The "black" is from the lye making process they use. They leech out water through burnt woods and leaves used to make lye water. This is where the "black" comes in. The rest is basically unrefined shea and coconut and palm oils. There are a few articles on it.
I have often been asked "What is African Black Soap?" Well, it's soap and most of the ingredients are readily available in the United States and probably most other countries. African Black Soap is generally made in western Africa.
The difference is, however, the preparation of the soap. Leaves and bark of various trees and plants are first burned in a kettle or vat. These may be leaves from banana trees, plantain skins, leaves and bark, palm tree leaves, cocoa pods, shea tree bark, etc.
Water is then added to the ashes and then filtered. Oils such as shea butter, coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil, and cocoa butter are added to this water to create the soap. The soap is then hand stirred by local women for at least a day and then set out to cure for two weeks. Each region and tribe have their own recipe that has been handed down through generations. The color of African Black Soap varies depending on the region it's made in since the availability of the ingredients varies. African Black Soap from coastal regions of Africa contains a higher percentage of coconut oil whereas soap from the interior regions contains more shea butter.
Black soap is called many names, but the most common is Ose Dudu (doudoun), which comes from the Yoruba or Anago languages of Nigeria, Benin and Togo. Ose Dudu means literally Soap (ose) Black (dudu).
You can use this soap on your body, face, and hair. There are many claims on the benefits of using African Black Soap. The claims are that it helps relieve rashes, scalp irritations, softens rough skin, oily skin, dry skin, acne, blemishes and other skin problems. Black soap gives your face a deep cleansing, leaving it fresh and healthier. I've also heard it can help with wrinkles and fine lines. Whether these benefits are true or not is up to you to decide.
When purchasing African Black Soap do try to purchase it from a fair trade organization. Fair trade means that the women making the soap are paid at a fair rate and are provided with a pension plan, vacation, sick and family leave, and overtime. Learn more about fair trade - Fair Trade Federation.
Also, make sure the soap is from western Africa and not made in the United States or Europe. Soaps from these countries are mass produced and are not true African Black Soap and probably have artificial ingredients added to them to give the dark coloring.
I'm interested in making black soap, but not in using the original African Black Soap process. It would seem that in that process, the dark color comes from the charcoal that is produced when they make their lye or potash.
So... why not simply add charcoal powder to your favorite recipe?
I'm guessing a teaspoon per pound, but the operative word is 'guess.'
I'm also wondering what properties the charcoal will add to the soap.
I've used charcoal before for colouring in swirls. You can buy the charcoal in the fish department at Wa-Mart and grind it in a coffee grinder or a motor and pestle. It won't bring anything to the soap except making it darker.
That is what I use now, Tab. Back in the natural verses argument on another forum a few years ago, it was suggested to try charcoal to use as black colourant in your soap. That is where I got the idea. It was a hastile grinding that fish charcoal up and since just used the black mica. A little of that goes a LONG way! There is also cocoa that some use to colour soap black or chocolate. Charcoal really does not "add" anything I know of to the soap.