‘New old ingredients’: Natural trend driving beauty to embrace Africa’s traditional oils

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

The cosmetics industry is seeing a rising appetite for traditional oils, says one supplier. [Getty Image]
The cosmetics industry is seeing a rising appetite for traditional oils, says one supplier. [Getty Image]

Related tags Oil Africa Personal care Japan

The cosmetics industry is seeing a rising appetite for traditional oils that have been used for centuries by Africa’s indigenous people as the demand for new, powerful, and efficacious natural ingredients booms.

Celmyon is a Japan-based supplier specialising in natural oils and butters, such as marula oil and baobab oil​. Over the pandemic, the company has doubled its business and is set to close another record year, said its president and CEO Mahamadou Tandia.

Speaking exclusively to us at in-cosmetics Asia 2022, Tandia explained that the business growth was driven by insatiable demand for natural ingredients. This need for naturality is pushing brand manufacturers to seek out alternatives to traditional oils like jojoba oil and argan oil.

“Everyone wants new stuff, but they also want things that have been used by locals for hundreds of years. So really, they are not new – it’s just new old ingredients. We know all the benefits about these ingredients but we’re now playing catch up,”​ said Tandia.

A UV-protecting oil

Among all the oils in its portfolio, baobab is the firm’s number one in terms of sales volume. On the other hand, marula oil is growing the fastest. It is also seeing high growth rates for its mongongo oil because of its unique properties.

“Mongongo oil has the capacity to absorb UV light and it’s traditionally used for hair care. For Africans who have black hair, you can kind of tell if that person has been outside in the sun a lot by the colour of their hair. Especially for kids who pass their time after school playing outside a lot, you can see their hair is not all black, but brown and sometimes blonde. That’s because of the UV rays and they use Mongongo oil to protect it.”

According to Tandia, the company has data to show that Mongongo oil can protect against UV rays and blue light. More interestingly, when it comes in contact with UV, it forms a film on the hair. “It literally forms a protective layer when the hair is under UV. It’s a natural film former.”

While Mongongo oil is by no means a new product in the firm’s portfolio, it is only starting to see it gaining traction in the industry. One of the biggest opportunities it sees for mongongo oil is in India’s hair care market.

“The Indian hair care market is huge and hair care in India is mostly oils. When we explained to our customers there, they got very excited and now we are selling huge quantities of the oil in India. We already sell it in Japan and now we’ve also started in Thailand,” ​said Tandia.

A rediscovery of oils

Tandia highlighted that beauty consumers are growing more receptive to using oils in beauty and personal care and starting to realise that it has active properties in addition to functional ones.

“All these new old oils are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and many things that are very beneficial to skin and hair. We just have to rediscover them and rethink the way we approach these oils”

With a new acceptance and growing appetite for oils, Celmyon is set to launch three more to its portfolio around May next year.

While there is no shortage of “new old oils”​ to bring to market, the challenge is backing up the anecdotal evidence with solid research, said Tandia.

“Before putting new oil on the market, it undergoes a battery of tests – stability, safety and once that’s done, we go for efficacy tests. We see if it’s an oil for skin or for hair, maybe its an oil that goes well with hair and skin.”

He concluded: “Most of the things we need are already in nature, we just have to rediscover them and put them on the table.”

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