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The Mystique of Mainstream Middle Eastern Beauty

By: Liz Grubow
Posted: November 5, 2010, from the November 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

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At mass, manufacturers recently have displayed more interest in the diversity of the region, launching products with the Middle Eastern consumer in mind. For example, Sunsilk, a top performer in the hair care segment, debuted Lively Clean & Fresh Shampoo made specifically for veiled women who experience problems associated with excess oil on their scalp and hair. The skin care market in the Middle East also has increased overall, with the facial care category accounting for more than 60% of the market share. Unilever, Beiersdorf and L’Oréal dominate sales, while hair removers, antiaging and skin-whitening creams from Olay and Himalaya Herbals are popular choices often purchased in hypermarkets.

There is also an increasingly powerful market for Halal cosmetics, products that are made without alcohol or animal-derived ingredients. OnePure, a prestige skin care and cosmetic brand achieving significant success in the Middle East, delivers solutions for issues commonly experienced by Arab women, including under-eye circles and skin irritation from harsh weather conditions. At the same time, OnePure products are all Halal-certified. According to Euromonitor International, Middle Eastern women are more often combining their religious views with consumerism, and this is a trend that has been reflected in advertising campaigns with models wearing the hijab, or head scarf.

The rules around wearing the hijab vary from region to region, as well as from situation to situation. For example, there is no requirement for women in Islam to be veiled when surrounded by their immediate families, though they must be veiled when in public. Some marketers, and particularly those within television advertising, choose to market their products targeting conservative viewers, exploiting the wearing of the veil in commercials. Conversely, government-run television in Egypt bans its newscasters from wearing the hijab and will not accept any advertising where women wearing the hijab are shown, even though an estimated 80% of Egyptian women wear the hijab in public. Beauty brands have embraced these strategies as an avenue to establish trust among the Muslim segment of consumers, an increasingly powerful demographic in the region.

Demographics, Spending Habits

The younger demographic of the Middle East continues to aid in market growth as well, with countries across the region reporting similar demographic trends. In Dubai, 60% of the population is under 25, and with a population of 80 million, Egypt’s median age is 24. While this younger demographic embraces the traditional regimens of its elders, it also spend significantly on cosmetics, and is more likely to experiment with new products and European trends, often imported through Lebanese television and fashion magazines. This demographic is making more trips to the salon, and, consequently, is experimenting more with hair color and cosmetics, too. According to recent research by TMBA, an Iranian market research company, Iranian women 15–45 spend $7 each month on cosmetics, which is 10% of the average monthly salary. This rate is attributed to their younger, more urban demographic, with half of the country’s population of 74 million people under 30 and 65% of them living in urban areas.

The booming retail industry in the Middle East has transformed during the previous two decades from family-owned shopping outlets to shopping malls, hypermarkets and chains. Dubai Mall attracts 750,000 visitors weekly. According to RNCOS, a market research company, the Middle East’s retail industry is now a $400 billion market, doubling in value from 2003 to 2008 with an annual growth rate of 14%. Dubai Mall is home to prestige beauty boutiques—including Faces, Dubai’s leading retail chain for prestige and niche beauty products. Faces, similar to Sephora, offers skin care, cosmetic and fragrance products from around the world in addition to cosmeceutical brands, bath and shower products, skin care experts and spa treatments in-store. Luxury brands such as Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Dior and Armani are flocking to the Middle East as well, opening flagship stores in urban centers throughout the region. According to Nielsen, retail channels in Egypt are largely based on social class, with upper-class women shopping at luxury boutiques, while the middle class tends to frequent malls and traditional trade outlets that still dominate the country.