Kenyans spend Sh5bn to look beautiful

Anthony Omuya | NATION
A male client gets a pedicure at DASH and DASH Salon and Barber Shop, Veteran House, on Moi Avenue. Men spend about Sh120 million a month on grooming.

What you need to know:

  • Since the late 1990s, grooming products have become as essential as food in many households

There was a time when beauty was said to be in the eye of the beholder. But these days, thanks to a booming beauty industry, beauty now lies in the purse of she–or he–who can afford a vast array of beauty products.

Recent research shows that Kenyans spend an estimated Sh5 billion a month buying beauty products. These include baby care products, bath and shower products, cosmetics, deodorants, fragrances, oral care as well as skin care products.

And experts note that this amount is bound to increase.

From a relatively small industry that attracted few investors in the past, the local beauty and grooming business has grown by leaps and bounds to become one of the major sources of income not only for business owners but for the taxman as well.


According to research on local expenditure on beauty products commissioned by Swedish cosmetics company Oriflame, which recently entered the local market, Kenyans spend almost Sh500 million on hair care products a month and another Sh500 million on skin care.

Hair care products and fragrances account for the bulk of the beauty industry’s billions.

“Since the late 1990s there has been some kind of grooming awakening that has seen many Kenyans factoring beauty into their monthly budgets. It is not an item of luxury but rather of necessity and of need,” says Oriflame’s marketing director Harry Njagi.

Large amounts of money change hands in the beauty industry with most of it coming from those consumers who spend relatively small amounts several times a month, the Oriflame study notes.

“The interesting thing with beauty is that you can look good with whatever amount of money you are comfortable,” says Eunice Mueni, 31, a salon employee in Nairobi’s Zimmermann estate.

“For instance, for Sh5 you can get a sachet of a beauty cream that can be used thrice.”

At the salon where she works, a blow-dry costs Sh70, while the same can cost upwards of Sh1,000 at high-end establishments.

“At the end of it all, both ladies look good, and no one can tell the difference between the two,” she says.

Mercy Wanjiku, 26, a university student who works part-time at a cyber cafe in Rongai, admits she spends about 50 per cent of her income on her hair, make-up and nails.

“Of the Sh14,000 I earn a month about Sh2,000 goes to cuticle and nail care products, but I save on pedicures and manicures by doing my nails at home. I also go to a cheap salon in Rongai but regularly buy hair extensions and hair treatments from Nairobi’s River Road. I find myself getting several perfume refills a week as I like to change the way I smell. I also buy different colours of eye liner, eye shadow, foundation and lipstick to match my clothes. In total, these cost about Sh5,000 a month,” she says.

According to Consumers’ Federation of Kenya (Cofek) secretary-general Steve Mutoro, beauty products and care take up an average of 15 per cent of household budgets.

“And, in some instances, this is at the expense of essentials such as food and transport, particularly among the young and unmarried,” he says.

Oriflame also found that men spend about Sh120 million a month on grooming products.

“The increase in revenue at my salons can be directly attributed to an increased fashion sense among men,” says Rose Murunga, the proprietor of the Princess chain of salons.

“Although men do not control a huge chunk of the total expenditure, their contribution cannot be neglected.”

Mrs Murunga says 25 per cent of her clientele is male.

“When I started off in this business, men never used to come in for any procedure, but now they come in for manicures, pedicures and massages as well as facials,” she says.

Ms Mueni has also noticed an increase in the number of men visiting her salon.

“They have become more conscious of their appearance. They want to know the kind of aftershave the barber will apply or the kind of shaving cream used. A few years ago, all that mattered was that the shave was close enough,” she says.

Another indicator that shows how important the beauty industry has become is the growing number of beauty schools.

“Almost every major salon has with it a training institution ensuring a steady supply of manpower,” says salon owner Agnes Maina.

However, the biggest piece of the beauty pie goes to the manufacturers and importers.