Makeup has long been a staple in African societies. Pre-colonial Nigeria employed cosmetics to enhance and highlight certain body features, from kohl eye paints to lip stains. However, integrating Western culture into the preexisting Nigerian culture led to more nuanced perceptions of makeup. While Nigerians have become more willing to experiment with products, many beauty brands have not been easily accessible. In turn, this sparked the rise of Nigerian makeup brands.
Nigerian makeup brands have solidly established themselves in the beauty scene and, simultaneously, smashed biases. The Nigerian cosmetics industry is valued at $3.4 billion. "Gone are the days when we did not have anyone representing us," Yanga Beauty founder Jennifer Uloko says. “At The Makeup Fair, a West African beauty trade show, 90% of the makeup brands that are up for exhibition are Nigerian brands. In 2011, it was the other way around: foreign brands were more present than Nigerian brands.”
The Evolution of Nigerian Makeup Brands
Nigerian makeup brands are quintessential to the country's beauty landscape and have evolved to meet the needs of today's consumers. When discussing the progression of makeup brands in Nigeria, it is imperative to give House of Tara credit. Founded by Tara Fela Durotoye in 1998, House of Tara is one of the first brands to rise to prominence. With over 227 products, 23 stores, 14 beauty schools, and 10,000 representatives around Africa, House of Tara has cemented itself as a powerful makeup dynasty. "One of the things I appreciate about House of Tara is their originality and authenticity," celebrity makeup artist Joy Agu says. "They have been in the market for so long, and keep thinking of new ways to deliver fresh [products]."
Durotoye's brand has paved the way for Nigerian makeup entrepreneurs, with dozens of inclusive and innovative brands now available. "I think Nigerian makeup brands are doing well, and they have improved greatly in recent times," Nigerian beauty influencer and makeup artist Onaopepo says. "When Nigerian brands started making foundations, they had three dominant shades: one very light shade with a yellow undertone, a medium shade with a red undertone, and a dark shade with a purplish undertone. Recently, many Nigerian brands have expanded shade ranges to accommodate different skin tones and undertones."
Nuban Beauty, founded by Lagos-based medical laboratory scientist and makeup artist Stella Ndekile, is a prime example of a premium brand that considers all shades. "One reason for starting Nuban Beauty was the need to close the shade range gap for women of African descent," Ndekile explains. "The entire research and development process was interesting and time-consuming because we had to go beyond the popular Nigerian skin tones during product formulation. But, we had a very satisfactory outcome, and our customers love that they can find unique shades in our products."
The Challenges Nigerian Makeup Brands Face
With knock-offs saturating the market, many consumers have developed an understandable feeling of apprehension about purchasing beauty products in Nigeria. "I have sensitive skin, so I have to be wary of the things that I apply to my face," makeup artist and owner of Brushes and Beauty Sarah Umeje says. "Buying makeup from foreign brands is a huge struggle because most times, they don't ship to Nigeria, and it's difficult to tell the fake from the original. You can go to an open market and see a M.A.C foundation for 500 nairas; walk in a 'chic' makeup store and see the same product for 10,000 naira, except they're both fakes."
Despite this, beauty brands led by Nigerian founders have established trust with consumers. "With Nigerian brands, it's super easy," Umeje adds. "You can walk into their stores or order directly from their websites and have your goods delivered to you within a few days."
While Nigerian makeup brands have historically been more reliable, they still face hurdles. Dealing with current economic crises and local manufacturing issues remains challenging. Inflation and the lack of infrastructure to support local entrepreneurs force brands to outsource production and endure rigorous, pricy shipping procedures. Uloko notes, "Regardless of the economic condition, the Nigerian beauty industry does not compromise quality. Everyone still wants to look their best. People would rather have a great product sold in smaller quantities than a subpar product sold in larger ones."
In addition to logistical issues, some consumers feel Nigerian brands could adopt more inclusive marketing strategies. Beauty influencer Kohh maintains that Nigerian brands rarely court micro-influencers, opting to engage with major celebrities instead. "Nigerian brands have stepped up," he says. "But they barely work with budding influencers, and in cases where they do, they still don't repost the pictures or offer as much attention." He also says there is a dragging reluctance to accept male makeup artists.
However, to Kohh's initial point, newer brands, like Beauty by AD (which launched in 2016), have prioritized working with micro-influencers. Founder Adeola Chizoba Adeyemi believes it is "instrumental to the general growth of makeup in Nigeria."
The Nigerian beauty industry is accelerating, and all signs indicate this boom is continuing. Africa's overall beauty and personal care market are expected to grow by 1.26 billion by 2025, according to TechNavio. With makeup having once been a scarcely-chartered territory in Nigeria, entrepreneurs now have a prime opportunity to launch brands and products that push the beauty industry forward. Their collective efforts have the power to push back against the unfair stereotypes that Nigeria has traditionally been typecast in. Needless to say, it's exciting to see what's next for brands like House of Tara, Nuban Beauty, Yanga Beauty, and Beauty by AD.