As the winter months close in on us, I am reminded that November through February are some of the most difficult months for me in terms of skin and hair. Not because my hair dries out or my skin gets ashy (they do, but not nearly as extreme), but because my psoriasis swings into full gear. At this time of year, the cold air and lack of sun (not for lack of sunny days in LA, but because the weather is too cold to wear clothes that would expose my skin to sun) contribute to psoriasis flare-ups on my skin and scalp - making it difficult to enjoy natural hair and transitioner luxuries such as protective styling and extended time between washing.
Previously on Black Girl with Long Hair and The Mane Objective, I've written articles on products to help with psoriasis, as well as how to regulate scalp conditions from the inside out. In the first article, I mentioned Shea Moisture's African Black Soap Shampoo and Purification Masque, but didn't delve into too much detail about how and why they may work. This time around I'd like to get more specific, and throw another potential natural solution into the ring: activated charcoal. There are plenty of medications out there that can help ease and clear up conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis - but unfortunately many of them have side effects that run counter to natural hair, health, and wellness goals (like hair loss and lowered immune function). Before I get too much further, let's define what these three common conditions are:
Psoriasis: A chronic auto-immune disease that is believed to be caused by an overreaction of the immune system. This overreaction causes skin cells to reproduce rapidly, resulting in inflamed patches (plaques) of scaly and thick red, silvery, and/or white skin that flake off. Psoriasis is not contagious, and is believed to be hereditary.
Eczema: A blanket diagnosis for any type of itchy skin or rash, including atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and seborrheic dermatitis. Atopic is the most chronic, and most commonly diagnosed. It typically affects the inside of elbows, back of knees, and the face, but can be present anywhere on the body. Contact dermatitis is the skin inflammation result of coming into contact with skin irritants (some of which are present in cosmetic and hair products - beware!) such as detergents, artificial colors, and some fragrances.
Seborrheic Dermatitis: A form of eczema characterized by red, scaly, itchy rashes in various locations of the body. The scalp, sides of the nose, eyebrows, eyelids, skin behind the ears and middle of the chest are the most common areas affected. Dandruff (because seborrehic dermatitis is caused by a fungal infection) appears as scaling on the scalp without redness.
Now that we have a better understanding of these three common conditions that are a little bit (okay, a lotta bit) stronger than dandruff, we can move on to understanding how african black soap and activated charcoal may be able to help.
African Black Soap
What it is: African Black Soap in it's purest form contains plantain skin, cocoa pod, palm, palm kernel, and/or coconut oil. Some recipes may include palm ash, honey, shea butter, essential oils, and more. But the foundation of the soap is definitely the roasted plantain skin. Pure African Black Soap (regardless of brand) should never contain synthetic fragrance or dye.
How it can help: Plantain skin is high in vitamins A and E, both of which are excellent for skin regeneration, elasticity, and repair. The oils, butters and natural humectants (like honey and glycerin) are great for attracting and helping to retain moisture in the skin. They also contribute to being able to effectively cleanse skin, face, and scalp without causing irritation. After doing a significant amount of research, I realized that there may be some confusion (and I was confused, too!) about the efficacy of plantain in healing skin conditions. In African Black Soap, plantain skin (which is understood to possess enzymes that soothe and help ease itching and irritation) is at the heart of the product. This plantain skin is largely different from the plantain plant, the broadleaf plantain which has been proven to promote healing in skin, fight infection, and stimulate cellular growth and tissue regeneration. It is unclear which version of the plantain extract is used in products like Shea Moisture's African Black Soap Shampoo and Purification Masque. Nonetheless, the aforementioned Shea Moisture products are great at gently cleansing the hair, helping to remove scales and flakes, and reduce itching.
Product Recommendations: Dudu Osun African Black Soap is a great all-natural brand of soap, imported from Nigeria that can be used on hair, face, and body. Shea Moisture's African Black Soap Shampoo and Purification Masque are great for helping ease the itch, and can even assist in relieving the scalp conditions. Allafia Fair Trade African Black Soap is another great multi-use option. The liquid soap can be used on face, body, and as a shampoo.
What it is: :::puts science cap on::: Activated Charcoal is essentially carbon that has been treated with oxygen to create a highly porous charcoal. Because the surface area of the charcoal is so large and full of tiny holes, it can adsorb many times its own weight in bacteria, toxins, impurities, and contaminants.
How it can help: When applied topically, activated charcoal can help draw out dirt, impurities, bacteria, and more from the body, skin, and scalp. When ingested internally via supplements, charcoal binds to the same toxins and impurities that could trigger bodily inflammation (and lead to certain skin conditions), and eliminates them through the bowels. There are also a few small studies that indicate activated charcoal can be effective in treating auto-immune diseases that impact cell divison/replication (such as psoriasis).
Product Recommendations: Lia Naturals Handmade Charcoal Soap is an especially great soap for problem skin, as it does not contain artificial colorants, and is fragrance free. Giovanni also has a D TOX line of skin and haircare products that contain activated charcoal as well. To try your hand at internal ingestion, Vitamin Shoppe has tons of different brands of activated charcoal supplements.
As with any natural remedy or treatment for skin and scalp conditions, individual results may vary. Before seeking out natural or over the counter solutions for skin conditions, get a professional medical opinion and diagnosis. And of course, never, ever, substitute online information for that of a medical professional.
DIY skincare - 7:16 AM
As the winter months close in on us, I am reminded that November through February are some of the most difficult months for me in terms o...