DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Last Year, Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National claimed that Dubai was home to more plastic surgeons that any other place on earth. Even if this was a bit over the top, consider the fact that Lebanon, Iran and Egypt appeared on the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons’ top 24 countries in the world for cosmetic procedures for 2017.
It is clear many in the Middle East have no issues with going under the knife. But the stereotype of the “plastic fantastic” beauty regime may have reached its peak, as the region wakes up to clean beauty.
“Clean” itself isn’t a regulated classification, but denotes anything that has a trace of organic, natural pure or sustainable ingredients — all terms that are problematic on their own. Due to the lack of regulations governing how a brand uses the word, most believe that to call themselves “clean,” products must be mainly made of non-toxic and natural ingredients. And Arab brands are finally hopping on the bandwagon.
“Women celebrate beauty and femininity here, but there is definitely a shift in the way of thinking,” says Rosemin Madhavji, a renowned beauty influencer in the region for over a decade, and contributing editor for Harper’s Bazaar Arabia.
“They now want to enhance their features, not dramatically change them. With the local retailers in the region now making clean beauty more accessible, and there being a handful of good home-grown clean beauty brands, I see this movement [gaining] momentum,” Madhavji tells BoF.
The beauty industry is big business in the Middle East — in 2017, Euromonitor International reported that in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain) consumers spent $9.3 billion on beauty and personal care products — a figure expected to reach reach $47.5 billion by 2021.
Clean skincare will rise for sure in the region over time. The challenge is that, since we live in an Instagram age, people want instant beauty.
This makes the GCC the world’s fastest growing beauty market, and Dubai-based Aly Rahimtoola was one of the entrepreneurs that took note.
Rahimtoola saw a gap in the market for natural based beauty products but wanted his brand to reflect his Eastern roots. He chose to have Herbal Essentials manufactured in France, while utilising pure Himalayan Spring Water and active plant botanicals. With over 90 percent of ingredients of natural origin, their products are paraben, silicon and SLS free and are not tested on animals, meaning it can also wave the “ethical” brand banner.
“Clean skincare will rise for sure in the region over time. The challenge is that, since we live in an Instagram age, people want instant beauty,” says Rahimtoola. “What they need to appreciate is that optimal skin health and wellness comes from daily use of good quality products that are as clean as possible from the usual suspects.”
His hunch was on the money as Herbal Essentials has seen its UAE business grow around 11 percent year-on-year.
Even the region’s best-known beauty entrepreneur Huda Kattan, says that “when it comes to skincare, women in the region love natural ingredients — like using coconut oil to remove our makeup, castor oil for our brows, or using rose water as a toner.” These natural alternatives have been a part of Arab culture for generations.
In April, the Middle East’s first dedicated clean beauty site, Project Byouty will go live. One of the founders is Dubai-based Amy Wilkinson Lough, who has lived in the region for 15 years and has battled with endometriosis for over 20 years. When her father was…