PARIS — L’Oréal is ramping up its focus on sub-Saharan Africa.

The French beauty giant recently inaugurated The L’Oréal Professional African Salon Institute in Johannesburg, which it bills to be the first hairdressing institute of its kind in South Africa. Its mission is to develop services, create jobs and develop business know-how.

Geoff Skingsley, L’Oréal’s executive vice president for Africa and the Middle East zone, told a press conference here the beauty giant aim to become number on in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s a strategic region not least due to its burgeoning middle class, which today makes up 34 percent of the population, according to the African Development Bank.

L’Oréal currently has commercial hubs in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, plus plants in South Africa and Kenya, where it has 650 employees. In sub-Saharan Africa last year, the company sold close to 120 million units, a 52 percent on-year rise.

Last year, L’Oréal said it had acquired Kenyan beauty firm Interconsumer Product, which was meant to strengthen the group’s position in the mass market there and accelerate its development in eastern Africa. Its Nice & Lovely brand has pole position in east Africa’s body-care market.

L’Oréal already sells in Africa its brands including Softsheen Carson, Dark and Lovely, L’Oréal Paris, Maybelline and Mixa.

The company identified biological and physical characteristics of African hair — which is very fragile — in the late Eighties, which lead to product innovation.

In 2013, sales from L’Oréal’s Africa, Middle East zone rose 2.4 percent to 505.1 million euros, or $670.8 million at average exchange for the period. On a like-for-like basis, they gained 14.3 percent.