Student explores rural economics of herbal cosmetics

Issued by North West University
North-West, May 16, 2019

Imagine having a skin problem, it could be a blemish, rash or an unsightly pimple. Now, imagine walking to your garden or a nearby forest to find plants to prepare a lotion or ointment rather than buying an expensive product.

As odd as this may sound, this is what many people have been doing for years, with some still doing it today. Herbal cosmetics have been part of our indigenous knowledge systems for years.

Even international cosmetics and cosmeceuticals companies are taking notice of its potential.

North-West University (NWU) student Tshepiso Ndlhovu went one step further by asking the question of whether herbal cosmetics have any socioeconomic impact on the lives of the women who know, use and sell it.

Ndlhovu, who is a master's student in indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) on the campus in Mahikeng, specifically investigated the socioeconomic impact of herbal cosmetics used by women in the Vhembe district.

He walked across 16 villages and spoke to 79 women about their knowledge of herbal-based cosmetics and cosmeceuticals. A third of these women said their economic situation was improved due to herbal cosmetics.

Ndlhovu also identified obstacles that kept others from realising profit. Participants frequently stated: "Vhavenda aba badale," which means the Vhavenda people do not pay. They believe it is difficult to profit from herbal-based cosmetics because of the lack of proper packaging and branding, and thus consumers are unwilling to pay.

Ndlhovu was able to identify 49 plants from 31 families that are used in herbal-based cosmetics and cosmeceuticals within the area. He also gathered a wealth of indigenous knowledge about these plants.

This enriching experience enabled Ndlhovu to earn his master's degree with distinction in IKS. At this stage, he has already published two papers in the South African Journal of Botany and presented his work at three conferences.

"The Indigenous Knowledge Systems Centre on the campus is looking forward to taking this research further and to collaborate with other departments," says Ndlhovu. "They want to do various studies to gain more understanding of the chemistry, pharmacology, botany and socio-cultural importance of these plants," he adds.