Black soap cleans up in Mzansi

Products that Stella Matutina sells at her store Urban Zulu Beauty Salon in the Johanessburg CBD,15 JULY 2017, PICTURE: KABELO MOKOENA
Products that Stella Matutina sells at her store Urban Zulu Beauty Salon in the Johanessburg CBD,15 JULY 2017, PICTURE: KABELO MOKOENA

When it comes to beauty products, manufacturers have always looked to exotic places to find untapped ingredients with magical benefits for our skin and hair.

We have explored shea butter, jojoba oil, baobab oil, extracts from rooibos and marula as well as mongongo nut. Even snail slime, with its reparative powers, now comes in a jar.

There is a new trend in town, especially popular in the informal market, and it is simply called the black soap.

Google the name and chances are you are bound to see hundreds of search engine results with various suppliers in every province.

But what exactly is this black soap? Where does it come from? How do we tell if the product is safe and, more importantly, why does it bear such a name?

We found one such supplier and put our questions to her.

Her name is Stella Matutina, and she sells the soap through her online shop Hairlatte and at her store Urban Zulu Beauty Salon in the Johannesburg CBD, as well as in Carlswald in Midrand and, she says, business is booming.

Matutina says she has a very loyal client base who demand black soap in their numbers.

"Well, firstly, we call it the black soap because it is black in colour," she giggles.

"It is a unique type of soap that comes from Ghana, and very popular in the western parts of Africa. It is partly made of shea butter, which forms its oil base, and the reason for its colour is the natural lye that consists of the ingredients that are burned to ashes in making this soap.

"Unlike other conventional soaps, the soap differs firstly in the way it is made and also because there is absolutely no fragrance added to it, hence its earthly nut scent."

Matutina says that black soap is made with the pods of the cocoa bean, the leaves of the banana plantain and shea butter from the karite tree. She says all these ingredients are sun-dried and roasted in a pan, and the black ashes are then used as a natural lye to form the soap.

We were curious as to why this black soap is not available in conventional supermarkets in South Africa.

But she says the reason is not as sinister as we may think.

"Black soap is available on supermarket shelves in Ghana, where it originally comes from. Since the plants that make the key ingredients such as the cocoa pod ash and the plantain do not grow here in South Africa, it is difficult for one to make it from scratch."

What makes the soap unique, according to Matutina, is that it is a multi-purpose soap, which can be used on the whole body and hair.

She claims the black lye works as a toner and moisturiser for the skin and that the benefits are clearer, softer skin with less visible dark marks. For the hair, it doubles as a natural shampoo and she claims its properties combat dandruff.

Matutina cautions that black soap is not for everyone, and that some people with sensitive skin may find that the soap irritates their skin as it may be too harsh for them. She recommends using black soap once every three days and says it is not suitable for children and teenagers.

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