While the beauty-sphere seems to have something-for-everything, only a small percentage of brands holistically address the concerns of women of color, and Ustawi is one of them. The brand, created by former model Natacha Paugam, was created to fill a marketplace void that sometimes pigeon-holes or overlooks the concerns of women with melanin-rich skin.
Paugam wanted to create a line backed by dermatologists with ingredients sourced from African botanicals to provide a sensory skincare experience that works more than just solutions for melanin-specific concerns. Ahead, we talk to Paugam about her journey to building Ustawi and how her culture is at the center of her buzzy brand.
What is your background?
"I am a proud African, Angolan-Congolese woman, former Miss Congo, a mother, and model-entrepreneur. I know it's my responsibility to use my platform to impact those who don't feel seen, heard, or represented in the beauty world. I feel strongly about showing the world that melanin-rich skin is beautiful beyond measure."
What void did you see in the marketplace that drove you to launch Ustawi?
"I launched Ustawi because I suffered from hyperpigmentation and couldn't find solutions in stores, and I knew I had to be the answer to my problem. I traveled back home to Congo and explored the natural remedies that my mom always showed me as a child. Since they positively affected my skin, I decided to deepen my research by contacting scientists specializing in melanin-rich skin. Ultimately, I discovered cultural ingredients that can potentially change how we treat melanin skin."
What kinds of beauty rituals did you learn growing up?
"Skincare was always important to me as a child, and I loved looking up to my mother and seeing her find new ways to take care of her skin. She taught me about tchioko-biocko, a traditional steam spa that is practiced in different parts of Africa. It celebrates a spiritual connection between the energy of the earth, plants, herbs, and fruits given to us by Mother Nature.
"The goal is to heal body and mind energies, activate and enhance skin cell renewal, and boost radiance from the inside out. I love doing these healing baths with my mother. She prepares a unique herbal mixture by boiling plant roots and medicinal herbs together then adding them to the baths. My favorite plant to use for these rituals is Alchornea, loved for its anti-bacterial properties. As you soak in, it penetrates your body through steam. Every mixture of the plants used is tailored to your unique needs. You pray and dance before taking the bath to release stagnant energy and prepare your body and mind for the healing part of the journey."
Are any family recipes from Africa incorporated into the products?
"Back at home in Africa, people grew up believing that plants are natural medicine. My mother always knew the proper remedies for treating my skin. For example, she would use the leaves of dandelions and guava root powder for my blackheads. For a natural glow, she would mix a lotion made of lemon, orange pulp, and pineapple zest with baobab fruit pulp, which is a magical vitamin C boost straight from nature's hands.
"Because of this, I knew I wanted to use baobab in many of our formulas because of its high vitamin C concentration. My mom also loves licorice root, which we use in our products to target inflammation and reduce pigmentation. Thanks to the extraordinary team of scientists I work with, we were able to bring my motherland's knowledge and love for natural remedies to the labs and make Ustawi come to life."
What are the unique needs for melanin-rich skin tones, and how are the products formulated to target these issues?
"Melanin-rich skin is magic, but maintenance is required. Like myself, people with darker skin tones may experience larger pores or hyperpigmentation, for example. In addition, skin sensitivity from post-inflammatory scarring is common for women with darker complexions. With these differences in mind, my team hand-selected ingredients that adapt to the nuances of our unique skin types.
"Our products are rich in vitamin C, licorice, and African superfruits that cater to healing. One amazing product for this is our Bamboo Protective Mist, which traps pollutants on the surface and neutralizes skin oxidation and damage. We tested the mist on 30 subjects with melanin-rich skin, and we saw 92 % fewer pollution particles on the skin within eight weeks of use. To protect and heal the skin, we boosted our Dark Spot Corrector with a combination of a natural gum polymer with silica particles to trap pollutants and detoxify."
Is there a star Utaswi product that you recommend?
"Having acne-prone skin, I love the Niacinamide Dark Spot Corrector. Still, the Bamboo Water Protective Mist is my personal favorite because it helps protect my skin from accumulating pollutants and leaves behind a nice glow. It builds an invisible skin barrier to protect me from the environment, so I always put it on before leaving home.
"We believe in clean beauty at Ustawi, so we ensure that all our products are fragrance-free and free from parabens, sulfate, and mineral oils. Ustawi means 'well-being', but for me, it also means that 'health comes from the source.' I believe that skincare is part of self-care, and we should have clean, effective products to aid in that part."
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