Cosmetics and beauty in Africa: Boom in traditional products, and how skin bleaching is unexpectedly driving innovation

Anti-ageing skin care for Africans tackles dark spots and uneven complexion, whereas those for Western women aim at tackling wrinkles first.

AN exploding population, a fast growing middle-class, increasing urbanisation and improved business regulation has made Africa the “next frontier” in cosmetics, and the major international players - L’Oreal, Procter & Gamble and Unilever - have developed expansion strategies to capture the beauty and personal care market in the continent, expected to be worth $13.2 billion in 2017.

The African beauty market is expected to double over the next decade, with a projected annual growth rate of 5-10% in the sales of beauty and personal care products.

In Africa, spending on cosmetics per capita is 10 to 20 times lower than in developed markets, according to market strategy consultants  Roland Berger, and marketers are increasingly eager to tap into this potential for future growth.

The biggest immediate opportunity, it seems, will be in the deodorant market, and Africa’s year-round warm – and humid, in some places – weather presents the perfect opportunity to push sales.

The use of deodorants is “not traditional” in most African markets due to low affordability, according to research firm Euromonitor, but demand is increasing. In Kenya, for example, sales of deodorants are expected to grow by 5% annually over the next decade.

Roll-ons are the “entry point” for most consumers starting to use fragrances, but even in markets that have a more entrenched deodorant culture, consumers adapt their habits according to their wallets, says Euromonitor.

In South Africa, for example, deodorant usage is a “daily grooming essential” for many urban South Africans who can afford the product. But South Africans tend to layer their deodorants, using roll-ons and sticks as a form of anti-perspirant and using deodorant sprays and fragrances as an added layer to provide fragrance that lasts for the entire day.

Nigerians, South Africans lead

The research firm says that in 2012, South Africa and Nigeria were the biggest personal care and beauty markets in the continent – valued at $3.4 billion and $2 billion respectively – but the growth story is increasingly pan-African.

Kenyans in particular, seem to respond to “natural” and “herbal” labels, according to Euromonitor - growing interest in natural products among consumers since 2012 saw manufacturers develop and enhance their products by including natural ingredients, such as shea butter, coconut oil, jojoba oil, neem and aloe vera, in their end products with an aim of tapping into their target market, the researchers say.

Local manufacturers of cosmetics are doing brisk business on the continent. In Nigeria, highly successful  House of Tara is looking to establish 100 makeup stores across sub-Saharan Africa, starting with Nigeria, in the next five years. 

Tara Durotoye, HOT’s founder and chief executive has built the 15-year business into a household name, which now runs 15 stores with over 4,000 independent sales reps. 

In Kenya, cosmetic start-up Suzie Beauty, started in 2012 by Suzie Wokabi, had made $178,000 in sales by the end of the first year of retailing in 2013.

Lately, Africans are also seeing a  resurgence of traditional cosmetics products. African Black Soap (also known as Dudu Osun) is a classic example of a traditional product enjoying a resurgence in popularity, due to its ability to clear skin spots and blemishes. 

Shea butter is also becoming a hot commodity in many African cities – in Nairobi for example, posters advertising “original shea butter from Ghana” abound in many local beauty parlours.

The World Health Organisation  reports that Africans are some of the highest users of skin bleaching products: 77% of Nigerian women use these products on a regular basis, followed by Togo with 59%; South Africa with 35%; and Mali 25%. 

Fixing what’s broken

But even here, there’s an unlikely opportunity: To deal with the adverse effects of bleaching products, innovative entrepreneurs like Ghana’s Grace Amey-Obeng of  Forever Clair Products have built successful businesses by providing products that help to treat and restore skin damaged by bleaching.

But international firms hoping to make a foray into the continent will have to adapt their lines to suit African conditions. In terms of make-up for example, African skin requires darker shades than make-up lines traditionally offer. Make-up also needs to be more resistant to hot and humid weather.

Caring for African skin also has to be tailor-made, as anti-ageing products for African consumers primarily aim at tackling dark spots and uneven complexion, whereas anti-ageing products for Western women aim at tackling wrinkles first.

And in terms of hair care, matters become more complicated since African hair strongly differs from Caucasian or Asian hair but also varies throughout the African continent itself. Quoted in the Roland Berger report, Jennifer Cromie, Unilever’s R&D category director for personal care in Africa, says “the biggest challenge for African women is getting a comb through their hair in the morning. That can be physically painful”.

And if that isn’t complicated enough, politics can also throw a spanner in the works. For example, Egyptian society associates well-groomed men with success and most men tend to be very well shaven. 

However, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood saw a  slow-down in the sales of razors, and men were taking fewer trips to the barber, as long beards for men were required by the Muslim Brotherhood. It was reported that after President Morsi and his Islamist government were deposed in June 2013 that the number of men shaving their beards increased significantly.

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