In 1970, Anita Roddick (then Anita Perilli) visited "The Body Shop" housed in a car repairs and garage in Berkeley, California selling naturally-scented soaps and lotions. The shop run by Peggy Short and Jane Saunders used natural ingredients, and helped to employ and train immigrant women. Six years later, in 1976, Roddick opened a similar shop in the UK, using the same business name, colour scheme, and cosmetic lines. In 1987, Roddick offered Short and Saunders USD 3.5 million to change their shop's name to Body Time. By 1992 the rename was completed. From its first launch in the UK in 1976, The Body Shop experienced rapid growth, expanding at a rate of 50 percent annually.

The Body Shop stock was floated on London's Unlisted Securities Market in April 1984, opening at 95p. After it obtained a full listing on the London Stock Exchange, the stock was given the nickname "The shares that defy gravity," as its price increased by more than 500%.

But the opening of Roddick's first modest shop received early attention when the Brighton newspaper, The Evening Argus, carried an article about an undertaker with a nearby store who complained about the use of the name "The Body Shop."[7]

In March 2006, The Body Shop agreed to a £652.3 million takeover by L'Oréal. It was reported that Anita and Gordon Roddick, who set up The Body Shop 30 years previously, made £130 million from the sale.[8]

Following her death in 2007, Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid tribute to Dame Anita, calling her "one of the country's true pioneers" and an "inspiration" to businesswomen. He said: "She campaigned for green issues for many years before it became fashionable to do so and inspired millions to the cause by bringing sustainable products to a mass market. She will be remembered not only as a great campaigner but also as a great entrepreneur."[9][10]

The Body Shop turned increasingly toward social and environmental campaigns to promote its business in the late 1980s. In 1997, Roddick launched a global campaign to raise self-esteem in women and against the media stereotyping of women. It focused on unreasonably skinny models in the context of rising numbers in bulimia and anorexia.

There was a media controversy surrounding claims that L'Oréal continues to test on animals, which contradicts The Body Shop's core value of Against Animal Testing. L'Oréal states the company has not tested cosmetics on animals since 1989 (but still continues to test new ingredients on animals).[11] Animal testing on cosmestics ceased for the French-headquartered L'Oréal and all cosmetic companies in Europe as well as cosmetics imports when the European Union passed legislation banning all testing for personal care products.

Roddick addressed the controversy over selling The Body Shop to the world's largest cosmetics company in an interview with The Guardian,[12] which reported that "she sees herself as a kind of "trojan horse" who, by selling her business to a huge firm, will be able to influence the decisions it makes. Suppliers who had formerly worked with the Body Shop will in future have contracts with L'Oréal, and working with the company 25 days a year Roddick was able to have an input into decisions."