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Beauty | Manolo for the Big Girl
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Skin Secrets of an African Princess

One of my closest friend in college was a princess.

I don’t mean a princess in the “it’s true because it says so in rhinestones” sense but an actual no-foolin’ African princess. At the time I knew her she was on the royal lam, trying to prolong her time in America before she had to return to a life that didn’t involve late night pizza delivery and complete anonymity.

She also had the most beautiful skin of any woman I’d ever met.

I’d say it was the most beautiful skin of any person I’d ever met, but that award goes to the dean of Canterbury Cathedral, whose name I forget but whose distractingly silken handshake in 2006 remains unsullied by time and the fact I passed out knee-wobbling drunk on a quarter of a pint of farmhouse cider in a nunnery four hours later.

I don’t know the dean’s secret to flawless skin, but I do know Jo’s (I’ve changed her name, since as far as I know, she’s still on the lam).

Every night she would rub her wet hands on this burnished lump of dark brown soap. She’d lather, rinse and then rub beige butter into her skin until it shone.

That’s it.

A few months ago, I was perusing Coastal Scents when I came across their Project Ghanaian initiative that helps provide an income opportunity and health care to rural Ghanian women. I recognized Jo’s brown lump as African black soap. Makes sense, since she was Ghanaian, so I ordered the Out Of Africa pack, which included a pound of natural African black soap, unfiltered shea butter, plus big bottles of raw virgin coconut oil (does that sound unpleasant to anyone else?) and African wild honey (which sounds like a blaxsplotation flick in which the outstanding Pam Grier and her equally fantastic wigs fight evil to a Bootsy Collins soundtrack.)

Black Soap

Ingredients: Coconut oil, raw shea butter, cocoa pod ash, water and palm kernel oil.

This is definitely the stuff Jo used, and it’s great. I’ve heard a lot about how it’s supposed to clear acne, soften lines, do your taxes and make your mother understand the reason you don’t want kids isn’t because you’re selfish and want to deny her the joy of her old age. I’m not sure about all that, but it’s a great, natural, inexpensive product that’s as good or better than any other cleanser I’ve tried.

Unrefined Shea Butter

I don’t know whether Jo used cocoa or shea butter to get her skin to glow, but I’m never going without a tub of this stuff again. It’s like the rooster sauce of beauty products: it makes EVERYTHING better. I use it as an after-shower moisturizer, a hot oil treatment (melted with a bit of coconut oil), cuticle cream, lip balm, frizz tamer, heel softener, and even slick a little on my legs to get that shiny but not goopy look. It’s also the only facial moisturizer I use now.

Coconut Oil:

I’m not a fan of the smell, which is a little acrid. Still, this is a whizbang makeup remover and massage oil and I’ve heard if you melt equal parts shea butter and coconut oil, then let it set up and whip it, you get a nice body butter. I might try it, and I’ll definitely add a few drops of a strong essential oil –rosemary or lavender I think– for massage duty, but otherwise I’ll stick to the shea butter which smells better and is less likely to stain my sheets.

African Wild Honey:

Uh. You probably shouldn’t eat this since the words EXTERNAL USE ONLY are featured prominently on the bottle. In unrelated news, it tastes like molasses. I don’t really know what to do with this yet. I’ve heard it makes a nice face mask, but I’ve got half a liter of the stuff so suggest away!