For Ghanaian Women, Beauty Is A Mix Of Shea & Glossier

I spent seven months exploring the beauty industry in Ghana — and the dynamic women who are driving it forward.

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Even though I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, I have always been immersed in Ghanaian culture. As a child, my mum would bring back natural shea from each of her visits to Ghana and melt it down in the kitchen to make body creams for our whole family. Now, that same Ghanaian shea butter is the key ingredient in my own natural skincare and wellness brand, Hanahana Beauty.
Just like my mother, I wanted to source our ingredients from Ghana. So four months after launching my company in 2017, I took my first trip back to Africa to meet the women in the Katariga Women’s Cooperative who make our shea. Going back to Ghana that summer was life changing. I learned about the tradition of making shea, but discovered even more about myself. Being in Ghana gave me a sense of freedom that I’ve never fully felt in the United States: freedom from the anxieties that naturally come with being a black woman in America. I was immersed in a community where people looked like me and spoke my native Twi language. In that space, I was most myself.
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A year and a half later, I decided to spend seven months in Ghana. It was important to me to build stronger relationships with the cooperatives we source from, as well as learn about skin-care and beauty trends in Accra, the capital of Ghana. The one thing I continued to see, from the mango sellers near the Accra sport stadium to my own family in the Kwahu mountains, is that Ghanaian beauty is so natural and effortless.
I came to Ghana with a bag full of my favourite oils (rosehip and jojoba) and enough Glossier lip gloss to last my entire trip. But three months in, I found myself solely depending on locally sourced beauty products. I slathered baobab oil on my face in the morning; I made my own body lotions using local oils and shea butter; I visited the small oil shops of Tamale for my essential oils; and I ventured through the Makola and Nima markets for my rose water, charcoal, and Moringa powder.
My beauty routine became more simple and natural — although I still used my Glossier products to the very last drop — and my skin looked the best it ever has. During my time living in Ghana, I sought to discover how other Ghanaian women experience beauty. I discovered that, like me, many Ghanaian women still rely on shea butter as the base of their skincare routines. However, they've combined that tradition with modern beauty practices. In some ways, it's reminiscent of Ghana as a whole: The people respect the sanctity of tradition (for instance, many women still make their own custom shea butter mixes), but the next generation is more transient, bringing in new ways of thought from all over the world. I am proud to be a part of a group of women who are building a beauty community in Accra. Read more of their stories, ahead.
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The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Naafia Naah is a creative artist specialising in set and retail design, photography, and videography. She’s currently living in Berlin and travels back to her home in Accra frequently.
Photographed by Abena Boamah-Acheampong.
What was your relationship with beauty like growing up?
“I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I was 17, but I still did. When I was 16, I started using mascara and lip gloss — not foundation or anything. I used to wipe my face with a tissue before I entered the house so I wouldn't get into trouble.”
When you think of Ghanaian beauty, what do you think of?
"Bodies moisturised with shea butter, a naturally glowing face, and natural hair. More and more Ghanaian women are wearing their natural hair with confidence, and I love to see this because our crown is magic. I grew up in a traditional household where people are proud of their roots. In my work, you will find women without makeup, with their natural hair, and some African elements. The beauty of my ancestors and our culture connects me with my creativity."
Are there any Ghanaian beauty rituals that you practice?
"I don't do much with my skin. My mum always taught me to just wash it with black soap and Sapo [an exfoliating net] and to let it breathe without any body or face lotion when I go to bed."
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Maame Adjei

Maame Adjei is an actress, producer, and entrepreneur from Ghana. Six years ago, she moved back to Accra after living in Philadelphia.
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Photographed by Abena Boamah-Acheampong.
What is your first beauty memory?
“I had my hair permed for the first time when I was five years old. I was so young. For a lot of my life, when I think of hair, I think of pain. From an early age, I realised the importance of appearance.”
What do you associate with Ghanaian beauty?
“I think of something that is of the Earth, something that is naturally gorgeous. It's not in the conventional way, but in a way that makes you ask the question, ‘Where did you come from?’ It’s unfortunate that a lot of Ghanaians don’t see that beauty in themselves.”
Are there any Ghanaian beauty rituals that you practice?
“The first thing I think about is shea butter. I remember a friend in high school telling me that she didn’t like my smell, but that’s all my mother let us use. I was so annoyed with my mother, but she was like, ‘No, it’s good for you.' My mother was an herbalist, so I grew up in a household where we were kind of forced into a natural lifestyle.”
What are your favourite products?
“When it comes to skin care, I would say 80% of the products I use are not readily accessible in Ghana. For my skin, I use Cetaphil and Bioderma. I also use fresh aloe for a face cleanser. For makeup, I love MAC lipstick, and I tend to stick with darker colours.”
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Amaarae (neé Ama Serwah Genfi) is a singer, songwriter, producer, and sound engineer. She moved back to Accra a couple years ago to focus on her music, but she also spends time in London and America.
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Photographed by Abena Boamah-Acheampong.
What was your relationship with beauty like growing up?
“I was always taught to take care of myself and my skin as a kid — I think that’s just the thing with African mothers; I always saw my mother doing her monthly facials. But I don't think I really understood beauty until the second time I cut all my hair off. That’s when I realised what beauty was for me: It isn’t about appearance, but more about confidence.”
What do you associate with Ghanaian beauty?
“I think about Nzema and Ashanti women [two ethnic groups that are native to Ghana]. I think about our distinct features, our skin that makes us beautiful. I think about the traditions that are associated with beauty.”
What’s your daily beauty routine, and what are your favourite products?
“I honestly don’t like to wear a lot of makeup, but I love Fenty Beauty Gloss Balm and foundation. The brand is phenomenal, from the packaging to the actual quality of products. My other go-to product that I’ve used forever is Makola coconut oil. I use it on my skin right out of the shower.”
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Okoh is the founder of SO Aesthetic, a makeup brand based in Accra. She moved back to Ghana after studying in Leicester, England.
Photographed by Abena Boamah-Acheampong.
What was your first beauty memory?
"I remember the first time my auntie put some makeup on me. I was 18, and I was like, 'Oh my god.' It just gave me this amazing confidence, because it covered all my blemishes."
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Are there any Ghanaian beauty rituals that you practice?
"Growing up, my mum and grandmother taught me to use shea butter. I hated the smell, but it made my skin feel so good. At that time, I undervalued it, but I value it now and still use it."
Where do you get your beauty products?
"Unfortunately, a lot of people are bringing fake products to Ghana. People want the brand but don’t want to spend money, so that's why there are a lot of fake brands in this system. Personally, I’m really into a simple routine, because I’m a mom of three. My go-to products are our So Aesthetic foundation, blotting powder, lip gloss, and brow powder."

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