Standing at 175cm tall, Sara has jet black hair and a light complexion, all attributes which helped her work as a part-time model in the US to earn money while she studied for her business degree. Using Botox, the commercial application of botulinum toxin, had become popular in the modelling world and although she was just 23, Sara decided to start having Botox injected in her forehead near her eyebrows. "Lifted eyebrows give you a very fresh look and happy expression," said Sara, who asked for her real name not to be used.
When she moved to Dubai in late 2007, she began looking for a clinic in the UAE to carry on the treatment. Her search was easier than it would have been just a few years earlier. In spite of - or because of - the recession, it seems Gulf residents are flocking to clinics to seek ways to turn back the clock. Dr Max Sawaf, the chief executive of CosmeSurge, an anti-ageing and aesthetic business with clinics in the Middle East and North America, says: "It's actually quite a nice surprise, because I was expecting business to slow down in Dubai with the economy."
Where clients once might have had to travel abroad to get such treatments, now there are many options close to home. The anti-ageing market is booming in the Middle East with earnings for the sector estimated at US$4.7 billion (Dh17.26bn) last year, according to Global Industry Analysts (GIA), a market research company. GIA, which polled more than 60 companies in the Middle East, said demand for anti-ageing products and services in the region had grown at the rate of 7.8 per cent each year since 2001. Globally, the industry was worth about $162bn last year.
A number of anti-ageing events have taken placed in the UAE in the past year, including the Dubai Congress on Anti-Ageing and Aesthetic Medicine, an annual conference held by the UAE's Ministry of Health and the American Academy of Anti-Ageing. Another convention, the International Congress in Aesthetic, Anti-Ageing Medicine and Medical Spa Middle East, began in Dubai last year under the auspices of the World Society of Anti-Ageing Medicine.
Among clinics run by Dr Sawaf's CosmeSurge, the Dubai branch saw the greatest growth in client numbers, up by 22 per cent, while the Abu Dhabi and Sharjah clinics saw increases of 18 per cent and 16 per cent respectively. At Aesthetica Clinic Dubai, the number of patients has risen by 20 per cent in the past few months, according to Dr Maria Khattar, the clinic's chief executive. Rising patient numbers encouraged Dr Khattar to open clinics in Dubai Healthcare City and Deira last year. This year, she plans to open two more branches in the Jumeirah area.
Both doctors said many of their clients sought anti-ageing treatments to boost self-esteems battered during the economic downturn. "It's like when you feel depressed, you go shopping," Dr Sawaf said. "In these low times some people want to treat themselves and look younger." Academic studies have highlighted the link between attractiveness and job opportunities, the so-called "beauty premium". In 2005, the US Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis found that attractive people earn on average 5 per cent more than their plain-looking counterparts.
"The truth is, looking good can mean having more opportunities in the job market," Dr Khattar said. "It seems frivolous but it is the general perception." As well as Botox, popular treatments include laser treatments for hair removal, skin tightening and plasma skin resurfacing. "More people are realising that they can get natural results without going under the knife," Dr Khattar said. Sara said she considered her Botox treatment a necessary investment. In fact, she said, her interest in the anti-ageing business grew so much so that she decided to work at the clinic where she received her treatment.