It is a well-known fact that the MENA region loves its beauty. In fact, the per capita spend on cosmetics and personal care products has had a history of being the highest in the world. The Emirate of Dubai has often been referred to as the Beverly Hills of the Middle East, due to its penchant for plastic surgery, Botox and fillers – but Saudi Arabia and Lebanon do not trail far behind. However, as the world moves to a more conscious way of living, the clean beauty movement in the region seems to be picking up. According to Goldstein Market Intelligence, the clean beauty industry in the GCC alone will be worth $2.6 billion by 2025.
There is no question that the pandemic has had an accelerating effect on how we view beauty. While there is no definitive definition of “Clean Beauty,” the term is generally used to classify beauty products that are formulated without toxic preservatives or harmful chemicals. They are toxin free. For such products, specialized retail outlets are now opening up across the region.
Lynn Khoury Soubra is considered the pioneer of clean beauty retail in the region, having opened Lynn’s Apothecary in 2016. The Beirut-based store carries over 30 brands, and its owner is a self-confessed beauty junkie, who became an advocate of the clean beauty movement when she was pregnant with her second child. At that time, clean beauty was a term most Arab women had never heard. This has now changed, Khoury Soubra says. “As a matter of fact, clean beauty and natural skincare have been one of the fastest rising segments in beauty in the past few years. I think it has been driven by two forces: the effectiveness of social media and the digital channels that give consumers access to a wealth of knowledge from nontraditional stakeholders in the health and wellness field. The online revolution also allowed innovative and disruptive emerging brands to break through traditional marketing channels at lower costs. The second force is the advancement in natural technologies, which means that natural skincare can now be as effective, if not more effective, than its synthetic alternative in terms of performance and results.”
Lynn’s Apothecary is available on Shopify, and she has clients from all over the MENA region. Khoury Soubra is convinced that clean beauty does need its own specialized beauty outlets: “We believe that clean beauty is a philosophy that goes beyond the product itself. To be truly authentic, the store, the management and the team should have a specific mindset in which they are genuinely convinced of the importance of removing toxic chemicals from beauty products and not just because clean beauty is a trend now. I find it hard to have side by side brands that are clean with brands that are formulated with chemicals we know have a negative effect on your health.”
It was a similar thought process that led cancer survivor Anisha Oberoi to launch the clean beauty digital platform Secret Skin. Oberoi moved to Dubai two years ago having worked at Amazon India and says: “I moved here and saw a paucity of clean beauty brands and poor access to affordable, safer personal care in the region, in comparison to other geographies that are more evolved in this space. A customer in the UAE spends over 55-85% in shipping fees and custom duties to import a beauty product in general and waits an average of two weeks to receive it – making the whole process labor-intensive, time-consuming and cost-prohibitive.” Her content-rich site is all about telling clients which are the products they need on the shelf.
With much greenwashing happening in the industry (this is when a product claims to be environmentally friendly when in fact it is not), buying products from a reputable source helps a customer know they are getting the real deal. As Khoury Soubra says: “This is why at Lynn’s Apothecary we have an in-house technical expert who reviews every single ingredient in the formulation of each product we carry.”
Doha saw its first clean beauty store, Terra Beauty, open in January 2021 at The Gate Mall. Part of Salam Studio & Stores, Terra Beauty is a passion project for head of business development Sara Abu Issa. “We believe that expertise and knowledge are key to selling these products,” she says. “A specialized environment works as a platform for education for many, as it is still a relatively new notion that still needs to gain further awareness and knowledge.”
In the first few weeks of opening, the store has been able to build a loyal following of repeat customers whose basket sizes are growing. Popular brands include Augustinus Bader and Tata Harper. Abu Issa is of the opinion that even conventional brands will adopt principles of clean beauty soon. Since Salam Studio & Stores have over 60 years of experience in the region, their move into this space is strong testimony to the fact that Middle Eastern clients now are looking to make conscious shopping decisions, and often beauty is the first step toward becoming “greener” in lifestyle choices.