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Hello! For those of you who don’t know about my background, I live in Malawi. A lot of people mistake it for the West African country, Mali — but it’s a small country in South East Africa. Most of the time when I try to explain this to people, I get blank stares haha.
I grew up in a city called Blantyre, and I was raised in a middle-class family. I have three siblings- a sister and two brothers.
When I was little, I loved getting my hair braided by my late aunt (picking the colorful beads was my favorite part!). And when I would visit my grandmother’s house, I liked following her into her garden to see what natural beauty ingredients she was going to use.
Fast forward to 2022, and I am still influenced by the beauty routines I witnessed when I was four. If you are curious about some of the beauty secrets I swear by, keep scrolling.
But before you learn about the beauty secrets, here are some facts about Malawi:
- Main language: Chichewa
- Formerly called: Nyasa Land (named by David Livingstone, a British Physician)
- Former British Colony: 1891- July 6, 1964
- Geological facts: Mulanje Mountain is the highest peak in Southern Africa. Lake Malawi is the sixth deepest lake in the world.
- Ten major tribes: Chewa, Nyanja, Lomwe, Yao, Tumbuka, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni, Ngonde, and the Lambya/Nyiha. (I am half Lomwe and Tumbuka).
Our Traditional Beauty Ingredients That Transform Our Skin
1. Nsansi – Castor Oil
Every beauty enthusiast is aware of castor oil. However, in Malawi, we call it “nsansi”. This vegetable oil was used in the early 1900s as a natural moisturizer by my great-grandmother and grandmother. Using this was the only way they could keep their skin hydrated because the country had no access to factory-made lotions.
To extract the castor oil, my grandmother would pick the seeds and crush them in a mphika (a clay pot). It was later on boiled to preserve the oil.
Since the fatty acids found in nsansi act as humectants, they helped to retain moisture by stopping water loss. This was essential to villagers as they were prone to dry skin due to long hours in the sun.
Castor oil was also slathered in their natural hair to make it soft and manageable!
2. Mdlomo – Soapy Plants
Bar soaps, shampoos, and shower gels did not exist in Malawi before the British arrived. My grandparents grew up using mdlomo (soapy plants) to bathe. They picked the leaves and crushed them into a paste. When the paste was put in water, it turned into a foamy solution.
The soap was perfect for delicate skin as it was non-irritating. Plus, it left their skin moisturized because it had non-drying properties.
3. Nthedza – Groundnuts
My grandmother always gets compliments from strangers about how soft and supple her skin looks – and the reason behind this is that she eats a lot of groundnuts.
Groundnuts are a staple in my family for anti-aging purposes. As some of you might know, most skin care brands use groundnuts in their anti-aging products. They are rich in Vitamin C, so it helps to keep the skin young by maintaining its elasticity. And, thanks to Vitamin E, fine lines and wrinkles are treated.
Some people use groundnuts in face masks; however, in Malawi, we eat them (but it is partially cooked before we snack on them). My grandmother grinds the groundnuts and puts them on Makala (charcoal) at low heat until they turn gold.
4. Bwemba – Tamarind
The Tamarind fruit grows in India, but it is also found in Africa.
My mom ate it a lot when growing up and still does. I, on the other hand, was not a fan of this fruit when I was little. I preferred candy over fruits but as I grew up, I started to prefer it over sugary treats.
The sweet and sour taste is delicious, and I love that it has so many health benefits for the skin. It is great if you want to prevent the formation of free radicals and dark-spot-free skin.
5. Malambe – Baobab
When my grandmother was growing up, she suffered from acne. So her way of dealing with it was with the oil from Baobab seeds. The oil contains anti-inflammatory ingredients like linoleic acid and omega 3-fatty acids that help with swelling and irritation.
She also uses it as an anti-aging ingredient. Because it has antioxidants, the baobab oil helps to preserve her collagen. It helps to keep her skin strong and glowy.
6. Masuku – Sugar Plum
We have a masuku tree (sugar plum tree) at our house, and my mother picks the fruit and makes juice. I am not a fan of the fruit because it’s very sweet and watery – but it has a lot of health benefits for younger-looking skin.
It is rich in vitamin C, which helps to improve the appearance of dull skin. Also, the fruit comes with Vitamin E and this helps to shield the skin from sun damage. Vitamin E also fights off free radicals to boost cell growth.
7. Siponji – Natural Sponge
Even though loofahs from the stores now exist in Malawi, my family prefers to use natural sponges to exfoliate. They are also popular around the country. It is impossible not to see vendors selling them in town.
I love that they are affordable, durable, and leave the skin very smooth.
8. Magalagadeya – Granadilla
Granadilla is more than a quick snack to have on a hot afternoon. It is great for minimizing the look of fine lines and wrinkles. This strikingly beautiful fruit contains Vitamin C and A which are perfect for retaining moisture to make the skin look youthful.
My grandmother has two granadilla trees in her garden. When they are in season she eats them during tea time.
9. Chinagwa — Casava
Casava skin is often used in my family as a disposable face towel because the peels act as a good face exfoliator.
When I gently rub it on my face for a few minutes, my textured skin improves. Plus, my pores get unclogged.
The Western Skincare Products We Like
When Malawi became a British colony and Indian business people settled in the country, western products like lotions and soaps started to pour in. This included:
Hamama soap is an all-time favorite product for my grandmother. It is packed with natural ingredients like aloe vera, neem, and tulsi which help to effectively remove skin impurities.
Ponds Facial Creams
In Malawi, women love Ponds, especially the Mattifying Day Cream. It became popular in the 80s and is still used today. This highly-loved product is used to give the face a smooth, matte finish.
The beauty secrets Malawians swear by are easy and organic ingredients that you will love adding to your beauty routine.
To elevate your beauty regimen even more, check out these five anti-aging products.