Professional advice, specialised stores, and social media at the heart of Kenya’s burgeoning cosmetics market

Young urbanites from middle- and high-income households to the fore
A Sagaci Research survey conducted during 2019 with 800 women across urban and rural locations found that 22% of Kenyan women had used makeup/colour cosmetics during the four weeks prior to survey. Levels of makeup use were found to be comparable to those of fragrances (24%) and deodorants (31%) but much lower than body/skin care (80%) and hair care (53%).
Levels of makeup use were found to be highest among those aged 18-25 years and 26-35 years – with those in the latter cohort almost three times more likely than those aged 36-45 years to have used make-up during the previous four weeks, indicating something of a generation gap. Meanwhile, the use of makeup was found to be almost four times higher among women living in urban areas than among their rural counterparts.
Unsurprisingly, a strong positive correlation is evident between income and makeup use: Those with a monthly household income of USD500-USD999 were twice as likely to have used makeup as those with a monthly income of USD100-199. Broadly speaking, the use of makeup seems to increase significantly once monthly household income rises above USD200.
Make-up increasingly part of the daily routine
Among women who used makeup, 46% said they did so “every day or almost every day,” while 6% did so more than once a day. A further 27% said they used it “a few times a week” and 9% “at least once a week.” Makeup is increasingly becoming a part of the daily routine for many, rather than something limited to social events or special occasions.
How often do you use colour cosmetics/makeup (% of female respondents, makeup users only)
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Source: Sagaci Research
While makeup users from more affluent households are more likely to use cosmetics on a daily basis, this gap is actually fairly small: 50% of those with a high monthly household income said they used make-up “every day or almost every day,” compared with 41% of those with a low income.
With formal employment opportunities scarce in Kenya, particularly for women, this may partly reflect economic pressure – they may feel obliged to look their best in order to enhance their career prospects, even if they have to stretch their budgets to do so.
Social media a key growth driver
Social media has been a significant factor in driving demand. According to Sagaci Research survey data, 29% of Kenyan women use social media more than once a day, with a further 53% doing so “every day or almost every day.” Those aged 26-35 years are the most likely to use social media several times a day.
This surge in social media use has gone hand-in-hand with the proliferation of “beauty influencers.” For example, Kenyan YouTubers Rosina Sharan and Joanna Kinuthia have both been posting videos about makeup and skin care (such as product reviews and tutorials) for several years, and both now have more than 100,000 subscribers. They also have significant Instagram followings, and Kinuthia has even launched her own make-up brand (Johanna K Cosmetics).
Shoppers value professional advice and are wary of counterfeit products
When it comes to shopping for cosmetics, specialist cosmetics stores, such as Best Lady, Super Cosmetics, Lintons Beauty World, and Madora, are the clear market leader (selected by 44% of makeup users), well ahead of supermarket chains (27%). This suggests that women shopping for makeup value professional advice and being able to sample a product prior to purchase.
Where did you make your last purchase of colour cosmetics/makeup (% of female respondents, makeup users only)
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Source: Sagaci Research
The widespread availability of counterfeit products in the Kenyan cosmetics market remains problematic. This is an issue the government is trying to tackle, but this has caused its own difficulties: Earlier this year, local media reported that shipments of cosmetics that would normally take less than three weeks to clear customs were taking up to three months as the authorities cracked down on counterfeit products and tax evasion. This resulted in severe shortages of some popular brands.
Partly as a result of this lack of consumer trust, internet retail does not yet pose a significant threat to bricks-and-mortar players in this segment. Jumia, the largest player in Kenyan e-commerce, largely confines itself to selling ancillary products like make-up brushes, rather than makeup itself.
Specialised retailers flourish
A desire for professional advice is fuelling the growth of specialised beauty retail chains. Chief among these is Linton’s Beauty World, which currently operates ten outlets, most of which are to be found in Nairobi malls. While international cosmetics brands largely ignored the Kenyan markets for many years, this is now changing. There are currently four MAC stores in Nairobi, in addition to three Yves Rocher outlets.
In a 2014 interview, Joyce Gikunda, founder of Linton’s Beauty World, spoke of the long campaign she waged to bring MAC to Africa: “They [Estée Lauder, the owner of MAC] kept telling us they were not ready for Africa. When an office was opened in Dubai, I flew there to plead my case, but they were still not ready. When they opened an office in South Africa, we pursued them again, and finally the dream came true.”
Specialists set for further growth
Young women with modest to moderate amounts of discretionary income are likely to continue to drive growth in the Kenyan cosmetics market, with social media the key channel for them to educate themselves, find inspiration, and engage with brands. Meanwhile, the number of specialised retail outlets will continue to grow as more international brands take an interest in the local market.