Desert Secrets – Scents from Namibia

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Scorching sun and endless serenity of space are embraced in invigorating aromas and sense-soothing nourishment

By Jana-Mari Smith

A lifelong passion for aromatic Namibian plants has led Sophia Snyman down a path of creativity and experimentation to produce 100% Namibian handmade and natural cosmetic products that are ideal for anyone wanting to spoil themselves, a friend, or their clients, and boast about Namibia in the process.

Sophia says she’s loved plants from an early age. The discovery that their properties can be transformed into natural perfumes and cosmetic products without using heavy, damaging chemicals in the process was a revelation. Experimentation aside, she says, it’s the creativity and fine-tuning of scents, soaps and lotions that awaken her passion and joy.

desert secrets sophia snyman commiphora cosmetics

100% Natural. 100% Namibian.

Through Desert Secrets, the business she launched a year ago, she hopes to convey a message to Namibians and people from abroad that Namibia has an eclectic range of plants that can be used as healthy alternatives in cosmetic products.

“I aim to use all available Namibian produced ingredients in my products, so Namibians can be proud. I want them to become aware of what we’re doing.”

One of the prime ingredients in her products is Namibian Myrrh, which is an essential oil distilled from the resin of the Commiphora wildii. This resin is harvested by Himba women in the north-west of Namibia. The Himba people are on of the last semi-nomadic desert dwelling groups in the world, and the commiphora myrhh has been used by them for generations as an ingredient in their perfume.

Namib myrhh

Namib myrhh

Sophia’s products include natural perfumes and body cosmetics such as lotions, lip balms and soaps, using oils extracted from the fruit of the marula tree, the seeds of the Tsamma (Kalahari melon), the resin from the omumbiri, Commiphora wildii, trees and shrubs, and the seeds of the mopane tree. The result is an attractive range of divine scents and body-care products that can take pride of place on anyone’s cosmetic shelf, and be the perfect gift for family members, friends and clients.

During the years that Sophia worked in the banking sector, she never let go of her passion for experimenting with aromatic substances. Two years ago she attended a workshop on essential oils in South Africa. This nudged her ever closer towards immersing herself completely into producing natural cosmetics.

Solid hand lotion.

Solid hand lotion.

In 2013 she took part in a competition launched by the Millennium Challenge Account on Namibian Indigenous Natural Products and walked away with one of the top prizes  for her innovative use of essential oils sourced from the omumbiri tree, Commiphora wildii, in north-western Namibia.

Fired on by this acknowledgment of her expertise, she climbed off the corporate ladder and dived full-time into her Desert Secrets project. Since then she has garnered recognition for her products, with orders coming in from around the country.

Original packaging, sourced from local entrepreneurs.

Original packaging, sourced from local entrepreneurs.

She currently works in a small studio at her house, but plans to find premises from where she can conduct her business on a more formal basis. Before the MCA competition, she says, her experimentation with essential and other local oils and scents was just a hobby.

But, fortunately for consumers and lovers of natural body products, she now has more time to fine-tune and experiment.

An important aspect of Sophia’s natural products is their attractive packaging. Especially striking is a hollowed-out makalani nut, into which solid perfume is moulded. The difficult job of hollowing out the nut and adding a small spring for its ‘lid’ to open is done by Angelika Eichas. The result – the perfume nut – is a quirky gift that showcases not only Namibia’s natural plant products, but also Namibian creativity, ensuring another delightful off-shoot of Desert Scents.

The makalani Perfume nut.

The makalani Perfume nut.

She also produces a bath soak, which evokes the serenity of the Namib Desert and depths of the Atlantic Ocean by the inclusion of sea salts sourced from Walvis Bay.

One of the reasons Sophia produces ‘solid’ perfumes and hand lotions is that this form requires less chemical preservatives. Despite its solid feel, the beeswax-based hand lotion easily rubs onto your hands, without rendering them sticky or oily. Perfect!

Bath soak.

Bath soak.

In addition to aromatic body-care products and perfumes, Sophia also produces insect repellants in a solid form that can be rubbed onto the body. During her research on natural products used in traditional ways by different African tribes, she stumbled onto the use of mopane oil in Zimbabwe as an effective mosquito repellent.

Her top favourite activity is making soap. “It is just so creative. You can play with so many different kinds of oils.”

Products still in the testing phase are shaving soap for men and a shampoo bar with Tsamma oil. Sophia is also investigating the extraction of essential oils from indigenous aromatic shrubs occurring in the far South Western part of the country. These plants include the curry bush, kapok bush wild mint and wild rosemary.

Desert Secrts use 100% natural ingredients that are equitably sourced from local Namibians. In this way Desert Secrets helps create employment and general income for rural Namibian communities.
Desert Secrets is committed to the preservation of Namibia's fragile environment. Sustainable practices in harvesting are ensured and priority is given to recycled and natural materials for packaging of all products.

For more information on products and pricing or to place an order, contact Sophia at

Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

1 Comment

  1. Hillary Morgan says:

    I am interested in purchasing some of the solid hand lotions. Please would Sophia email me with some prices.


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