Yoruba traditional black soap: Back bone of the beauty industry

Princess Funmi Ajibewa.

The traditional black soap which many have abandoned as unrefined in times past, is now a hot cake in the Nigerian market as more people learn of its healing powers and efficacy in curing any skin disease. YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE reports.


The traditional black soap common to the Yoruba people has been around for centuries and had been in use for so long. Though at a time, attention shifted away from the locally produced material for some better packaged soaps but the tide is changing in favour of the soap popularly called abuwe or ose dudu by the Yoruba people.

In the last decade, the once rejected black soap has become a huge, mainstream industry for beauty products which continues to grow bigger by the day.  And recognizing the efficacy of the black soap as well as the rising campaign for use of organic products, beauty experts have gone back to the roots and capitalized on the usefulness of the local soap by turning it to the base of their numerous products.

Indeed, many people that buy cosmetics and beauty products today do so without knowing that the black soap is the basic ingredients in the beautifully packaged products that they spent huge sums of money on.

The local black soap has been said to work for so many things; skin care – dry skin, stretch marks, spots, pimples, acne, oily skin, clear blemishes, eczema, body odour and soothe skin irritations and diseases from simple rashes to contact dermatitis and psoriasis amidst many other skin break outs and conditions, hair care – scalp itchiness and irritation as well as treatment and cure of a myriad of diseases.

Many beauty experts have at different times, claimed that the traditional black possess antioxidants that protect the skin from premature aging, wrinkles and facial lines, firms, tones skin and improves skin texture, fade brown spots and discolorations,  reduce inflammation and skin irritations, heals skin problems, has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties  for deep pore cleansing and makeup removal, exfoliates and alleviates razor bumps among many other functions.


The black soap is also said to be good at healing diseases of diverse types aside from the publicized skin ailments. Omolara (surname withheld), a student at the Polytechnic, Eruwa, once had an experience of the efficacy of the black soap. She told Nigerian Tribune that she once fell sick and was cured of measles just by using black soap.

“I was feeling terrible and uncomfortable with itches; I couldn’t explain what was happening to me or describe what I was going through. I was so uncomfortable that I thought I was going to die. After some hours, I went to some friends to tell them what was happening and they took me to their landlady, an old woman with a hearing defect

“They explained that I wasn’t feeling well and she just looked at me and said it was measles and I was uncomfortable because it didn’t break out. She gave me a small black soap and instructed that I put it inside pap and drink it without sugar or milk then use the rest to bath. And an hour after I took it, the measles indeed broke out like she predicted and I was covered from head to toe with but surprisingly by evening that day, everything dried up and by the next morning, the spots had disappeared. There was no sign that I had measles the previous day.

“I’m sure it wasn’t soap alone but since then, I have been using the black soap to bath and I can confidently say that I have a healthier skin and I don’t have skin rashes like I used to,” she said.

Toun, a banker, is another lady that could attest to the power of the black soap. “I used to have breakouts a lot but at one point it became serious as no one could say whether it was pimples or boil; it comes out as pimples but will be so big that I would be in so much pain and I was so self conscious because people were always looking at me with pity and I was offered various advice on how to cure what had become a malaise as I constantly had headache due to the one on my face.

I used diverse things; foreign, medical and traditional, I was treated by so many dermatologists who diagnosed all sorts of allergy and I consumed medications like food. At a point, I was stopped from eating so many things but there was no difference.

“But one day, my aunt met a woman that said there is a solution, we were taken to Bode market in Ibadan and one young lady gave me a black soap to bath. It not only cured the said allergy in two days but I have not experienced such again and I have been eating the food that dermatologists said I can’t eat without trouble, it was a once and for all cure,” she said.

The efficacy of the traditional black soap had been attested by a doctor as a stress control. Dr Obafemi Jegede, the unit coordinator at the Traditional Medicine and Belief System, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, attested that the black soap is a   veritable means of treating many conditions that afflict the body including stress, malaria and in improving general body wellness.

According to him, apart from being used for healing in traditional medicine, it can also be used for stress control when bamboo extract is added to it. “It is argued that the bamboo tree is frail looking; but no storm can blow it off. So, its resilience is why it is used in the construction of houses. In traditional medicine, the characteristics of plants are harnessed. So including bamboo extract is to tap into its resilience for stress control,” he said.

But in the production of the variety of black soap for stress management, Dr Jegede stated that active, living and potent water, usually collected from a flowing stream, is required, adding that many disease conditions can be treated with specially formulated black soaps.

Also, for someone that have sleeping challenges, he said such a person only needs to take his bath using a decoction made from the root of neem, bark of mango, leaves of lime and pawpaw tree with the black soap.

Another popular use of the traditional black soap is to alleviate teething issues in babies. It is called the Aboke, which going by its popularity seems to be a huge success.

An herb seller at Basorun market Ibadan, who wanted to be called mama alagbo, though still a young woman told Nigerian Tribune that the black soap should be described as ero, which literarily means soother as it can do a whole lot of things.

“Using ose abuwe is a good thing because it cleans deeply and protects against many diseases. It is like taking immunization against skin diseases. But it is even more important when we add it to some things that I won’t tell you to cure ailments; it can do a lot of things.

“It is the ignorant people that say it attracts evil spirit all in the name of being spiritual when some churches even use it for spiritual baths. Ose dudu is good and it cures diseases if you know what to add and how to use it. Even without adding anything, it is very effective,” she said.

Black soap recipes have been passed down in families from mother to daughter and had from ancient times been a source of cure by traditional healers. Today, many purchase the black soap in huge quantity and add their own ingredients depending on the purpose the soap is to be used.

Ingredients that are added to the black soap includes lavender oil, aloe vera leaves and gel, lime, honey, cam wood, fragrance, fine egg shell powder and Ficus exasperate, shea butter, turmeric powder, sandal wood powder, different leaves and bark for traditional healing and artificial ingredients like licorice and soap lightening powder  among many others.

Speaking to Nigerian Tribune, Princess Funmi Ajibewa, the Chief Executive officer of Ajibewa Beauty World, Lagos, confirmed that the traditional black soap has a myriad of advantages especially in skin maintenance and for treatment of skin related diseases.

Ajibewa further explained that it is possible for an individual to drink the black soap as part of traditional treatment. “Ose dudu has a lot of advantages; it smoothens the skin and eradicate diseases like ringworm, eczema etc. if you notice, often, when a new baby arrives, the Yoruba people usually bath the baby with ose dudu because they believe it will clean better than any other soap because it has natural cleansing ingredients.

“Yes. I believe one can drink the black soap because as it is used for the skin, it is also used for the treatment of some ailments like chicken pox, measles, piles etc,” she said.

The beauty expert further confirmed to Nigerian Tribune that they use it a lot as a base for their products and often add other things to it to ensure it performs various functions. “We use it a lot mainly because it exfoliates and it is true that it is not just mere traditional soap that we use, it is true we add some lightening agent to it to make it effective for fair complexioned people and other things depending on the function that the product is meant to serve.

“Things we add include soap lightening powder, turmeric powder and sandal wood powder among many other active ingredients but like I said, it depends on what you want to use it for that will determine what you add,” she concluded.

Some advocates of the use of black soap have argued that if one really takes a look at the ingredients of the soap they take off the shelves in stores, they won’t hesitate to use the traditional soap even in its crude form. According to them, so many soaps contain triclosan which can disrupt the thyroid hormone and can contribute to the development of breast cancer and fragrance which mainly often means pthalates, a chemical which can cause birth defects and liver damage.

They argued that whatever one cannot eat should not be applied on the body as whatever soap one uses will be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin.

With these numerous benefits and the argument that the black soap is the safest, it is no wonder that the demand for the local Ose dudu is on the increase and business savvy people are making so much money from it.