Atlas of Beauty

Oklahoma born, globally informed, Nyakio unites global beauty traditions into a modern luxury line.

story by Sarah James

Nyakio Kamoche Grieco vividly recalls summers spent in Kenya with her family, a long journey from her Oklahoma home. A first-generation American of Kenyan descent, Nyakio (pronounced Neh-kay-oh) belongs to a family populated by medicine men, farmers, and educators. She spent many of those summers soaking up rituals and traditions from her grandmother, a coffee farmer.

Her favorite memory entails her grandmother crushing lush, antioxidant-rich coffee beans—can you just smell it now?—and then rubbing them onto the body with a piece of sugarcane, revealing softer, smoother skin. A captivating ritual, no doubt.

Nyakio was raised in Norman, where her father was Professor of African Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Yet the sights, smells, secrets and teachings passed down through her Kenyan family proved to be incredibly influential, too, instilling in the American girl a deep love for global beauty and culture.

Upon graduating from OU with a degree in Business Marketing, Nyakio moved to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment industry. Still, that lifelong passion for beauty simmered within her. Nyakio began culling indigenous ingredients and wisdom from friends and family around the world. Yearning to be an entrepreneur, she began researching the cosmetics industry and noticed that, while many cultures were represented, the sophistication of Africa was missing. Nyakio wanted to fill that gap by honoring her rich family heritage, and those across Asia, Europe and India.

“I had an amazing childhood being raised in Oklahoma,” she said. “I am so grateful to the teachers, mentors, friends and family that shaped my confidence and ability to follow my dreams. Oklahoma is a very special place, full of genuine, driven, generous, and kind-hearted souls.”

Still, her grandmother’s beauty regime would not leave Nyakio’s mind, and eventually became the first product in the new Nyakio skincare line, carried at Ulta stores nationwide.

When approaching the concept of skincare, Nyakio has unwavering commitment to using natural and ethically sourced ingredients, stating “natural is not a trend...natural has been around for thousands of years.” I couldn’t agree more. I’ve devoted years to researching and educating folks on the importance of clean beauty, as well as working in tandem with many natural beauty brands. I spent the past few months getting to know her products—and by “getting to know,” I mean sniffing, slathering, massaging, patting, and studying my skin ad nauseum.

The Nyakio skincare line is comprised of 16 products, ranging from effective yet gentle exfoliators and cleansers to restorative oils, all made using indigenous techniques and without sulfates, phthalates, parabens, mineral oil, petrolatum, formaldehyde, or butylene glycol.

The line is lovely, indeed. From the ingredients to the packaging to the performance, the products evoke a worldly and luxurious vibe. Companies from all around the world send me clean beauty products, and I recommend my favorites on my blog and social media (whoorl.com and @whoorl). So Territory asked me to share my favorites from this line.

The Marula and Neroli Brightening Oil is truly special. Prized by Mozambique locals for its moisturizing properties, Marula Oil is a lightweight, yet extremely hydrating moisturizer that I’ve personally used for years. However, combined with the brightening properties of Neroli, primarily produced in Tunisia and Morocco, this particular cold-pressed blend is powerful and its fragrance intoxicating. The Manketti & Mafura Anti-Aging Oil uses varietals long favored by Kalahari Desert dwellers in Zambia. Manketti is rich in vitamins E and C, and Mafura is high in essential fatty acids.

The Kenyan Coffee Face Polish and Lip Polish are both absolute winners in my book—it’s no surprise that exfoliated skin glows like no other, and the face polish doesn’t disappoint, leaving my skin looking radiant, smooth, and well-rested. Also, as we are entering the driest and coldest months, lips take an extra beating. The combination of the Kenyan Coffee Lip Polish and the Baobab Moisturizing Lip Balm is a must. (Planning on busting out a dramatic red lip this holiday season? You must prep those lips!)

The one product that will take residence in my vanity for years to come (also Nyakio’s must-have) is the Tamanu Firming Face Balm--oh, my goodness. Known as “green gold,” Tamanu Oil is highly coveted in India for helping to create seemingly ageless skin, and also can be used on the décolleté and other areas of the body needing extra care. Packed with antioxidants and fatty acids, this anti-inflammatory blend is superb for creating supple skin. The consistency of the product is a firm balm, but once it meets the warmth of the skin, it becomes a silky, highly moisturizing oil that smells earthy, nutty, and irresistible. I would happily inhale the scent of this particular product all day, every day.

After learning a bit more about the work of this impressive Oklahoma native, it’s easy to see why Nyakio felt so inspired by ancient, natural beauty regimens.

Sarah James is an Oklahoma City native and internationally recognized clean-beauty expert and blogger at whoorl.com. @whoorl.