Many have heard stories about Dubai’s glitz, glamour, and shopping meccas, but few see how the people in the most densely populated city in the United Arab Emirates actually live. For longer than we can remember, we’ve been inspired by the beauty rituals of Middle Eastern women to try products we couldn’t get anywhere else in the world, from argan oil to kohl liners, and now they’re staples in our routines.
Now that social media is connecting women from all over the world, sites like Instagram and Facebook are leading the charge when it comes to influencing Dubai beauty trends. Much of what’s in for the industry there is shared with the States, according to the city’s top beauty blogger, Huda Kattan, who is renowned around the globe. She knows this sense of crossover quite well, as she is Iraqi-American, born in the heart of the South in Tennessee.
The difference is that Dubai skews a bit more toward the dramatic: You won’t see many opting for minimalism in that part of the world. You’ll find the most beautiful women wearing big brows, bold eyeliner, red carpet–ready lashes (“women wear them to the grocery store here,” says Kattan), spray tans, and essentially anything that can hold up in the city’s 100-degree temperatures. Kim Kardashian is the inspiration for so many there, which is another similarity with the States.
Kattan’s mantra is that makeup can truly be worn everywhere, thus she’s known for making it adaptable for every situation of her life. She even likes to throw on a little concealer before a workout. Kattan started her blog five years ago after spending a lot of time in the UAE for her job as a financial recruiter. She ultimately decided she wanted to leave the corporate world and pursue her dream of becoming a makeup artist in the Middle East, so she honed her skills working with Joe Blasco in Los Angeles.
She then made her home in Dubai and started crafting the beauty looks of many wealthy women and tourists in the city. Kattan launched her blog in 2010 with the aim of helping women the world over amplify their natural beauty with fun tutorials. She’s now bringing in more than 100,000 views on YouTube with each video, has readers in over 100 countries, close to 7 million followers on Instagram, and her own line of false lashes.
Here, Kattan tells us everything about Dubai beauty trends, the best places to get your beauty fix, her favorite products, and more.
Her early influences:
When I was nine, my older sister was always buying beauty products. I would sneakily take them from her and play with them, which led to my becoming quite good at doing makeup by age 14. I was doing eyebrows for her and her friends and a lightbulb went off: I realized I really understood makeup well—and not just the face but the holistic look from hair to skin to how that works with an outfit. My parents are actually quite conservative, so they didn’t want me to wear makeup, much less focus on it for my career.
They thought it was a bit unhealthy for me to be putting all these things on my face at a young age, but I was full-on glam every single day by the time I was in high school. And I never fit in. My friends and I were the kind who opted for full faces and had a lot of fun with makeup. Our clique could be compared to Mean Girls because of our love for beauty and girlishness, though we were really nice girls!
The similarities and differences between beauty in the United States and Dubai:
The difference is in the intensity. When Kim Kardashian rose to fame, she essentially brought the two worlds together, as Armenia is situated between the Western world and the Middle East. She brought the very dramatic smoky eye into the mainstream but was great at showing the toned-down version of it as the Kardashians were photographed out and about during the daytime—much more natural than women here would opt for, in my opinion.
Before the adoption of a more pared-down look for women in Dubai, the contouring was quite heavy, as was the use of bold colors. You literally would not be able to recognize a woman on the street if she was not wearing makeup. Now it’s really all about enhancing their beauty with a flair for the dramatic.
Some of my customers will ask me for natural makeup, and once they see their faces, they’ll say, “Oh, no. I want to look like Kim Kardashian. Her version of natural.” So it’s definitely become more of a Hollywood glam look here, which is pretty uniform for both.
Her process of experimentation:
I actually really love Pinterest. I think [it’s] incredibly underrated. I go there often to see what appeals to me and what I’m loving for the moment. I then move from that medium to creating the actual looks. I try way more things than I actually photograph.
Her go-to looks:
My favorite look will always be one that’s less dramatic, focusing on the lashes. A soft smoky eye with long, gorgeous lashes is just perfect. Lashes are my favorite. They give you that soft and sultry appearance without being too harsh or overbearing.
The maintenance of her long and full hair:
I don’t think I have gorgeous hair naturally, so I’ll mix conditioner and argan oil serum together. I’ll let it sit on my hair for 10 minutes, and then I’ll wash it out. That has by far been the best thing for my hair. Because of it, my hair is shinier, and it breaks less. I also swear by Alterna’s Kendi Oil ($25), biotin ($10), and omega-3 gels ($36).
Where we should shop for beauty products next time we’re in Dubai:
You definitely need to go to Sephora at the Dubai Mall. It’s my favorite Sephora in the world, and I sell my lashes there, which is exciting. Other places that are way less obvious and a bit unusual for beauty shopping are the grocery stores. They don’t have makeup, but they do have the most amazing products. Amla oil for your hair, olive- and snake-oil body treatments, and kajal—which was originally used to keep sand out of women’s eyes but is now used for liner—are all really cool products you can find.