Nubian Heritage – African Black Soap


This soap has an evocative, haunting smell that reminds me of something—really strongly!—but I can't place what it is. It's driving me crazy! Or I should say it nearly drove me crazy, but I retreated in time. But first, I'll describe it. This is a very prominent beauty product—you'll see it in a lot of stores. It comes in a box that says: “Detoxifying & Balancing” and there're a lot of ingredients listed, including “African black soap base” and Shea Butter, Colloidal Oatmeal, Aloe, Vitamin E, Glycerin, and then a lot of chemical-y stuff I don't know what it is. Also fragrance and color. Obviously this is a commercial product, and it kind of seems like they threw in everything including the kitchen sink. It was very pleasant to use, though, and, I think, good on my skin. The way I judge soap is: does it make me get a rash, or not—and this didn't, so I used it daily in comfort. The color and texture is a lot of fun. It's got this kind of smoother part, that is very dark black—I'm not sure where the color comes from, but it washes away in very dark suds. But then there is this kind of spiny-ness underneath that emerges—the the soap has rough edges—almost like it's an animal and you're washing away the flesh, exposing the skeleton. That makes it sound more gross than it is; it's actually very pleasing and satisfying—the progression of use—a kind of soap decay, which is probably one of the more ignored properties of soap—how do you feel about it as the bar gets smaller and smaller? In this case, as it became increasingly spiny, I'd have to say: very good.

The oddest thing about this soap, though, is the fragrance, which is just totally familiar to me, yet I can't place it. I keep going back, trying to get a bead on what this smell reminds me of. I just can't figure it out. I had a flash of insight one day while using it, though, and what came to mind was: 1982. 1982! Which I'm sure means nothing to you—and only to me if I think of where I was in 1982, which was in Columbus, Ohio, living in a house with several people, exploring the town, new cuisine, restaurants, music—not sure about soap. I don't remember soap from that time, but maybe it's the spirt of exploration—memories of going to dark bars in the hot afternoon, out-of-the-way diners, and Asian food stores hidden in odd neighborhoods that no one seemed to know about. It was a time in my life when everything seemed new. And for some reason, this soap just reminded me of that year.

Soap Review No. 48