Dubai: The Next Beauty Capital of the World

With South Korean beauty exports reaching $3.97 billion in 2016, Seoul has become known as a global beauty capital. While Korean beauty products have seemingly taken over the world, the cosmetics industry is shifting its focus to a new market: the Middle East. And Dubai is leading the way.

Middle Eastern Beauty Market

From a Western perspective, one might associate the Middle East with modesty, but the Middle East and Africa is the fastest growing beauty market in the world. Even in Saudi Arabia, where women are required to completely cover themselves in public, employed women spend on average up to 80% of their income on beauty products according to a report in Arab News. Spending on cosmetics and skincare in the Middle Eastern and African region is predicted to grow at 6% annually, double the rate of the global market. Of that MEA market, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates account for a quarter of the spending, and Dubai residents are the biggest spenders in the region.   

It’s no surprise that Dubai has emerged as the hub for beauty spending. The Dubai Mall is the largest shopping center in the world, and the Sephora in the Dubai Mall is the second highest grossing Sephora location in the world. In the last ten years, numerous high-end beauty brands have established brick-and-mortar locations in the Middle East, including Clinique, Nars, and Bobbi Brown. Sephora now has 31 locations in the Middle East in the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait.

Pictured: Sephora in the Dubai Mall is the second highest grossing Sephora location in the world.

In addition to the tremendous sales opportunities, beauty brands are finding the Middle East to be a good test market for new products. As heavy beauty consumers, Middle Eastern women are very eager to try new products but have high expectations. “The Middle East is the hardest market. If we don’t make it here, you’re not going to make it anywhere,” says Huda Kattan, CEO of the Dubai-based makeup brand Huda Beauty. Makeup preferences in the Middle East are also very different than in Paris and Seoul. While the French and Korean markets prefer more minimalist, fair-skinned makeup looks, the Middle Eastern market is drawn to dramatic, Arab-inspired makeup looks – heavy eye makeup and contoured cheekbones. Even though Middle Eastern consumers may use the same products from the same companies, they use them differently than other markets, which calls for different marketing.  That’s where the beauty influencers come in.

Evolution of Beauty Marketing

With the rise of YouTube and social media platforms, the way that beauty brands reach their consumers has drastically changed over the last decade. The way that Millennials and Generation Z consume media has given rise to the ‘beauty influencer’. YouTubers and individuals with large social media followings try the latest beauty products and post reviews and tutorials on their pages, amassing large followings in the process. Recognizing the organic marketing opportunity that was developing, makeup brands began sending PR packages of their latest products to beauty influencers in their target demographic. Take your pick of a popular beauty guru, and on any given day their Snapchat or Instagram story will show them unboxing mounds of PR packages from top makeup brands, like Chanel, Urban Decay, or Kylie Cosmetics.

The beauty influencer phenomenon has affected the Middle East to an even greater degree. YouTube and social media are giving women greater access to the beauty world. As cultural norms surrounding female expression evolve, the beauty influencer movement is largely responsible for the promoting the rapid sales growth in the Middle East. Forbes recently published a list of the top 10 Arab beauty influencers. The influencers on this list hail from several Middle Eastern countries, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.  At the top of the list is Huda Kattan, an Iraqi-American immigrant who Instagram recently declared the highest earning influencer on the platform. With her 26 million followers and counting, she has built a billion dollar cosmetic line called Huda Beauty.

International beauty influencers are also travelling to Dubai to promote beauty brands and grown their online followings. Celebrity makeup artist Mario Dedinadovic has given several of his famous makeup masterclasses in Dubai. Tickets for the masterclasses ranged from $529 to over $3,000 and earned attendees a seat to see Dedinadovic provide a live makeup tutorial on Kim Kardashian West as his model.

With Dubai leading the way, the Middle Eastern beauty market is growing rapidly and showing no signs of stopping. While Dubai may not be a large beauty exporter yet, brands are looking to Dubai for design preferences and sales trends. The demand is also giving rise to local middle eastern brands, like Huda Beauty and Shiffa. To meet the demand in the Middle Eastern market, beauty brands will have to adapt to local preferences, which will further establish Dubai as a beauty capital in its own right. Paris and Seoul, beware.

Kate McKenney

Global Business Projects – Summer 2018