Business Categories Reports Podcasts Events Awards Webinars
Contact My Account About

Organic Beauty Takes Center Stage in Africa as Campaign Against Skin-Whitening Products Begins

Published March 14, 2024
Published March 14, 2024
Lucas Gouvêa via Unsplash

Many African countries are clamping down against the importation of skin-whitening beauty products, and this is causing a surge in the demand for homegrown products. Figures by The World Bank show that in 2022, the merchandise importation market for Sub-Saharan Africa is capped at $479 million. In 2021, World Integrated Trade Solution recorded that Sub-Saharan Africa had a total imports of $305 million. The two years, in comparison, signifies a significant growth in the importation market in Africa, with imported goods ranging from food and minerals to clothings and cosmetics.

In Africa, countries like South Africa are famed for importing beauty and cosmetics products. According to Volza, the importation of cosmetics in South Africa is carried out by 224 South Africa importers and 160 suppliers. Mordor Intelligence records that the South African cosmetics and personal care products market size is expected to grow from $3.35 billion in 2023 to  $4.19 billion by 2028, at a CAGR of 4.62% during the forecast period (2023-2028).

In tapping into this market, beauty juggernauts from the Global North, including L’Oréal , Unilever, Beiersdorf AG, Natura & Co,  Estée Lauder Companies Inc., Drunk Elephant, and many more, have launched in South Africa, with leading e-tailers like Superbalist and physical retailers like Beautique and Zahaa Beauty. Nigeria is also higher up in the chain, as the beauty and personal care market could reach €6 billion ($6.5 billion) by 2030, while others like Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Cameroon are following suit. According to World Stop Export, between 2021 and 2022, Morocco imported $119,092,000 worth of cosmetics (up by 9.6%), Namibia $35,031,000 (up by 4.2%), Tunisia $33,425,000 (up by 19.1%), and Zimbabwe $33,173,000 (up by 241.2%).

While these numbers show an impressive space that the continent is a hotbed for revenue generation through the importation of beauty and cosmetics products, there’s due resistance. In recent years, the African beauty industry has undergone a transformative shift, with several of its nations taking bold steps to protect their citizens from the potential hazards posed by harmful bleaching products contained in these cosmetics. In 2017, there was a ban against the importation of such products, imposed by Ghana’s Food and Drug Authority (FDA). In 2023, the Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control, NAFDAC, declared an emergency on skin bleaching, following a ban it made in 2021 against the importation of cosmetics products containing skin-whitening properties. South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, and South Sudan, are some of the countries that have taken these decisive steps to cut down the importation.

Africa is a continent rich in diversity, and this diversity is mirrored in its beauty traditions. The beauty industry in Africa has a long history rooted in cultural practices and local remedies. From natural oils to indigenous herbs, the continent boasts a wealth of resources that have been harnessed for centuries to enhance skin health and radiance. “Africa sits on so much heritage, and that makes it have many [skin-friendly] natural ingredients that can be used to make products like shea butter, for example,” Tanya Rupani, luxury brand consultant, says to BeautyMatter.

However, influences like the projection of certain beauty standards, have exacerbated the prevalence of harmful bleaching products such as hydroquinone, mercury, and steroids and have posed challenges to the preservation of these authentic beauty practices. In recognizing the need to protect the well-being of their citizens, several African countries have implemented stringent measures against the importation and use of these harmful skin-bleaching products.

In 2022, cosmetics dealers in Kpone and Tema—two popular cities in Ghana—went on the news to discuss the side effects of skin bleaching. “Bleaching has been a huge concern for Africans,” Rupani says, “and I think the clamping down by the government is a very impressive and positive step towards promoting very healthy and more inclusive beauty standards,” she continues.

As earlier mentioned, harmful bleaching products often contain a cocktail of toxic substances. Prolonged use of these ingredients has been linked to a myriad of health issues, including skin cancer, kidney damage, and severe skin disorders. Although the skin-whitening industry was projected to reach $23 billion by 2020, the African government is turning it down. “This makes it possible for the huge potential of the African beauty industry to develop into a powerful force for empowerment and self-acceptance, as the beauty industry grows into several billions of dollars,” Rupani shares.

“Bleaching has been a huge concern for Africans, and I think the clamping down by the government is a very impressive and positive step towards promoting very healthy and more inclusive beauty standards.”
By Tanya Rupani, luxury brand consultant

As a result of these regulatory measures, a new wave of homegrown beauty brands has emerged, capitalizing on the demand for safe and natural products. According to Statista, the revenue in the natural cosmetics market in Africa is projected to reach $1.11 billion in 2024, with an anticipated market that will experience an annual growth rate of 7.64% (CAGR 2024-2028). These brands often harness locally sourced ingredients, aligning with the rich cultural heritage of the continent. The shift towards these products presents a lucrative opportunity for entrepreneurs, fostering economic growth within the beauty industry.

The stringent measures against harmful bleaching products come with a set of advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, consumer safety is prioritized, leading to healthier communities. Additionally, the rise of homegrown brands promote economic empowerment and foster a sense of pride in authentic African beauty, allowing founders of the homegrown brands to build a customer base that are very much in touch with natural products. “Our customers are individuals that appreciate the beauty of authentic African skincare rituals and those that seek high-quality natural care products,” Hadrat Abolade, founder of Amila Naturals, says to BeautyMatter.

However, challenges arise in the enforcement of these regulations, as illicit trade and substandard products continue to permeate the market. Also, the registration and legalization of these homegrown brands and products with their local regulatory bodies may be too difficult to navigate, or too expensive to legalize, especially for the newer and nascent brands. This is making these young homegrown brands explore other options like registering in a neighboring African country, as that could be done at much more affordable price. Recently, Ifeoma C. Kamalu of Aku Organics tweeted “literally canceled all of my plans to do NAFDAC registration for my business and expand to Nigeria [because] they said I should bring $10,000 per SKU.” Aku Organics is registered with the FDA in Ghana, and for a much less amount.

For businesses operating in the beauty sector, this shift necessitates a reevaluation of product offerings and marketing strategies. For brands like Amila Naturals, which offer products that are crafted to be inclusive and suitable for various skin types, they also recognize that many of their clients are faced with challenges finding bespoke products that are unique to the dry or eczema prone skin, and therefore create products that are tailored to such. Brands that prioritize transparency, sustainability, and cultural authenticity are likely to resonate more with the discerning African consumer.

The clampdown against harmful bleaching products in African countries represents a pivotal moment for the beauty industry. While the regulatory measures aim to safeguard public health, they also create avenues for economic growth and the elevation of authentic African beauty. As the industry adapts to these changes, businesses that embrace and celebrate the diverse beauty traditions of the continent are poised to thrive in this evolving landscape.


2 Article(s) Remaining

Subscribe today for full access