I didn’t start to pay attention to my skin until my early twenties. Growing up, I was more of a tomboy. I have four older brothers and I followed them around, I tried to dress like them, and I also tried to play rough like them. Though my mom wore makeup and had her beauty routines I saw it as “she's an adult and that’s what adults do”. I preferred to copy my brothers instead and that meant playing video games, listening to Tupac and Biggie, and sometimes even wrestling. I also went to an all-girls boarding school which was very strict, and we had to wear different uniforms for different times of the day. So, in my tweens and teenage years, I never really got exposed to the feminine predilections for makeup, skincare, and fashion.
In my early twenties, I made a conscious decision to have a more deliberate skincare routine. I started to pay more attention to the products I used, and I started to buy and explore more products. I switched to using natural bath soaps and facial scrubs (before I just used whatever smelled the best), I started to be more cognizant of how my skin looked and felt. I’m lucky that I’ve had it easy with my skin, but in 2019, I started having breakouts and then hyperpigmentation scarring from the breakouts. It was the first time it had happened to me and I was in a scramble as to what to do to treat my skin and get rid of the scars.
“As a Black woman, I see Ustawi as a brand created specifically for me and it makes me feel seen.”
As I started to test different products and buy and buy, and it made me feel overwhelmed and confused. I wouldn’t use a product long enough to see its effects before I switched to something else that someone told me, or I read was better. My skincare routine had been a leisure and fun activity, but after my breakouts, the stakes felt higher, and I delved into chaos. I didn’t have peace with myself on what I was putting on my skin. So, I did a drastic thing and decided to go back to the most basic natural ingredients for skin that my mum and grandmother used.
I am Nigerian and as a kid at maybe five or six, I remember my mum slathering me with palm kernel oil. It had a smokey and earthy smell and it came in a container that had no name or logo on it. It was made locally and was as natural as natural can get. That was what my mum used on my skin every day, but that memory of that particular day stuck with me. The oil smelled so nice, and I felt so relaxed as it was massaged into my skin. Even as a five-year-old it felt authentic, it felt correct, I felt at peace with what was happening to my skin. I guess you can say that was my first spa experience. As I got older, I started noticing bottles of cocoa butter pomade around the house, it was what everyone was using, and then I started to see bottles of coconut oil, show up on my mum's vanity. My mum had other name-brand products and fancy creams on her vanity, but these no-name bottles of coconut oil were the only ones being used. Everyone in the house preferred to use coconut oil. I remember once my mum coming out of the shower and sending me to go get “her coconut oil” from my brother's room. He had borrowed it and hadn’t returned it. Experiences like this ingrained in me that these oils were very important and highly sort after.
I always follow the philosophy of “when in doubt go for the most simple and proven route” and I apply it to many aspects of my life. In fashion, in design, and my skincare routine. When I can’t decide what to wear, I revert to blue jeans and a white T-shirt because that would work anytime, and I prefer minimal design for my projects. So, I knew I had to use skincare products that are natural, easy to understand, and proven to work.
Since I felt lost in my skincare journey, I decided to go back to what I had learned was authentic and effective as a kid: cocoa butter, coconut oil, and other natural oils. I decided to add my personal touch and did some DIY alchemy to create my formula. One part shea butter (I find raw shea butter is easier to find than raw cocoa butter), one part coconut oil, one-part black castor Jojoba oil, a dash of tea tree oil, and glycerin. I slather this all over my body after I shower just like my mum used to, and my skin feels supple afterward. It also leaves my skin so shiny that it’s almost reflective. Flatmates in the past have had a good laugh because of how shiny my skin would get and with good reason, but I don’t mind. After I moved to the United States, I noticed my skin would get very dry and flaky in the Fall and Winter. It was terrible and none of the products “made for dry skin” could keep the dryness at bay. My natural oil mixture saved me. I realized why everyone wanted my mum's coconut oil and I experienced first-hand why natural ingredients are very important for Black skin.
When I joined the Ustawi team, I marveled at how similar my story was to Natacha’s. I saw that she was creating a brand that was dedicated to Black women like me. As a Black woman, I see Ustawi as a brand created specifically for me and it makes me feel seen. Whenever I buy skincare products, I find the process tedious why? Because most products that come highly recommended or are branded as highly effective, usually do not work for Black or melanin-rich skin. You won’t believe how many times I have been excited to try a product with great reviews and I scroll through the reviews trying to find at least one Black person that said it worked for them and I come up disappointed. Black skin has different needs and what works for other skin types could end up having a placebo effect on Black skin or worse lead to breakouts, dryness, hyperpigmentation, etc.
“I experienced first-hand why natural ingredients are very important for Black skin.”
Ustawi creating products specifically for Black and Brown skin is so necessary. My second excitement came with Ustawi’s dedication to using natural ingredients that are sourced directly from Africa. It is such a groundbreaking and needed approach to making skincare products. Africa is rich in natural ingredients that mother earth has given us to nourish our skins. Whenever I visit my hometown in Nigeria, I see that my grandmother’s skin is always glowing and healthy. She’s never been to a spa in her life and has never taken any biotin vitamins or whatnot. All she uses are natural oils, all of which she gets locally. The evidence is so clear that these natural ingredients are great for Black skin and I’m happy someone is finally making it more accessible.
As the Community Manager for Ustawi, my job is to share, highlight, and educate Black and Brown skinned women on the message and brand of Ustawi. To have to do this for something I so intimately believe in makes my mission feel noble and of great importance.
Written by Jiji Ugboma.