Andrew and Anna Mangeni found natural skincare the way a lot of people do. “We were making things for ourselves because our kids were allergic to so much,” Andrew says. Unable to find products that worked for their family’s needs and sensitivities, Andrew started playing with formulations of soaps, lotions, and hair care that only used completely non-reactive ingredients. Friends started asking for product. His sister, still in their native Uganda, did the same. “My sister and I started reading about herbs, natural things in our environment that are healing to the skin,” Andrew says. “The first thing she brought us was shea butter cream. I added essential oils to it.” Eventually, she launched her own beauty line and salon in Uganda. When Andrew and Anna saw how well she was doing with the things the family had been making in their garage, they decided to launch their own line in Rhode Island. Now, Nissi Naturals has a storefront in Pawtucket, selling their affordable, high-quality body and hair products.
At the store, Andrew makes over 50 soaps, in formulations designed to address specific skincare needs. There’s a shea butter bar with chamomile that parents love for calming babies at bath time; a turmeric marble bar with activated charcoal that reduces puffiness in the skin and helps fade dark spots and discoloration; and aloe soap for when you’ve been in the sun. A Moroccan clay shampoo bar cleanses the hair without stripping its natural oils. Watermelon soap – Andrew’s favorite – is a secret weapon against aging. “Watermelon rinds have more lycopene than tomatoes,” he says. “Freeze your watermelon rind and use it in place of ice cubes in your smoothie. People throw away the most important part.” I asked him for something to help with razor burn, my worst enemy in beach season, and he handed me a Gentleman’s Shaving & Shampoo Bar, made with coconut and olive oils, bentonite clay, and a blend of essential oils including tea tree. I’ve been using it in place of shaving cream, and I haven’t seen a single bump.
Nissi Naturals also carries face and body lotion, co-wash and leave-in conditioner, bath bombs, castile foaming hand soap, and body scrubs. A hair growth serum helps promote hair strength and restoration, especially after extreme stress from styling, like hair loss at the hairline from the stress of African braiding. Their shea butter is made with East African Shea, of which Uganda is the leading producer, which is regarded as the highest quality in the world. “It’s super moisturizing,” Andrew says. “A tiny bit goes a long way.”
Their top priority is using completely natural ingredients. “The target is making things that will not cause carcinogenic problems down the line,” Andrew says. “Before we use anything, we research first.” They use European standards in Uganda, and that’s what Andrew and Anna go by, rather than the looser restrictions on chemicals from the FDA. (If you want to chill yourself to the bone, do a quick search on how unrestricted the ingredient “fragrance” is in your favorite shampoo and lotion). “Our products are not made the same way,” Andrew says. “We have to educate people about why we’re different.”
I also tried their Imara Cleaning Conditioner, a super-potent co-wash that takes the place of shampoo and conditioner, depositing oils that leave curly hair moisturized, even out of the shower. “Our products are for all skin types and all hair types,” Andrew says. “People assume that we’re just for black people, but our products work on everyone.” Even more egalitarian is the price point: nothing in the store is over $20, which is important to Andrew and Anna. “Natural products are not just for the rich.”
548 Smithfield Avenue, Pawtucket • 642-0232