africa I see no particular benefit to using a more convenient firmer lighter coloured potash soap.