Skin & Tonics : Skincare Guides & Product Reviews

Skincare guides & product reviews for hydration lovers & the moisture barrier obsessed

Interview with Tammie Umbel, Creator of Shea Terra Organics

My love for Shea Terra Organics is extremely visible to anyone who has ever been inside my house  – my bathroom is consistently peppered with the brand’s products, and Shea Terra’s cleansers and oils are mainstays in my skincare routine, even when I am testing other lines. Shea Terra Organics is a skincare company dedicated to sharing the rare, indigenous, healing ingredients of African countries with the world, while bringing income and awareness to remote communities that might otherwise be destroyed. My devotion to the brand doesn’t end with the product line though – I’ve had a fascination with Tammie Umbel, the mind behind Shea Terra Organics, ever since I discovered Shea Terra back in 2011. In addition to Tammie’s website bio, which is intriguing on its own, I’ve also enjoyed scores of photos over the years from her African travels and ingredient scouting missions, which are sometimes shared through the company’s social media channels.


Tammie Umbel, Creator of Shea Terra Organics

Tammie Umbel, creator of Shea Terra Organics


I am ecstatic to have had the opportunity to do this interview with Tammie Umbel. She covers a multitude of topics ranging from her creative process, her dedication to the communities she’s helping to preserve, to details about the skincare routine that gives her such a luminous glow.  Here’s what Tammie had to say:

What inspired you to create Shea Terra Organics?

I have a natural knack for business. When I was a little girl I made a promise to one day create jobs for people in third world countries. I didn’t understand why organizations spent so much to feed people but never talked about job creation. I was also fascinated by international cultures, languages and traditions. I loved wildlife and understood the importance of preserving habitats. When it came time to create a company for my expanding family I knew just what to do – create sustainable jobs by sharing traditional beauty secrets.


What are Shea Terra Organics’ all time best sellers?

Although we started out by selling the highest quality shea butter formulas, our top sellers for the past few years have been our Moroccan Argan Oil (when we started selling it ten years ago we could barely sell a bottle), the African Black Soap Collection, Madagascar Tamanu Oil and our Moroccan Rose Water products.


Moroccan Argan Oil


How do you go about discovering new ingredients? What qualities does an ingredient need to have for it to pique your interest?

In addition to my trips which I scour open bazaars in search of beauty secrets, I also have a large network of suppliers throughout Africa. I work with women’s cooperatives, community projects, university projects and wildlife conservation groups to identify local indigenous ingredients that are sustainable. In order to pique my interest an ingredient must be unique, mostly indigenous to a particular region, used by locals for skincare issues, and marketable.


What factors go into your decision to create a new product?

I don’t create a typical skincare line. Instead of saying, “now I need to make a toner,” “now I need to develop a SPF cream,” or “papaya masks are really hot, I need to develop one,” it is the rare ingredients themselves that inspire the products that I create.


What is a typical day like for you?

Tackling one challenge after another. Trying to keep 100% of our customers happy, happy, happy. I work from my home office during the day while I homeschool. I go out for a late lunch and then do factory inspections in the late afternoon. Back at home I write business materials, answer emails and work on marketing plans with our retailers.


What is your current skincare routine?

Our Rose Hips Black Soap Face Wash made with real African black soap is a daily must. I can’t live without the soap. It keeps my skin clear and wrinkle free. I follow this up with one of our African oils like Argan & Rose Serum. Once a week or so I use one of our Moroccan Lava Clay masks.


Shea Terra Black Rose Hips Soap


You lead such an interesting life – when you were young, is this what you dreamed you’d be doing now?

It is sort of what I thought I would be doing. I wanted to join the Peace Corp so I could make a difference in third world countries. I also wanted to create jobs for people who had no way of supporting themselves.


Are there any new products in the works right now? Can we get some hints about what they might be?

I always have new products in the works. There are many hidden beauty gems still to be discovered. And there are new environmental and community projects popping up which are really exciting. I do have some new oils and serums coming out, they are relatively unknown outside of Africa.


What are you looking forward to?

I am looking for increased retailership of Shea Terra Organics. I am also looking forward to several of these new projects starting up to provide the world with amazing beauty secrets that will help sustain communities and conservation efforts.


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Are you a Shea Terra Organics fan? If you’ve been interested in discovering this skincare line, you can purchase products through the Shea Terra Organics website. My personal recommendations include the Argan, Zafron & Camel’s Milk Brightening Lait Cre’me (read my full review here), Argan Oil, Baobob Oil, Rose Hips Black Soap Facial Wash, Moroccan Lava & Camel’s Milk Softening Nomad’s Secret Facial Masque, and the Cape Aloe Topical Healing Gel. If you sign up for the email newsletter, you’ll receive a big 30% coupon code every month, which is good for your entire purchase. This month’s code is JAN2014.


This is my (Kerry's) personal Shea Terra mask collection. I use one every Saturday.

This is my (Kerry’s) personal Shea Terra mask collection. I use one every Saturday.



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22 comments onInterview with Tammie Umbel, Creator of Shea Terra Organics

  1. I was already on board to get the Camel’s milk cream, now I’m eyeing that rose hips black soap as well! I’ve used solid bar form black soap before from a local African shop, but it proved to be a little too much for me (drying and abrasive) how do you think the rosehips liquid incarnation would fare on a sensitive drier skin type?

    • Kerry

      Hey Coco! I do think the Rosehips Liquid is gentler than a bar black soap or a dry black soap, but it’s still very potent. I know plenty of people that like it for daily use, but my skin is dry and sensitive like yours, so I only use mine a couple of times a week as a special exfoliating treatment. I spread it over a damp face (after removing makeup), leave it for a couple of minutes, then add water to lather it up and rinse. It’s not abrasive at all, and as a 2x a week exfoliating treatment, it works beautifully. If you’re looking for a daily Shea Terra soap that has gentle exfoliating properties for sensitive skin, I recommend the Argan Oil & Acacia Honey Face Soap. Bonus: it’s plant-oil based, so it works great as a makeup-removing cleanser if you’re a double cleanse fan (which you are, if I remember correctly).

  2. I tried a sample of the black soap a while ago but I didn’t really know much about the background of Shea Terra, so this was very interesting! It’s sort of funny that they could barely sell their argan oil ten years ago, considering how hot it is now.

  3. Gahhhhh why must you tempt me so Kerry?! Hahaha. I looked at their website last time you posted and there are just SO many products I want to try. 🙂 I love trying new beauty secrets and ingredients that are relatively unknown. And mashallah, she is a sister too. =) I need to whittle down my wishlist and order something. Thanks for the code too! I love these interviews by the way, I really like reading these type of things from the creators. It’s very unique of your blog. =)

  4. I definitely recommend the Mama’s Gold Stretch Mark Prevention & Treatment Oil by SheaTerra Organics to pregnant ladies or anyone dealing with dry, itchy skin and/or concerned about stretch marks. I use it on my expanding baby belly, hips & breasts. I love the way it smells, herby, rich & medicinal with lavender and sage being two of the scents I can identify. It feels like an indulgent treat.

    • Kerry

      Good to know! I have definitely thought about sending this as a gift to my expecting friends (including you)!

  5. I just now bought the African Wild Oil Collection as well as the Argan Oil Beauty Kit so that I can try a whole range of their oils as well as give a few to my sister for her birthday. I’m so glad that you wrote about this company because I’ve been looking for a good source to get oils from since even though I’m not getting wrinkles yet I still want to protect my face as naturally as possible. I’m still waiting on the Benton skincare to arrive (which should be soon) and I’ll slowly start to test out over the next few months and play around with some of the oils. I’ll soon have to put a hold on my skincare purchases, but honestly I’d rather have great skin without makeup which means I’d never have to spend money on covering up what I don’t like.

    • Kerry

      That African Wild Oil Collection is such a great deal. I thought about picking it up for myself before I realized I already have full-sized versions of all the oils in it! I still think it would be great for travel.

      I’m excited for you to try the Benton – I would love to know what you think of it once you’ve had a chance to use it for a bit!

  6. Is there any info about how well these products work for Asian skin?
    I’m Chinese Korean and I find most products just cause break outs and acne comedone (or milia? Same thing?) for me without fail.

    • Kerry

      Hi Lucy! I think they work great on all skin, including Asian skin! (I’m part Japanese, myself) 🙂

      It sounds like you have a sensitive skin type, in which case I think there are a lot of products in the Shea Terra line that would work well for you. They are fragrance free, and Tammie is very conscious of the ingredients in them. What is your skin type? Would you say it’s oily, normal, combination, or dry?

      • To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what my skin type is. My nose is oily but the rest of my face seems normal, and some parts of my cheeks can get dry. (I live in Michigan and our 1 degree temperatures are not helping.)

        I grew up only using water on my face but getting into my 30’s now I started using products (including Benton, due to your great reviews!) and Loreal face wash. I just keep breaking out. I can see that Benton is evening out my skin tone and makes it feel like baby skin but milia and zits keep appearing.

        Thank you for your help, and you have a great blog!

        • Kerry

          Lucy, are you currently using a daily BHA? That component REALLY helped me with my more stubborn breakouts, including the ones that my Tretinoin (Retin-A) didn’t take care of.

          In terms of Shea Terra Products, I highly recommend the Tamanu & Licorice Facial Cleanser for acne-prone skin as a daily face wash, and the Rose Hips and Black Soap as a weekly exfoliating treatment.

          I’ve also found that when my skin gets too dry (like in cold winter weather), my breakouts are actually worse. Have you tried adding a light oil to your skin care routine?

          • The only product I use that has BHA is the Benton Toner, so I’m not sure if that’s a good amount or not.
            I’ve never tried an oil on my face before. Up until recently, I didn’t even know that there were such products. =D

          • Kerry

            I LOVE the Benton toner, but the BHA content in it is pretty low. I don’t think it would hurt to up the ante and add a 2% BHA to your routine. Look for one that doesn’t contain alcohol. I like Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid, but I hear Silk Naturals makes a pretty awesome alcohol-free BHA as well. I’ll probably be trying that one soon myself!

            For oils, I think the Shea Terra Kalahari Ootanga Oil would be a good one to start with. It’s extremely light, good for acne prone skin, and works really well as a day oil. If you want to try something more emollient at night, I like Argan or Baobob. If you’re using the Benton line, I really like mixing a pump or two of my oil with a few pumps of the Benton Aloe Gel. It helps the oil absorb more quickly and offsets the stickiness some people get from using the aloe gel on its own.

            I haven’t tried the L’Oreal face wash, but sometimes the wrong face wash will mess with my moisture barrier. Do you think it’s possible it could be drying you out?

          • I’ve been using the Loreal 360 Microsomething Exfoliating Face Wash, and my skin doesn’t feel dry after but I always put on Benton immediately after my face dries so I can’t be certain. I only started trying using skin products for a month and a half now, and I admittedly have tried 3 different facial cleansers already; SK-II Gentle Foaming Wash (travel size), Etude House Wonder Pore, and now Loreal. I know switching it up so often can mess up the balance of my skin but I kept breaking out, which I’m not used to. The SK-II seemed to adjust the best but is too expensive.
            With Loreal the milia, or acne comedone that frame my face seem to be lessening now(!) but the middle of my cheeks seem to be getting worse. @_@ It’s like everything I’m trying is improving the overall condition of my skin, it’s just the center cheeks that are reacting oppositely.

            I’m sorry for the novel! I did buy the Black Soap Face Washer last night to try it out but I’ll have to check out the oils too!

          • Kerry

            Hey Lucy! Is there any chance you’d consider switching your daily cleanser? I just looked up the L’oreal one you’re using, and because it’s a scrub, you might actually be overexfoliating, which would be why your cheeks are so dry. Physical exfoliators can be really easy to overdo, especially if they’re being used daily. It also contains Sodium Laureth Sulfate, which is a pretty harsh detergent agent. Some people are able to use it without any issues, but if you have any dry skin, it can really magnify the issue.

            I looked at the ingredients for the SK-II Wash and the Wonder Pore cleanser, and I think you’d be better off with one of those as your daily cleanser. Also, the Black Soap face wash is a great exfoliating soap, but with your current dry skin, I’d actually let your cheeks heal up a bit before you start using it, and even then, consider only using it once or twice a week as an exfoliating treatment.

          • I ordered a Laneige cleanser so I’m just waiting for that in the mail. Once it finally arrives I will switch over from Loreal. Also, I will take wait a significant amount before using the Black Soap face wash.
            Thank you much for your advice, and I will definitely let you know how my process progresses. ^^

  7. Lynanne

    I am brand new to this…organic beauty regime. I’m super excited, although hesitant to try some products. I am 47 years old and going through “the change”. My once blemish free complexion is now struggling with cystic break outs. My once “normal” skin is now becoming oily. Please, can you suggest some products to try? I have ordered the Argon oil, don’t ask me why I started there, I honestly don’t know. What face wash and/or toner would you suggest for a woman of my age and circumstance would you suggest? Thank you so very much