Theo Mothoa-Frendo. Picture: SUPPLIED
Theo Mothoa-Frendo. Picture: SUPPLIED

The woman known as the doctor of melanin-rich skin, Theo Mothoa-Frendo, is in constant pursuit of the perfect glow.

"I’ve always been obsessed about skin care and healthy skin. I’ve used most of the brands on the market," she says.

One morning, Mothoa-Frendo looked at her bathroom shelf and thought: "How is it possible that one person can own so many skin-care brands, and how is it that so many of my skin-care brands are foreign?"

After a series of disappointments with international brands, Mothoa-Frendo took matters into her own hands, founding Uso — African Dermal Science, a luxe skin-care brand developed specifically for darker skin tones.

Mothoa-Frendo, who had spent 10 years as a medical director for sub-Saharan Africa for pharmaceutical firm Roche, developed Uso while studying towards an MBA at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg.

Uso, a word that translates loosely to "face" in Swahili, was launched last November, but it is the outcome of three years of research and development.

Mothoa-Frendo launched the brand with a pop-up shop during a one-week platform installation in Sandton City. "We had a skin-bar where women could come in for skin consultations with qualified skin therapists and that was open to everyone," she says.

"The skin-care industry in SA is dominated by multinationals. Over 80% of our market share belongs to foreign firms, when over 80% of our women and their users are black."

Unilever is the leading player in skin care, with a 21% share of the market in 2016, according to market intelligence firm Euromonitor. The company’s largest segment is body-care products, where it has a 35% market share through brands such as Dawn, Vaseline Intensive Care, Lux and Dove.

In building its own brand, Uso partnered with a cosmetic scientist to develop its ingredients.

"Our focus is on understanding women’s needs and taking those needs and concerns and translating them into science," says Mothoa-Frendo. "The ingredients were tested using clinical trials.

"We had a panel of black SA women test the product and, based on the feedback, we would go back and reformulate [the product]."

Uso, which sells its products online, hopes to launch a retail platform to take its products to consumers. Mothoa-Frendo’s previous experience in sub-Saharan Africa also makes expansion outside SA an attractive proposition.

"Us melanin-rich women are not just in SA and I have an interest in ... the rest of Africa.

"I’ve spent a number of years working in sub-Saharan Africa, so we are definitely taking the product to other markets within the continent," she says.

Uso sells to customers in neighbouring countries through its online store, but Mothoa-Frendo plans to extend that by entering sub-Saharan markets more formally.