Have Super Dry Skin? This Canadian Skincare Company Is Here to Help
The founder of Ellie Bianca talks to us about the magic of shea butter and how the brand supports women around the world
This story is part of Best Health’s Preservation series, which spotlights wellness businesses and practices rooted in culture, community and history.
Evelyne Nyairo was born in a rural village in Kisii, Kenya, to a clan called House of Wealth—one whose legacy inspires her entrepreneurial spirit. At 16, Nyairo immigrated to Canada on her own, studied environmental sciences with a major in chemistry and biology, and eventually started her own engineering company. In 2012, during a business trip to the Republic of Chad, Nyairo noticed women making a special shea porridge, one that is served at weddings, funerals and other special occasions. Nyairo was intrigued by the ingredient and later, she learned about shea’s beauty benefits.
“[Shea] is something that our grandmothers and great grandmothers, particularly in West Africa, used and continue to use,” says Nyairo. “Being in Chad and asking [for moisturizer], right away shea is what comes out. It’s an identity, it’s an iconic ingredient—when you think of African [ingredients] in the beauty industry, shea is number one.”
Back in Calgary, Nyairo began researching shea and was inspired to develop a socially conscious and environmentally friendly skin care line around it. She named the brand Ellie Bianca after her daughter and launched it in 2015. Today, Ellie Bianca has a roster of 34 products, and shea features prominently in most of them—the brand’s logo represents an open shea nut.
The densely branched shea tree thrives in the dry climate of West Africa’s savanna belt and bears green fruit that are shaped like plums. Shea butter comes from the tree’s nut that is nestled within the fruit. It contains stearic, oleic and linoleic acids—moisturizing fatty acids that are rapidly absorbed by the skin—and vitamins A and E, which have antioxidant properties. Shea butter can also act as an antifungal and anti-inflammatory agent, and it promotes cell regeneration, among other skincare benefits.
One of Nyairo’s favourite Ellie Bianca products is the hydrating Naked Face Oil, which can also be used as a cleanser and makeup remover. Another one of her picks, the recently launched Body Lotion, uses raw shea and is the perfect antidote to harsh hand sanitizer and lots of hand washing—the lotion moisturizes skin without making it greasy.
An important pillar of the Ellie Bianca brand is supporting the well-being, agency and equitable treatment of women around the world through economic opportunities. The company offers scholarships to single mothers in Canada pursuing their education, and sources shea ethically from co-ops in Chad. Making shea in co-operatives brings women together—it’s a therapeutic experience where they can share their stories. “There’s that complexity around who we are as women, there’s some smooth areas and some rough areas, but altogether we work to preserve something and I feel like that’s what the shea fruit does,” says Nyairo. “It preserves that precious butter that is right in the middle.”
This story is part of Best Health’s Preservation series, which spotlights wellness businesses and practices rooted in culture, community and history. Read more from this series here:
Meet Sisters Sage, an Indigenous Wellness Brand Reclaiming Smudging
This Canadian Soap Brand is Rooted in Korean Bathhouse Culture
This Soap Brand Is Sharing the Healing Power of Inuit Tradition
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