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K-beauty is not just a pretty face in Middle East

Gulf beauty K-pop trend Creative Commons/NewsInStar
K-pop girlband (GI)-dle: K-beauty is following in the footsteps of South Korea's music scene and becoming popular around the world
  • Imports of Korean cosmetics to UAE and Saudi Arabia rocketing 
  • Middle East K-beauty sales predicted to grow to $47bn by 2027
  • Competition fierce in Gulf as more salons pop up

Thousands of UAE fans flocked to Expo 2022 Dubai when some of K-pop’s biggest musical acts took to the stage. 

From Psy and his mega hit Gangnam Style to girlband (GI)-dle, Korean superstars proved to be some of the biggest crowd pleasers at the world fair.

And it would appear that devotees do not only want to listen to their musical idols, they want to look like them too.

Last August Mamoso K-beauty, the sales agent in the Middle East for South Korean beauty and skincare manufacturers, established operations in the UAE.

Like audiences for K-pop, demand for K-beauty products is surging. The Korean Institute of Halal Industry reported that imports of Korean cosmetics to the UAE and Saudi Arabia recorded annual growth of 62.7 percent and 90.1 percent respectively in 2020. 

The UAE imported $43 million worth of Korean cosmetics in 2021, while Saudi Arabia imported $19 million and Kuwaiti fans spent $13 million.

This trend was evident at Beautyworld Middle East, the region’s largest international beauty trade fair, which was held in Dubai last October.

The three-day exhibition attracted 52,760 visitors from 139 countries, with Asia accounting for over a third of exhibitors.

“Traditionally, European brands have had the strongest representation, but for the upcoming 2023 event we're seeing growth in exhibitors out of Asia, and driven by trends like K-beauty," Flyn Roberts, director at Beautyworld Middle East, told AGBI

The fair is expected to grow by 15 percent this year and will include three Korean pavilions, showcasing 130 South Korean beauty brands.

The K-beauty trend is just part of a wider growth in the regional beauty sector, with the Middle East identified in a new report as an “emerging hotspot”. 

Retail sales across the Middle East and Africa are forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 12 percent, reaching $47 billion by 2027, according to The Business of Fashion and McKinsey and Company. 

The region’s skincare and fragrance categories – currently valued respectively at $6 billion and $8 billion – are expected to be the strongest categories and double in size, as both local and foreign brands expand product ranges. 

In Saudi Arabia and the UAE, beauty ranked as the second most popular shopping category for 30 to 40 percent of female shoppers. 

Dubai beauty hair salonSupplied
Tara Kidd, founder of UAE hair salon chain Tara Rose

Tara Kidd set up the UAE hair salon chain Tara Rose in 2015. “You’ve got to keep your eye on the ball in this region because the industry is so fast changing,” she said.

“I think that’s because it’s got a very young population. Gen Z here is way more up to date with the latest trends on social media than in the UK, which means we also have to stay ahead in terms of our marketing.” 

With three salons across Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Tara Rose is opening a second salon in Dubai, launching a new e-commerce site and unveiling three different product ranges later this year.

Kidd added that while the beauty market is thriving – Tara Rose recorded a 142 percent increase in revenue to AED14.3 million ($3.8 million) in 2022 while also growing its employees from 28 to 81 – it also needs to become more sophisticated in its offering.  

“There are so many salons today and more are popping up all the time so there's a lot of competition,” she said.