28 October 2016Last updated

Beauty | Grooming

The UAE beauty explosion

The country’s cosmetic industry is now worth a staggering $1 billion – and it’s the smaller, niche brands that are making waves, discovers Louise Emma Clarke

By Louise Emma Clarke
23 Feb 2016 | 10:18 am
  • Source:Supplied

Ask anyone to name the fastest-growing areas of consumer spending in the UAE, and they’d say gold, fast cars, swanky apartments or designer clothing. And while they’d be good guesses, the truth lies in the depths of our make-up bags and bathroom cabinets.

The UAE’s cosmetic and personal care sector’s value was recently estimated to be worth almost $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion). In fact, recent figures published in Gulf News showed that one in 10 consumers in the country now spends a whopping Dh60,000 on personal care annually.

But it isn’t only the big spenders who are boosting the market – every resident is spending an average of Dh567 a year on beauty and grooming (a figure that is estimated to rise to Dh785 by 2020).

At last year’s Beautyworld Middle East, it was revealed that the Middle East and Africa has now overtaken Latin America as the fastest-growing beauty market in the world – and it will keep growing year-on-year. We just can’t get enough of our beauty products!

So what’s driving the growth? High disposable income plays a part, as does the UAE’s predominantly young population– the biggest buyers. Plus, we have access to products wherever we look, with thousands of points of sale in Dubai alone (and the online market growing quickly). Think stand-alone stores, boutiques, chemists and supermarkets in every mall, community and street corner.

What is most interesting, however, is not necessarily the growth itself, but the fact that there has been a shift in demand for smaller, niche brands here. Gone are the days of prestige cosmetic labels hogging the limelight and, more importantly, making all the sales. Saint Laurent, Chanel and Gucci are still popular, but smaller, lesser-known brands are making serious waves in the industry.

‘As long as I’ve been in the UAE, prestige beauty brands have always dominated the market,’ says Simone Gannon, digital marketer at Bright Room Digital.

‘Over the past few years, however, consumers have started to demand more than prestige – they want more choices and easier access to niche brands. As a result, small-scale labels with huge global followings have hit UAE shelves and they’re making a massive impact.

‘Oribe [hair care], Smith and Cult [nail polishes] and The Balm [cosmetics] are three great examples. They’re not as widely available as their prestige peers, but you only need to say Dry Texturising Spray and everyone knows you’re talking about Oribe and it’s miracle hair volumising qualities.’

Founder of UAE-based beauty distribution company Emerging Beauty Brands Catherine Collins agrees, adding: ‘I established the company four years ago, and growth over the past two years has increased significantly, both in terms of consumer interest and retail space dedicated to niche brands.

‘This is driven by a very young population who are incredibly social media savvy and open to anything new. They are very aware of many global brands and trends as e-commerce worldwide grows.’

Influential bloggers also play a vital role in spreading the world. ‘Take Bioeffect, for example,’ says Catherine. ‘It’s an Icelandic brand and has become very popular with consumers looking for effective anti-ageing products. Bubzbeauty posted about the range and we had a remarkable response from consumers in the UAE.’

The online world has certainly fuelled demand. In the days before social media, people learned about new launches and product ranges through glossy magazines, television commercials, and window shopping. But now, consumers follow brands online and learn instantly about new launches, and a demand has been created for what is not necessarily readily available on home soils. So, once they reach the UAE, success is almost guaranteed.

Brands are realising this too, coming to stores and online retailers in their droves. One example is skincare label Starskin, stocked at Sephora across the Middle East. ‘Fuelling the growth and success of exclusive beauty brands is the global phenomenon Google, social media, beauty bloggers, and online shopping,’ explains co-founder Nicole Arnoldussen. ‘This can be seen in the emergence of niche products in stores such as Sephora. Since we launched our Korean masks in Europe and the Middle East late last year, we have sold over a million masks.’

Also stocked at Sephora are Hi Impact Brows by Dee&Co. ‘It’s exciting to see new, colourful and unique brands pop up in the UAE,’ says founder Dee Abdulla. ‘Variety is key to modern women here who know what they want.’

In the spirit of this bloom, we’ve rounded up our favourite brands and products to look out for in stores and online.

Smith and Cult

This super cool nail brand was founded by beauty veteran Dineh Mohajer, who bought us Hard Candy polishes back in the 1990s. Each shade by Smith and Cult is designed to represent a moment in a woman’s life, a little like a diary entry, and the names reflect this, giving the range a quirky twist. The nail lacquer promises to apply flawlessly and provide impressive shine, while its exclusive formula is made without chemicals such as dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin and camphor. Consumers are snapping it up, both for its colour variety and stylishly designed bottles.

Available at Harvey Nichols


Buy Kundalini Hustle, Dh86

Kat Von D beauty

Cosmetics don’t get cooler than the colour collection by American tattoo artist and model Kat Von D. You can expect bold shades, unique formulations, and super stylish packaging. Its story started back in 2008, when Kat Von D was tasked to create a capsule range of four red lipsticks for Sephora, and it has now grown to include everything from foundation to contour kits, liners and mascaras.

Available at Sephora


Buy Everlasting Liquid Lipstick, Dh100

Frank Body

Hailing from Australia, the Frank Body story started with a single product – a simple coffee body scrub – and it has now grown into a complete skincare line. So why coffee? Not only is freshly roasted and ground coffee a great natural exfoliator that buffs away dry, dead cells and encourages skin rejuvenation, but caffeine stimulates blood flow and helps to reduce the appearance of cellulite, stretch marks, psoriasis, eczema and other skin conditions as well. It’s now available online in the UAE. Hurry, though; the products are selling out fast!

Available at


Buy Body Cream, Dh140


Haircare aficionados in the UAE could barely contain their excitement when it was announced that Oribe was arriving here. 
The brand was founded by renowned editorial and celebrity hairstylist Oribe Canales and beauty industry insiders Daniel Kaner and Tevya Finger, who leveraged advanced technology and natural actives to deliver high-performance, treatment-based products. The label has a dedicated fan base in the UAE, who love the results, as well as its signature Côte d’Azur Eau de Parfum.

Available at Harvey Nichols


Buy Dry Texturising Spray, Dh185


French skincare brand Caudalíe came here a few years ago and has been quietly developing a legion of fans ever since. The secret of the skincare line is the antioxidant power of polyphenols from grape seeds grown in the Caudalíe family vineyard in Bordeaux. The collection includes moisturisers, serums, cleansers, and targeted treatments for skincare concerns including ageing and pigmentation.

Available at BinSina Pharmacies


Buy Caudalíe Beauty Elixir, Dh205

By Louise Emma Clarke

By Louise Emma Clarke