Dubai has probably seen more black and brown faces this year than ever before. With the help of the last Christmas’ infamous glitch airfare price drop, it seemed like 1 in 3 black people made plans to travel to the United Arab Emirates. I joined the ranks of black tourists in Dubai last month and was able to meet a few naturals to get a sense of the growing natural hair movement in the city.
I partnered with Gertrud Amalwa, an Abu Dhabi-based hair blogger who is trying to jumpstart the natural hair meet-up culture that is so common in the U.S., UK, and even some African countries, by hosting natural hair meet-ups in downtown Dubai at Tre by Roberto Rella. The ladies who attended had all different hair lengths and types — from curly to coily to kinky to transitioning, and we even had a three year old join in on the fun!
Natural Hair Product Availability
The three biggest concerns that naturals have in Dubai: are access to products, lack of well trained stylists, and maintaining healthy hair in the dry heat of the desert.
Gertrud let me know that there is limited access to certain hair brand products in the local market. Between the UAE’s strict rules about allowing certain products to come into the country and month-long shipping times from US-based natural hair brands, there are only two feasible options for to obtain natural hair products.
Some brands are available on Souq.com, such as Tropic Isle Living, Sunny Isle, Organic Root Stimulator, Shea Moisture and Kinky Curly, as well as some drugstore brands like L’Oreal or Aussie. However, the majority of naturals simply stock up on products when they travel to the US, UK or an African country, or rely on friends and family to bring them products.
Salon Service in Dubai
The lavish Dubai lifestyle lends naturals to expect high quality beauty service, especially when paying top dollar. However, the industry’s prices don’t match the service quality, as beauty salons employ inexperienced and poorly paid staff to increase profit margins. Most of the naturals took their hair into their own hands. However, one woman — @DubaiDee4c — seems to be implementing the Max Hydration method on several naturals in the area.
Mainstream Acceptance for Natural Hair
Unlike Nairobi, Lagos, and Johannesburg, surprisingly, conversations regarding the acceptability of natural hair or even texture preference didn’t come up at all amongst naturals in Dubai. Gertrud’s theory is that the lack of an active curly hair community makes it impossible to observe differences in either discrimination or isolation between textures — issues that are often debated in the natural hair community in the US.
With the rise of black tourism to Dubai, it will be interesting to see whether natural hair brands take interest in the Middle East as an option for international distribution. Considering that everything is more expensive in Dubai and there seems to be a sizable black female population, I imagine that the city could be a lucrative market for natural hair brands around the world.
Have you visited Dubai? Did you see any naturals?