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Central Asia: Cosmetics, Culture and Politics

By: Gregory Grishchenko
Posted: March 3, 2011, from the March 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

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International companies currently prevail in the country, notable in the 2008 upsurge in direct selling, with leading Oriflame Uzbekistan claiming 14.5% share of the country’s beauty market. Direct seller networks now cover main urban areas, and are slowly entering rural areas with almost no competition. Companies that are focused on this area strengthened their positions while the ongoing development of store retailing is slow (with locally produced cosmetics mainly distributed through pharmacies).

Domestic production of cosmetics and toiletries is not well developed due to lack of investment, however, several companies continue operation using imported from European ingredients and local supplies as well. Established in 2003, UzSetGlobal Uzbek-American Joint Venture was one of the first companies manufacturing skin care products from pure organic materials such luffa. Luffa is natural material made from luffa plant. Bioline Kosmetiks from Tashkent imports extracts, concentrates and aromas from France, the U.K., Germany and Ukraine to manufacture 24 BioLife brand skin care products.


Despite the fact that Turkmenistan (pop. 4.9 million) is number two in GDP in Central Asia due to extremely rich natural gas deposits, it is a low-income country where consumer expenditure on cosmetics and toiletries is not high—though there was some rise in cosmetic consumption 2003–2008, notably in depilatories, which experienced a percentage gain of more than 1,200%.

As more of Turkmenistan’s women join the workforce and have personal spending income, they are able to find and purchase locally produced fragrances in supermarkets and other specialized stores, or counterfeit goods at the open-air market and kiosks. However, a majority of local Turkmen cannot afford the expensive international cosmetics. The total beauty market (estimated at nearly $100 million) has shown impressive triple-digit growth for 10 ten years in basic categories such as as hair, skin and baby care, however, this should be attributed to minimum benchmark levels of the post-Soviet period.

Cultural Trends

Being the poorest regions of the former Soviet Union, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan (like the rest of Central Asian fairly new independent states) fell under control of the former communist party leaders and became autocratic regimes with regulated media. With the exception of Kazakhstan, with its large share of Russian population, the Central Asian states are predominantly Muslim. Since gaining independence in 1991, tremendous cultural changes took place in the region, turning the Central Asia‘s population from reasonable secularism or even atheism of the Soviet period to devout followers of Islam, and the rise of fundamentalism in some areas.