Business Categories Reports Podcasts Events Awards Webinars
Contact My Account About

Inside Africa's Global Shea Butter Phenomenon

Published May 2, 2024
Published May 2, 2024
Sincerely Media via Unsplash

Shea butter, once a very indigenous staple in African beauty traditions and households, has evolved into a powerhouse ingredient in the global skincare industry. Across countries like Ghana, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso, women have meticulously processed this beauty ingredient from handpicked nuts felled off the shea tree, harnessing the natural properties it possesses to protect and beautify their skin, body, and hair. The butter is extracted from the nuts through a process that involves crushing, roasting, grinding, and finally boiling to obtain the rich, creamy substance. This butter contains properties that are perfect for deep moisturizing, soothing and calming, enhanced collagen production, and even natural UV protection—all leaving the skin thick, rich, and lush. Its journey from remote parts of Africa to the top shelves of beauty retailers worldwide is a testament to its versatility and market penetration prowess.

Take the case of Hanahana Beauty, a Black-owned beauty brand that’s made well over $2 million in total sales, founded by Ghanaian-American Abena Boamah-Acheampong. Since its inception in 2022, the company has raised more than $400,000 in funding through venture capital and angel investors. The Hanahana brand has shea butter as its hero product, ships the raw ingredients all the way from Tamale in Ghana, and is stocked in over 500 Ulta beauty stores worldwide.

Success stories like this have spread across African founders who recognized the untapped market potential of shea butter and capitalized on its natural benefits.  Shalom Lloyd, the British-Nigerian who works with the B Corp–certified Naturally Tiwa Skincare and JE Oils, contributed in building a factory on 18 acres of land in Niger state, Nigeria, and another in Gwagwalada in Abuja, Nigeria, which has over 400 metric tons production capacity. “All the shea butter we use are sourced ethically from either of these two factories,” Lloyd tells BeautyMatter, “and our customers are able to pick up a jar of our products, and trace the main ingredients back to the source by scanning the QR code,” she continues. Naturally Tiwa Skincare currently buys up to 10 metric tons per year, and sells from 500kg up to 3 metric tons. JE Oils has a capacity of up to 400 metric tons per year.

Brands like Aviela Skincare are leveraging their cultural knowledge, expertise, and personal experiences, and are formulating a range of skincare products—from luxurious body butters to rejuvenating hand creams—atering to the growing demand for natural and ethically sourced beauty solutions due to its many benefits and anti-inflammatory properties. “When we first started, there were probably not up to 10 founders,” Patricia Monney, the Ghanaian UK-based entrepreneur, says to BeautyMatter. “Right now, we can count over 53 founders in the UK [who sell shea butter],” she continues. Aviela Skincare’s range of shea products are now widely distributed across Whole Foods Market stores in the UK, and has suppliers moving their products across stores in Ireland and Dubai.

In recent times, the beauty industry has witnessed a paradigm shift towards natural and ethically sourced ingredients. In a report, the Centre for the Promotion of Imports notes that “Due to consumer interest in environmental and social issues, natural ingredients are becoming a highly desirable component of cosmetics.” Statista also reports that the revenue in the "Natural Cosmetics" segment of the beauty & personal care market in the United Kingdom is forecast to continuously increase between 2024 and 2028 by £49.3 million GBP (+24.04 percent). This shift, coupled with growing consumer awareness of the benefits of traditional remedies, has propelled indigenous ingredients like shea butter into the spotlight, with African beauty brands and entrepreneurs seizing this opportunity to showcase its efficacy through a range of innovative products.

However, it wasn't just about creating great products; it was about strategically positioning the ingredient in the global market, and that also means working with suppliers, and/or forging partnerships and collaborations to gain access to lucrative markets in Europe and America. Sommalife, a sustainability-focused organization based in Ghana, is currently championing a revolution for smallholder shea producers. They have connected over 90,000 producers within their network to international markets, and are resourcing them to become agents of environmental conservation. “We work in all the five regions of Northern Ghana and the 50 districts within this region,” Abena Siaw Kyeremeh, business developer at Sommalife, tells BeautyMatter, “and over the years, we have increased the income of these smallholder farmers by 22%, and have protected over 27,000 trees spanning across 1,500 acres in 60 shea parklands,” Kyeremeh continues.

Sommalife also provides access to digital tools for manufacturers and consumers to track their impact through their proprietary software, TreeSyt. By teaming up with established distributors, agents, and retailers, they were able to secure working opportunities with beauty brands, elevating the status of shea butter from a local commodity to a global phenomenon. The diaspora market, in particular, has been a key focus for African beauty brands. Moreover, the advent of e-commerce platforms provided a game-changing opportunity for African beauty brands to expand their reach beyond borders. Establishing accounts on major online marketplaces like Amazon, Shopify, and eBay are enabling these founders to tap into the vast consumer base of the African diaspora, who sought to reconnect with their roots through authentic skincare products.

The success of shea butter in the global beauty industry can be attributed to its exceptional moisturizing and rejuvenating properties. Packed with vitamins and essential fatty acids, shea butter not only nourishes the skin but also helps to improve its elasticity and texture, making it a highly sought-after ingredient in skincare formulations. Innovation has also played a significant role in the globalization of shea butter. African beauty brands have continuously pushed the boundaries of product development, incorporating exotic botanical extracts and aromatic essential oils to create bespoke skincare offerings that cater to diverse consumer preferences.


2 Article(s) Remaining

Subscribe today for full access