Out of Africa: The continent that's home to beauty's favourite ingredients

By Ashley Underwood | Published: 14-Oct-2022

Beauty brands cannot get enough of indigenous African ingredients. But which are the most popular, why are they so in demand and how are growers on the continent benefitting?

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It is early morning in Northern Kenya and Nalangu Lemaseyo, accompanied by a donkey carrying precious cargo, has been walking for two hours from the Boswellia forest to the purchasing centre set up by Arbor Oils of Africa.

The precious cargo? Frankincense resin, gathered by Lemaseyo from the Boswellia trees located 15 minutes from the collector’s homestead.

Arbor Oils will distil the resin to produce pure frankincense oil that is then shipped around the world and formulated into premium skin care ranges, or sold in small bottles for aromatherapy use.

The demand for frankincense oil provides Lemaseyo and others in the region with a reliable source of income that is especially precious in years of drought when the arid land produces very little via which to earn a living.

This example of communities establishing an income from local natural resources making their way into cosmetic products is repeated throughout Africa.

From neroli oil extracted from the bitter orange trees harvested in Tunisia through to the rosehip seeds collected throughout landlocked Lesotho, cosmetic ingredients are sourced across the breadth of the continent and are a significant socioeconomic contributor.


Demand for oils

By far the most well-established ingredients out of Africa for the cosmetics industry are oils: essential oils, commodity base and specialty oils. Argan oil has seen a great surge in popularity since the early noughties to become one of Africa’s most celebrated cosmetic ingredients.

Produced from the kernels of the argan tree found in the Souss Valley of Morocco, the oil is rich in antioxidants, tocopherol and fatty acids, and can be used in many different applications including lip care, nail care and skin care.

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