Beauty is More Than Skin Deep: Phyto Afriq and Marula Oil are giving back

African women have been celebrated from time immemorial for their youthful complexion and strong hair. What is the secret? Health and beauty brands have noticed this, seeking to tap into the natural resources of the Continent with philanthropic-entrepreneurial possibilities. Here are two great brands – Phyto Afriq and Marula Oil – doing well and doing good: harnessing healthy organic products, giving back, and tying it all together by advancing African entrepreneurship.

Phyto Afriq

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The Cape Town-based skin care company Phyto Afriq harvests the Cape Floral Region. The Floristic Region also happens to be the smallest of the six recognized floral kingdoms of the world, rife with plant biodiversity. The region is home to over 9,000 plant species, and over 69% of them are only indigenous to South Africa. This gives the Mother City a great and organic entrepreneurial advantage. Paramount to Phyto Afriq is that their products are grown in and harvested from their own natural indigenous environments. “They are exposed to the natural terroir, climatic soil, and environmental conditions of their historically native cape region in South Africa,” says their Instagram.

The business model of Phyto Afriq is as intriguing as it is empowering. The purpose of the brand is promoting and preserving South Africa’s indigenous plant kingdom, while also providing for the local economy. “Inherently tied to the plant kingdom are the people behind the plants, the indigenous rural entrepreneurs of South Africa, and their financial and social independence built around the wildcrafting, harvesting, and care of plants in their region,” says the blog. Small scale sustainable resources are favored, and the plants are all hand-harvested.

Three botanicals are involved in much of the Phyto Afriq product line. Buchu, a superherb, is an anti-inflammatory, known for reducing free radical damage, and has been used in the treatment of psoriasis and eczema. Found in Western South Africa, it is also said to reduce – when ingested – urinary tract infection.

Aloe Ferox (Cape Aloe, Aloe Ferox Mill) is perhaps the most popular harvested plant in South Africa. It is, further, a fascinating and feisty plant – ferox means fierce -- that can live up to 150 years. Aloe Ferox is famous for its skin-tightening properties. “Its naturally occurring gel has unique actives that help form a sheer veil over the skin with protective, soothing and regenerative properties that effectively ‘lock’ in hydration, minerals and nutritional actives,” mentioned on the product website.

Pelargonium is extracted from Rose Geranium. Rose Geranium, another plant utilized by Phyto Afriq facial product wing, is from the Cape Floral Region and primarily used for aromatherapy as a mood uplifter and stress reliever. It is also known as an anti-inflammatory as well as a balancer for oily and dry skins.

Marula Pure Beauty Oil

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Marula oil has been a huge beauty trend for a few years now. The youthful skin of African women has been connected to the Marula tree for ages. Archaeological evidence puts Marula into confluence with the human diet at around 10,000 BC. "With a 60% higher antioxidant level, Pure Marula Facial Oil is far more powerful than the leading Argan Oil at fighting the free radicals that cause premature skin aging” according to Marula.com

Full of fatty acids as well as vitamins A and E, the plant has major antimicrobial properties. Marula Oil, based across the continent, particularly Tsonga, Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Madagascar, provides Fair Trade wages to the fruit collectors. The company’s goal, much like Phyto Afriq, is to provide a sustainable lifeline for African women and their families. Dr. Ashton Kaidi, who co-founded the company, is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. “After positive independent lab testing he ran his own clinical study on post-surgery breast cancer patients” says the site.

The nutrient dense Marula tree, which is considered sacred, has many medicinal purposes coming from its fruit, nut, leaf and bark. The bones, muscles and particularly the skin have traditionally benefited from the application of Marula. The tree is of the Anacardiaceae family, which includes mango and pistachio. The exceptional barren root storage system of the Marula tree allows for its strange properties as it only needs an astonishingly small amount of water to prosper. Further, the bark is particularly high in Vitamin C, iodine, and protein.

The secret is out of the bag. While Marula nuts are no longer the best-kept secret of South Africa, Pure Marula Facial Oil has done more than most organizations in empowering South African rural farmers, and advancing entrepreneurship. "Women across Africa and Madagascar work in partnership with Marula Pure Beauty Oil to wild harvest the fallen marula fruit, hand crack the nuts and carefully select only the purest blonde kernels to be cold pressed for Pure Marula Oil. With the proceeds that they earn, these industrious women feed, clothe and educate their children. Marula Pure Beauty Oil subsidizes the families’ earnings, building day care centers and schools in key areas. These proud women are empowered as business women and are a driving force in the success of their communities" reads the Behind the Brand page. Marula also provides hair care products.