Hubert Burda Media

Beauty from the Depths of the Amazon

Anna Ayers, co-founder of the popular Rahua beauty brand, recalls venturing into the Amazon, meeting its tribal people and coming away with friendships and knowledge to share with the outside world.

Though Wonder Woman, once the princess of a race of Amazonian warrior women, will be delivering a super-heroic dose of feminism to cinemas this summer, it seems a little farfetched for empowerment to spring from the depths of the South American jungle. Fabian Lliguin and Anna Ayers, husband and wife founders of the Rahua brand of skin and hair-care products, however, have been working with the women of more than 50 families in the heart of Peruvian Amazon, close to the border with Ecuador, to do just that.

Rich in Omega 9, Rahua oil is the central ingredient in the brand’s formulations, and its fortifying and shine-inducing effect on hair was discovered by stylist and colourist Lliguin when he began to split his time between his New York salon and the Amazon rainforest, where he was involved in conservation work, in the late 1990s. Lliguin and Ayers quickly harnessed the oil’s penetrating properties to develop an all-natural, fair-trade hair-care range that targets each hair follicle and improves hair elasticity and strength.

“Lliguin ended up in the Amazon after more frequent trips to Ecuador,” says Ayers. “He met someone in the forest who shares his last name, which is a rare Incan name, and felt very connected, so he started doing specific environmental work in the area, which also happens to have the largest concentration of indigenous people still living according to traditional ways in the middle of the forest.

“It’s an amazing thing that people live this way, and they have incredible knowledge. We’d go there often. My husband goes around four or five times a year. On our last trip, in February, we took our two-year-old daughter with us because we wanted her to meet the children and the people she’ll be working with in the future.”

Harvested in small batches, the rare ungurahua nut, from which Rahua oil is derived, is a crucial part of tribal life in the region, and men eat the nuts’ purple meal to boost energy before they go hunting. The nut’s oil is also used in cooking and to repair skin damage.

As well as the magical oil, Lliguin and Ayers have incorporated other Amazonian ingredients into their extensive Rahua range, including sacha inchi (considered the peanut of the Amazon) in their shower gel, palo santo in their body lotion, and guava sugar and carnauba wax in their fantastic Rahua Enchanted Island Salt Spray, which has low alcohol content to prevent hair dryness.

This summer, the brand is tackling the tricky beast that is coloured hair with its Rahua Color Full range.

“Color Full is specifically designed to preserve and give longevity to colour-treated hair,” says Ayers. “We use the Rahua oil because the fine molecules push the coloured pigmentation deep into the strands, so it gives the colour staying power. And then we’re also using a new ingredient, Amazonian lilac clay, which is visible in the colour of the formula, filling in the hair’s porosity and slowing colour change. All shades go through change. This slows that down.”

Making Rahua oil is no easy task, and the process of extracting just a little over one pot takes roughly one month. As respectful guests of the tribe, and feeling a responsibility to help preserve their time-honoured traditions, Lliguin and Ayers pay each family above the market rate for the oil they produce, ensuring a sustainable economy and a brighter future for the tribe.

“Earlier in this work, a lot of the younger generation wanted to leave,” Ayers says with a gleam of satisfaction in her eyes. “They wanted to go out to the modern world, they wanted sneakers, they wanted cell-phones, they wanted that world. But now, partly because of this work and the pride they have in doing this work, they want to stay. They’re really proud of their culture and they now see the importance of being there.”