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Cosmetics queen battles against skin bleaching

From Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Earl Nurse, CNN
updated 6:14 AM EDT, Tue April 1, 2014
More than 25 years ago, Grace Amey-Obeng started what became FC Group of Companies to offer women products and services that enhance natural beauty. More than 25 years ago, Grace Amey-Obeng started what became FC Group of Companies to offer women products and services that enhance natural beauty.
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Ghanaian entrepreneur Grace Amey-Obeng
A thriving a cosmetics empire
Enhancing natural beauty
Life lessons
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Grace Amey-Obeng is the founder and CEO of cosmetic empire, FC Group of Companies
  • For 25 years, she has fought against popular practice of skin bleaching
  • She says too many women associate lighter skin with affluence

African Voices is a weekly show that highlights Africa's most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera. Follow the team on Twitter.

(CNN) -- She started her business with just £100, lugging her beauty bag from door to door, but some 25 years later Grace Amey-Obeng has built a multi-million dollar cosmetics empire that's helping change the perception of beauty for many.

One of Ghana's top entrepreneurs, Amey-Obeng has turned her mobile therapist venture into the FC Group of Companies -- a thriving conglomerate that includes clinics, a versatile cosmetics line and a beauty school.

Amey-Obeng says her mission has always been to restore and enhance the natural beauty of black women -- a passion of hers ever since she was a child visiting her mother's salon.

Promoting black beauty
African beauty empire built on just $100
Beauty school transforms lives

"Seeing how beautiful the women looked after their hairstyles and makeup really touched me and I decided that I would like to continue with this professionally," explains Amey-Obeng, who went to college in the UK and studied beauty therapy.

Upon returning to the West African country, she initially started working from door to door as a mobile therapist but quickly managed to amass a large number of clients and decided to open her first beauty clinic.

'A concept of well-being'

At the beginning, Amey-Obeng says, one of the main things she had to combat when she put her business plan into action was the practice of skin lightening, or skin bleaching as it's often called, which refers to the use of chemical products in an attempt to lighten skin tone.

"[Women] associated being light-skinned with being affluent or something and I thought that I can do something about that by going on an anti-bleaching campaign," says Amey-Obeng.

"We went to the markets with our vans and spoke about the dangers of bleaching, especially in this climate. When you remove the protective layer of the skin, you expose all of yourself to the sun's rays and eventually [can] develop skin cancer."

The practice of using creams and other cosmetic products to chemically lighten skin tone is a fairly common in many African countries -- but the practice is known to have detrimental health effects, says the World Health Organization.

"I discovered that women were actually formulating their own concoctions at home using perming creams and all kinds of chemicals to bleach [their skin]," Amey-Obeng reveals.

Once you are able to restore joy to people, it's very, very fulfilling.
Grace Amey-Obeng, FC Group of Companies

"Bleaching is a very dangerous enterprise to embark on and we try as much as we can to educate the public on it," she says. "Beauty is a total concept, it's a concept of well-being -- if you eat well, exercise well and rest well, your skin will naturally glow."

Nurturing talent

In her battle against bleaching, the determined beautician has launched an education initiative. In addition to a weekly newspaper column, where she offers advice to people about keeping their skin healthy, she also combats the prevalence of chemical options by training students at her beauty school and when selling products over the counter.

"Setting up the school was a matter of course, because I needed help, so I started with two students and trained them for free so they can give me assistance," says the business mogul.

That was in 1998. Since then Amey-Obeng says over 5,000 students have graduated from FC Beauty College.

"On the day of graduation, I always cry because I see the joy in their faces that they have accomplished something," she says. "They've been through challenges."

It's this desire to nurture young talent and help women embrace their natural beauty that seems to drive the successful entrepreneur's efforts. While she admits that she can't help every young woman who passes through the college doors, she always reminds students of her startup experience to inspire them.

"I tell them my story all the time," says Amey-Obeng. "Take products and go door to door; communicate with your clients; express your knowledge and you will win their confidence," she adds. "So we give them different options and entrepreneur skills so they can be able to stand on their own."

Despite a lifetime of industry experience and successful business, Amey-Obeng says it's still the small things -- like seeing a satisfied client -- that makes her smile.

"I see clients come in with horrible conditions and through therapy and guidance, they are happy. And once they're happy, I'm happy," she says. "Once you are able to restore joy to people, it's very, very fulfilling. It's good to reach out to the deprived and to me that is fulfillment."

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