A growing number of UAE consumers are rejecting chemical-laden cosmetics for natural alternatives. It’s a thriving sector in the beauty industry globally that’s now hitting our warmer shores with force. Anthea Ayache speaks to two local experts to see how and why it’s growing in the region
The natural beauty market is booming. In fact, its value is expected to reach $13.2 billion (AED48 billion) by 2018. That means no more trips to local health food stores to root out some weird and wonderful plant-based toothpaste because natural products are officially ‘in’.
While the organic beauty movement was traditionally reserved for health and wellness aficionados in the West, it has now hit the mainstream globally – including the Middle East. Enter any local pharmacy these days and you’ll be met with an array of botanical, chemical-free cosmetics on the shelves. Even giant beauty suppliers such as Sephora now have dedicated natural beauty sections, with the UAE outlets supplying homegrown beauty brands such as dermatologist Dr Lamees Hamdan’s organic range Shiffa.
For Angela Turovskaya, the founder of UAE organic beauty retailer Balmessence and organic brand distributor Wellness United, says the shift is a welcome one in the local market.
‘In Europe and the US, the natural and organic market has been well-established for some time,’ she explains.’ But unfortunately, in the Middle East people weren’t educated about the benefits. Five years ago there wasn’t a single organic store in the UAE. Yet in the last few years retailers have started to open organic food outlets and that trend has passed over to beauty. So, it is growing. It’s not mature yet, but compared to a decade ago, there is a huge difference.’
Founder of online natural beauty retailer GreenChicme Vila Vasoodaven agrees. ‘I definitely think the industry is growing here in the UAE and there are two reasons behind it,’ she says. ‘The global trend towards natural beauty has also increased awareness among consumers in this region. We’re seeing more of them thinking about sustainability, wellness, and even turning vegan’.
Vila puts this down to the availability of products – and an appetite for even more.
‘Last year, before I started my business, I carried out some market research and the one key takeaway was that women wanted choice. So, this increased interest has a lot to do with the fact there is far more availability out there now.’
The rise of the natural beauty market in the UAE can also be attributed to residents launching natural brands. Irish expat Shirley Conlon launched her eponymous organics line in 2013 while Pakistani expat Aly Rahimtoola created popular UAE brand Herbal Essentials back in 2006.
The organic beauty boom is also part of the larger shift in consumer awareness about health and wellness. Thanks to a growing global interest in the benefits of going chemical-free, consumers have access to more information than ever before, making it more accepted and more ‘the norm’.
‘We are no longer at a point where natural is seen as hippie,’ says Vila. ‘I think people are starting to see that global brands – whether or not they’re doing it for the right reasons – are using natural ingredients and it’s proving to be effective’.
Some natural beauty brands have cult status, such as Grown Alchemist and Herbivore Botanicals, and, as Vila says: ‘whenever anything’s cool, hip and trendy, consumers in this part of the world gravitate towards it.’
‘Whenever anything’s cool, hip and trendy, consumers in this part of the world gravitate towards it’
And that trend towards natural beauty has meant the more established ‘loud’ brands out there jumping on the eco beauty bandwagon. In these cases, Angela advises us to be careful.
‘Conventional non-natural brands have picked up on the natural trend and they want to make money. They have tried to create new natural lines but most of them are not creating genuinely natural products. Be wary of the term ‘nature inspired’ – those products do contain some natural ingredients, but the rest is not.’
People often think that natural means ineffective but, often synthetic ingredients are simply cheaper versions of powerful natural ingredients. So, do they work?
‘Of course they do,’ explains Angela, ‘just in totally different ways. When you use chemical products, such as a lifting serum, you put it on your face and it plumps your skin. Visually it seems like you have a lift, however, when you wash off this product, your skin goes back to normal, and it doesn’t give you any long-term benefits.
‘Natural and organic products however work long-term; you won’t see any immediate effects. Natural products provide your skin with essential acids, required for it to regenerate, so basically you are feeding the skin with vitamins and minerals.’
How to Know It’s Natural?
There is increasing evidence linking standard personal hygiene ingredients with a range of health concerns such as reproductive issues, fertility problems and miscarriage. Parabens and phthalate have been found to be endocrine disruptors while a study carried out by the University of California revealed that stopping the use of certain chemical ingredients can result in a significant drop in levels of people’s hormone-disrupting chemicals.
To avoid these risks, what do we need to look out for?
‘It’s a tricky area but the best thing to do is actually to look at the ingredients list,’ advises Vila. ‘As a general guide, when you look at the back, if the names of products are in botanical Latin then it’s natural. Avoid anything with SLS, Parabens, or mineral oils – which are by-products of the crude industry.’
‘Also bear in mind how the ingredients are listed,’ she adds. ‘Normally, it’s by concentration. So, the top ingredients would have the highest concentration in the formulation and the lowest the least. Check the lowest as often you find those sneaky things like ‘fragrance’. Fragrance is not regulated at all. So, beauty companies can put whatever they want under the term ‘fragrance’ and pass it off, without you knowing that it’s toxic.’
Lastly of course, make sure the product is certified. All trustworthy organic natural beauty products will come with stamps on the product itself whether that’s USDA, ECOCERT, COSMOS, BDIH, NATRUE, and others.
Why? Because to achieve that certification Angela explains it is a process that ensures 100 per cent reliability. ‘They will go through very detailed tests, identifying the whole manufacturing process but it is quite costly so even many popular manufacturers don’t invest in certifying their lines.’
With that increased cost, can the natural beauty phenomenon survive? Will people opt for a AED300 moisturiser over its synthetic version at AED30?
‘The whole movement is still niche, specifically in this part of the world,’ says Vila, ‘but I can’t see it going away anytime soon. I believe this is something that is changing the beauty industry as a whole’.
The Beauty Experts
Angela Turovskaya is the founder of natural beauty retailer Balmessence
Vila Vasoodaven is the founder of natural beauty retailer Green Chic