Though local may be the current buzzword when it comes to natural foods, personal care, and even supplements, beauty companies are increasingly turning to far-flung sources for ingredient inspiration.

Traditional African crops, rich in beautifying nutrients, are among the latest resources to be tapped for skin and hair care products. Unique physical benefits, plus fair-trade and sustainable practices, make these five ingredients outstanding in the field.


What it is: This antioxidant-rich oil is uniquely lightweight, so normal and dry skin almost immediately soak it up without greasy residue. That quality also makes it an excellent ingredient for restoring shine to hair without weighing it down. Baobab’s vitamin A and essential fatty acids (linoleic and alpha-linoleic) renew skin cells to restore vibrancy, and vitamin E acts as a stellar antioxidant. Finally, baobab contains omega-3, -6, and -9 fatty acids, which restore moisture to severely dry skin and reduce eczema and psoriasis.

Find it in: products for dry and damaged hair; moisturizers for normal-to-dry skin


What it is: Long used in South Africa to moisturize and protect skin from the sun, the oil from the watermelon seed, known in Africa as kalahari, is being incorporated into modern sun-protection products and may help repair skin after UV-ray exposure. Its linoleic, oleic, and palmitic essential fatty acids aid in retaining moisture, too.

Find it in: after-sun skin care products


What it is: Meet the next hot African butter to hit the natural skin and hair care scene. The mafura tree’s leaves, bark, and seeds have traditionally been prescribed to treat stomach ailments, and the oil has been shown to haveanti-inflammatory activity because of the presence of limonoids such as Trichilin A. In cosmetics, mafura seed oil and butter are combined into one ingredient that contains abundant fatty acids.

Find it in: skin moisturizers, hair conditioners


What it is: Sourced from the fruit of the African marula tree, the oil from the seed kernel is ideal for moisturizing skin because of its 75 percent oleic acid content and high amounts of palmitic acid, which serve to lock in moisture and create a protective barrier on skin. Fun fact: The fruit is also used to make beer and liqueur.

Find it in: skin care products for normal to oily skin


What it is: Cold-pressed oil from the mongongo nut contains high quantities of antiaging vitamin E, an antioxidant that regenerates skin and promotes a youthful look. Plus, a component called eleostearic acid forms a protective layer over hair fibers to maintain shiny, healthy locks. Bonus: Its zinc content makes mongongo a natural sun care ingredient.

Find it in: moisturizing lotions, pre-sun skin care, lip balms, shampoos, conditioners

Try these product picks

Africa Organics Mongongo Shampoo. This Eco-Cert organic-certified line of hair and body products features wild-harvested African ingredients including kalahari, mongongo, and baobab. Here, mongongo helps protect color-treated hair.

Alaffia Baobab & Shea Butter Skin Renewal Face Cream. Fair for Life certified, this antiaging skin cream taps several parts of baobab: the leaf for its skin-tightening and toning properties and the seed oil for deep moisturizing.

Shea Radiance Baobab Tree of Life Oil. In addition to baobab and shea, this ultranourishing oil incorporates marula to protect both skin and hair.