Together for tomorrow


Indigenous plants make up the growing organic beauty industry

by | Jun 2, 2021

African clean beauty brands have been stripping back cosmetic recipes to their natural roots. By following the practices of their ancestors, beauty brand entrepreneurs are harnessing nature’s healing powers, and guiding us away from our dependence on synthetic, and often, environmentally harmful ingredients. These brands are making use of natural, time-tested and indigenous ingredients in their products.

According to researchers Idowu Jonas Sagbo and Wilfred Otang Mbeng, “In South Africa, most people prefer herbal products for their personal care to improve their beauty as these products supply the body with nutrients as they are devoid of synthetic chemicals and reported to have relatively fewer side effects. In the Eastern Cape Province, herbal cosmetic products are more frequently bought from herbal shops, but in a few cases, they are still prepared at home, especially those used for skin care. Despite enormous advertising campaigns for new and improved cosmetic products, Xhosa men and women still prefer to use certain traditional vegetable and mineral cosmetics (imbhola yesiXhosa) for beauty, health, well‑being, and as social status indicators in the Eastern Cape today”.

In the commercial beauty sector, there is a growing African beauty industry using indigenous botanical ingredients that nourish and replenish skin. The Business of Fashion recognised this genre of beauty, dubbed A-Beauty, in its feature about Suki Suki Naturals which uses African ingredients. Linda Gieskes-Mwamba who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and raised between Brussels and Johannesburg told the publication that she has created a line of oils, mists, creams and masks using ingredients like mongongo oil, baobab and shea butter, all of which can be sourced from plants on the African continent. “What these ingredients mean to me is a celebration of our biodiversity,” says Linda.

The term A-Beauty has been used as a catchall term to describe the African beauty industry. Though it is analogous to South Korea’s ‘K-Beauty’ in the sense that it is an abbreviation used to refer to beauty traditions that stem from a geographic location, Africa is a continent, made up of 54 diverse countries with their own unique traditions and ingredients. There are differing views on what constitutes A-Beauty, but the most consistent identifiers in recent years are African ingredients, African entrepreneurs and a truly global audience. – Ashley Okwuosa, BoF

For Denisha Anand, using African indigenous ingredients for Ori Organics means that her South African-made products spark conversations about “traditional medicine and their uses and how it was passed down via grandparents and elders. This circulation of knowledge is what means the most to me.”

The South African brand SKOON. which has aligned itself with the A-beauty movement includes the organic ingredients Rooibos, Buchu, Marula Oil, Baobab and Lesotho Rosehip Oil in its products. SKOON.’s CEO Thandi Mbulaheni, says, “The beauty rituals and methods that our forefathers and foremothers have been practicing for centuries have now formed the basis of our inspirations and formulations to bring people clean and kind beauty, but with the benefit of modern-day scientific refinements.”

So what are these indigenous and organic ingredients, and why are they beneficial? We took a closer look.


Referred to as the “tree of life”, the baobab holds significance in African culture – it has been a spiritual symbol in Senegalese and southern African cultures for as long as the trees have grown, according to Cultural Survival. Rich in fatty Omega-3’s, baobab oil is great for moisturising and repairing the skin. It is also an anti-inflammatory, reducing redness and irritation.

Lesotho Rosehip

Grown wild in the Mountain Kingdom region of Lesotho, rosehips are the fruit of a rosebush. Traditionally consumed raw or enjoyed as tea, rosehip is known for its disease fighting antioxidant properties. High in Vitamin C and A as well as fatty acids, which, when applied to the skin, can reduce and reverse sun damage, minimise appearance of wrinkles and treat moderate acne.

Shea Butter

Native to west Africa, shea butter is a nut fat that is rich with vitamins and fatty acids that have been used for centuries primarily for its moisturising properties. It can also reduce the appearance of fine lines with its collagen production booster compounds.

Aloe ferox

Aloe vera is no stranger to skincare, but its plant relative aloe ferox is less common, but equally beneficial plant. Aloe ferox has been used across various cultures to heal ailment, especially battle wounds. Through accelerating collagen producing cell reproduction, aloe ferox maintains skin strength and elasticity, ensuring your skin retains its youthful glow.


Indigenous to the miombo woodlands of southern Africa, the marula fruit is eaten in many cultures or fermented into an alcoholic beverage. Skin care formulated with marula extract or oil is beneficial for smoothing fine lines, preventing stretch marks and hydrating dry irritated skin. Because of its non-greasy and antimicrobial properties, marula oil can be effective for acne-prone skin.


This medicinal herb, native to South Africa’s western Cape, has been used for centuries to treat several health issues; however, has recently found its place in skincare. Buchu has been proven to effectively treat symptoms of Eczema due to its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.


This iconic tea is more than just a staple drink in South African homes; well known for its health benefits, Rooibos is also great for your skin. Being an antioxidant, rooibos protects your skin from free radical damage and prevents signs of premature ageing.

Kalahari melon seed oil

Native to southern Africa, the Kalahari melon fruit bears potent skincare benefits in its seeds. Kalahari melon seed oil is rich in linolenic acid, which is a natural facial cleanser that removes excess sebum and unclogs pores, leaving your skin fresh and clean, without drying out your skin.

In conclusion

Ori Organics’ Denisha says of her brand, “We take lessons from indigenous plants to help us slow down, be generous, practice community and live with and in harmony. Our healing products are created slowly and mindfully, ensuring that both the medicinal and esoteric properties of the ingredients are activated and made accessible to the user.”

Image: Supplied via SKOON. 

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