Throughout mankind’s history, civilizations have always used the produce of the earth to make medicines and cosmetics. The Ancient Egyptians, Aztecs, Greeks and many others helped pave the way for the cosmetics of today.Cleopatra herself experimented with bathing in asses’ milk.
Not only has the path led us to artificial ingredients such as isopropyl myristate, cetrimonium chloride and even methylchloroisothiazolinone, but it has also kept alive the use of natural ingredients which often prove superior to their synthetic clones. For example, shampoos containing jojoba, pomegranate, aloe vera and hundreds of other combinations of fruits and flowers still fill the shelves of supermarkets across the globe.
The supermarket isn’t the only place to find foods for skins and beauty. The Stilton Cheese Makers Association (SCMA) in the UK has concocted a “fruity and earthy” cheese based perfume named ‘Eau de Stilton’. Not to be out done by the British, a brewery from the Czech Republic called Chodovar offers beer massages designed to increase blood circulation and encourage heart activity, all the while bathing your skin in protein and vitamin B to promote skin regeneration.
But although some companies appear to have taken their ideas too far, others have their feet firmly on the ground. In 2003, commercial behemoths Nestle and L’Oreal formed a branch called Inneov, which develops cosmetics with foods. Other brands, including Chanel and Estee Lauder, have also developed food based cosmetics which regularly retail for over $35 (nearly Sh3000) including a tanning lotion from white lily extract.
Clairol’s Herbal Essences has likewise drawn on fruits and flowers as ingredients for over a decade, appealing to consumers’ desire to be bathed in exotic fruits from tropical lands with a broad range of natural ingredients including pineapples, coconuts, and oranges.
All of these products are applied directly in the form of lotions and soaps, but others may be eaten instead. The market known as nutricosmetics was valued at around $1 billion in 2006 by Kline and Company, and predicted to have doubled by 2011.
Nutricosmetics involves manufacturing foods and drinks with properties that support skin growth and regeneration. The food ingredients are often similar to those used in cosmetics, including the so-called ‘Superfruits’, like strawberries, which contain anti-oxidants to burn excess fats and reduce signs of aging. Vitamin C is also sought after for its similar properties to anti-oxidants and for its role in maintaining the immune system.
Brands often claim the individual fruits used in their cosmetics will have different health benefits to the consumer; nutrient rich almonds will strengthen hair, pomegranate is used to fight dandruff, teas (especially green tea) will protect and repair skin, which is why it is used in sun lotions and for cancer patients who’ve undergone chemotherapy.
More locally, Uganda’s Nilcota Shea butter “is the purest cosmetic you can use on your skin” claims the Northern Uganda Shea Processors Association (NUSPA), and, among other things, will reduce fine lines and wrinkles and promote healing of minor wounds, burns and abrasions.
For Kenya, which exports 450,000 tonnes of horticultural produce a year to European markets, the fruits, vegetables and flowers it dispatches are the very ingredients that many cosmetic companies are importing, including avocados, mangos, pineapples.
But produce which isn’t so commonly exported, including guava, grapefruit, and coconut, is also in demand from companies such as Unilever and L’Oreal.
For many agropreneurs now entering the Kenyan market, however, the greatest opportunity lies not in selling produce whole for the nutrition industry, but in processing it in Kenya, extracting the zests and oils to add value and achieve greater profits locally from the rising interest of the cosmetics industry in foods.
By Andrew Taylor
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