The launch of a new marula oil cosmetic and skin care range by The Body Shop
signals a shift towards native African species
Undoubtedly one of the fastest growing sectors in the global skin care market is in
natural, organic and Fair Trade cosmetics which is predicted to reach a staggering 80% in
the next year. Prompted by consumer lifestyle decisions that increasingly reject synthetic
and chemical ingredients in favour of natural alternatives, so-called “ethical” consumers
demand cosmetics that are Fairly Traded, aren’t tested on animals and don’t harm the
With more information available to consumers through increased media attention, as well
as the assurance given by Fair Trade and organic certification, consumers are able to
make more discerning decisions about their cosmetics and skin care products. It is not
enough to put a few well-chosen phrases on the packaging. Consumers want to know the
true story behind a product’s manufacture, and see through any shallow attempts at
A key opportunity of the growth in the South African market for green and ethical
cosmetics is the potential for products and ingredients derived from indigenous African
plants. Researchers have long acknowledged the wealth of traditional knowledge
surrounding African plants and their historical uses for medicinal and cosmetic purposes.
Recently, there has been a concerted effort by the scientific community to substantiate the
efficacy of these plants. The results, in many cases, have been remarkable.
The marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea), found in abundance throughout the lowveld is
probably most famous as an ingredient in one of South Africa’s most successful alcoholic
beverages. Ethnobotanists in Namibia noted that the oil from its seed kernels, in addition
to being a popular local culinary oil, was traditionally used to preserve meat in areas
where refrigeration is not an option. Surmising that this must be a result of its ability to
slow the oxidation process, they began exploring its anti-oxidant properties. Sure enough,
they found it to be one of the most stable oils that contained powerful antioxidants.
PhytoTrade Africa, the Southern African Natural Products Trade Association, together
with their French partner, Aldivia, supplies cosmetics companies with the worlds only
ethically traded and Organic marula oil that conforms to both international standards and
their own rigorous auditing procedure: the Ubuntu NaturalTM standard. Ubuntu marula oil
is unique because Aldivia’s green lipid chemistry maintains the oxidative stability and
antioxidant properties of virgin oil, while maintaining stringent microbiological and
toxicological quality specifications required for effective skin care formulations. Now
this unique African marula oil is being incorporated into anti-ageing skin care products
by international cosmetics companies such as The Body Shop. Consumers can be sure
that new and effective ingredients from Africa can be ethically sound and
This is, of course, reflects the unique opportunity that is offered to South African
cosmetics and skin care companies who may have previously forfeited their competitive
advantage through seeking to emulate European ingredients, formulations and products.
Indeed, while the South African market for green and ethical cosmetics is at present
embryonic, the “trickle-down” effect of the mainstreaming of this market segment
overseas is already evident locally. Not only are there a proliferation of South African
products branded as “natural” and “organic”, but supermarket chains and department
stores are also picking up on the trend.
It may have started as a small niche, but the market for ethical natural skin care is set to
grow and grow. For both African producers, and for African consumers, this is good
For more information on Ubuntu NaturalTM marula oil contact Lynette Hauselmann of
Cosmetichem firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit PhytoTrade Africa’s website on
www.phytotradeafrica.com. PhytoTrade Africa is a Section 21 Company (Association
Incorporated Not For Gain).