UAE makes itself over as a comestics hotspot

Foreign beauty product firms are increasing their presence in this country as the sector offers an expanding market that is also giving local firms a platform for growth.

Beautyworld Middle East’s growth amid the slowdown of the past few years shows that consumers have refused to compromise on beauty products. Courtesy Beautyworld Middle East
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LONDON // Beauty is booming in the UAE and the country is now the fastest-growing market for beauty products in the world.

According to Euromonitor International, consumers in the UAE spent US$247 per capita on cosmetics and personal care, more than any other country in the Middle East, and ninth worldwide. This is forecast to grow to $294 in 2020.

The recent global economic slowdown may have bruised the local economy but it has made little impact on the beauty market, according to Amna Abbas, an analyst at Euromonitor International, Dubai, whose latest Beauty and Personal Care Study is published next month.


At a glance:

■ What: The country's beauty sector is attracting overseas firms and boosting domestic cosmetics companies.

■ Why: Retail expansion and a young, wealthy population are providing increasing opportunities.

■ Further reading: 14,000 cosmetic salespeople are coming to Dubai this week, which could generate Dh240m for the emirate's economy.


“Although growth has shown a slowdown for beauty and personal care products in the UAE, there is still a positive growth. In 2016, this growth was 4 per cent and is expected to be 5 per cent in 2017. Growth will come mainly from well-established brands, niche, plus competitively priced products that are high in quality and denote good value for money. Organic and natural products are also expected to further drive this growth,” the report says.

In addition, “beauty and wellness for the most part is recession-proof anyway, and this is especially so in the UAE”, says Ahmed Pauwels, the chief executive of Messe Frankfurt Middle East. His company is the organiser of Beautyworld Middle East in Dubai, the region’s largest annual beauty trade show. “While consumers might pinch their pennies on other luxury consumables, this is not the case for the beauty and personal care segment. Consumers will still find a way to spend on nails, cosmetics, haircare and skincare products, fragrances and spa treatments.”

The huge increase in the number of firms showcasing their wares at Beautyworld Middle East over the past few years is testament to the sector’s resilience: exhibitor numbers have grown from 755 in 2011 to 1,522 in 2016, with even more retailers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and exporters expected to showcase their new products and network at the 2017 edition of the show on May 22 to 24, at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Beauty and wellness is one area UAE consumers are not prepared to compromise on, says Mr Pauwels. “The nature of the UAE’s commerce-driven environment means that we have a predominantly young population with high disposable income that likes to take care of itself, wind down and de-stress whenever possible – professional beauty and spa treatments are a key component to that.”

The launch of new stores in established and newer neighbourhoods also contributes to growth in the sector. “Retail expansion continues unabated, and this is making accessibility to beauty products and services easier and more convenient than ever,” says Mr Pauwels. “At the same time, the competitive landscape is also trending upward, so service providers and retailers are offering consumers value-added packages and deals to increase customer loyalty. These factors have all had a positive impact on the UAE’s beauty industry.”

Isabelle De Cock, the general manager for the Middle East for MAC cosmetics, headquartered in New York, says producers and sellers have boosted the standard of the sector in the UAE. “We feel that brands and retailers have worked hard to improve the offering to the Mena consumer,” she says. “This is in terms of relevancy of product assortment to the tastes and needs of the regional consumer, but also in offering enhanced services and education via local language social media content.”

The explosion of social media, and in particular the online channels of Snapchat and Instagram, has been a major driver of Mena consumers being exposed to – and being able to adopt – beauty trends from across the world, says Ms De Cock. “The consumer here is now much more sophisticated in terms of product usage and artistry technique.

In addition there has, in recent years, been a proliferation in the availability of make-up brands and product assortments in the region, as global brands recognised the potential of the make-up category in the region. Thus the average consumer is likely to have a much more varied and diverse make-up bag than she did a decade ago.”

AlReem Saif, a Dubai-based blogger with 115,000 Instagram followers who works with global brands including MAC Cosmetics, Pantene, Max Factor and Bobbi Brown, agrees the internet has had a major impact. “Social media has had a great effect in the rise of the beauty industry, not only in the UAE or the region, but worldwide,” she says “It’s difficult not to open Instagram, for example, and see a flood of make-up tutorials.

“The effect of traditional media is long gone,” says Ms Saif, who was a beauty editor at a leading Middle East magazine before becoming a full-time blogger and YouTube vlogger in 2015. “Now people look for what’s next with bloggers and influencers.”

Digital influencers are key, says the Emirati beauty blogger Dina Al Sharif, who has been working with brands as an influencer for nine months, just two years after launching her Instagram feed. “I’m pretty sure that brands now rely on influencers more than anything to promote a product. They are aware that when a real person talks about a product, people believe it more.”

Beauty influencers boost product sales in different ways, says Ms Al Sharif. “It could be a review of a product or a collaboration between the brand and the blogger where they work on a video or campaign together. I personally review products on my own, plus work with brands that I truly do use and love.”

The hairstylist and founder of the Dubai-based professional hair styling tools brand EIDEAL, Haysam Eid, saw a spike in sales after the hairstylist to the stars Jen Atkin used EIDEAL tools at the Cannes Film Festival to style hair for celebrity models Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, and then featured them on Snapchat and Instagram. “A key factor contributing in turning Dubai into the Beauty Hub is the amount of influencers and beauty bloggers living and emerging from here. People highly relate to them and trust them. They want to take their advice and use the products and brands they promote to eventually reach their beauty epitome. As a result, international beauty brands have their eye on Dubai specifically to launch their latest products, knowing that they are in good hands.”

New trends are also helping to drive the market, including the fashion for natural ingredients and organic products, he says. “Brands such as [France’s] Corine de Farme and [Australia’s] Organic Care are becoming more mainstream due to their strong distribution channels and competitive pricing. As more and more consumers become aware of the advantages of these products and witness the positive effects of going green, the popularity and acceptance of organic products continues to be positive.”

Men’s grooming is another segment that is gaining traction in the UAE, says Mr Pauwels. “Most major brands already have men’s product lines, but many start-ups are now specialising in men’s grooming. Men’s salons and barbershops are popping up all over the country, and we’re seeing a lot more specific products being requested and purchased in the barbershops. The UAE market has also seen a natural scale-up of the amount of different products and the choice of brands.”

The spa market is also growing, he adds. “Customers are getting more demanding and requiring a more holistic experience from their spa treatments. At Beautyworld Middle East 2017, we’re introducing a new feature called Sensorial Journey by Carita and Centdegres. This will take visitors through a unique spa experience that spans all five senses of sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing.” The outlook for the local beauty industry is positive, says Mr Pauwels.

“Retail expansion, a predominantly young population with high disposable income, and hospitality and tourism are the key indicators of future growth in the UAE.”

“Dubai alone welcomed more than 14 million visitors in 2015, and it’s expected that this number will grow to 20 million in 2020, the year it hosts the World Expo. What’s interesting is that by 2020, premium and mass beauty products will have 50/50 split market share in the UAE, compared to a 48/52 split in favour of the mass market in 2015. So consumers are increasingly turning to, and spending more, on premium products,” he points out.

“The premium segment in particular will be supported by an influx of tourists eager to find high-end products for themselves or family and friends. This will no doubt be boosted further in the build-up to and during the Dubai Expo 2020.”

What: The country's beauty sector is attracting overseas firms and boosting domestic cosmetics companies.

Why: Retail expansion and a young, wealthy population are providing increasing opportunities.