Although there are some nuances – hemp seed oil cosmetics are legal in Dubai, for example – the possession of CBD products is still largely prohibited in the UAE. (Hemp seed oil does not contain CBD.)
With the approval of Dubai authorities, however, Juana Skin’s product line will bring CBD — or cannabidiol, which is found in the stem, leaves and flowers of the hemp plant — to consumers in the Middle East under the form of brightening moisturizers, night creams, face oils and body butters. Unlike its psychoactive cousin THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, CBD does not produce a high and has been shown to help relieve skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, pruritus, or itchy skin and inflammation.
“I wanted to go where no one else dared to go.”
Yann Moujawaz and his mother Juana Martini. Credit: Juana skin
But Moujawaz says he was not interested in serving already spoiled consumers. He wanted to lead the way and bring the benefits of CBD to a new market that was closed.
“I wanted to go where no one else dared to go,” he said.
A joint venture
While a student at the London School of Economics in 2013, Moujawaz was part of a team that won first place (and 5,000 euros in prize money) in the French economics and entrepreneurship competition LH Forum with a proposal to turn leftover fruit into a sustainable skincare brand. . Moujawaz now admits the idea has largely repackaged the homemade skincare remedies his mother regularly made for her family from natural oils and food waste while growing up in France.
It was a tradition rooted in Martini’s childhood, when she lived in olive groves in Syria and made Aleppo soap, a bar of Castile soap made from olive and laurel oils.
“I’m very passionate about natural products, especially oil-based solutions because I was born into a family that produced olive oil,” Martini said in a Zoom interview from Dubai. “I’ve always watched my mom make all-natural remedies and I’ve done the same for my kids.”
A young Juana Martini, pictured in one of her family’s olive groves. Credit: Juana skin
After his LSE degree, Moujawaz worked on major development projects in the Middle East as a principal consultant at the Boston Consulting Group based in Dubai. But the stress of his jet-set lifestyle took a toll on his health. he was losing his hair, suffered from back pain and insomnia, and had his gallbladder removed.
“I had a moment of realization in which I said to myself that, as brilliant as my career was, it would never give me back the organs that I had lost,” Moujawaz, 32, said. “I then understood the real cost of a poor quality of life.”
At the same time, Martini was struggling to navigate life as an empty bachelor in Paris after his three children left home and lived abroad.
Between his failing health, burnout, and his mother’s growing depression, the wheels in Moujawaz’s head began to turn and he asked his mother to team up with him. Only this time, instead of orange peel and leftover fruit, they would create a brand using the family’s new natural remedy obsession: CBD oil.
While on a family vacation in California in 2019, Martini discovered the powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of CBD oil — how it soothed his eczema within hours and accelerated the healing process of a scar.
“I’ve always used olive oil as a base for most of my remedies, but when I added CBD oil, my formulas took off to another level,” said Martini, who keeps handwritten notes of different formulas in a notebook. “I was really so impressed.”
Moujawaz, too, became a convert because CBD helped ease his insomnia and stress levels. He obsessively read about its benefits, learning how they’ve been shown to help the body’s endocannabinoid system – a cellular signaling network that regulates everything from sleep, appetite, memory, fertility and skin health – works well.
Beyond dispelling myths and misinformation about CBD, Moujawaz says highlighting these benefits was key. The brand’s strategy is based on positioning its product line less as beauty offerings and more as pharmaceutical-grade natural treatments to help with skin disorders.
Maintain high standards
But the process of creating products that would both eliminate local drug bans and meet regulatory requirements took time and patience. Moujawaz and Martini have partnered with registered organic hemp farms in Spain and Portugal to source CBD strains and have pumped their products with two to four times the potency of average Western market products to ensure their effectiveness. . During the product development process, they implemented bans on some 2,000 filler ingredients, while approved formulas went through clinical trials in France and Germany. He describes the laborious process as a “blessing in disguise”.
“Because the standards were so high here (in the UAE) and we had to prove that we were a brand with high medical pharmaceutical value, we were pushing ourselves on a daily basis in reformulating our products.”
While Juana Skin may have cleared the administrative hurdles, Amna Abbas, a Middle East beauty and health consultant with market research group Euromonitor, says her next big hurdle will be successfully convincing Emirati consumers. that CBD is safe and effective.
“In this region, the awareness and knowledge of cannabis is not there yet,” she said. “If you say cannabis, it has a negative perception.”
Juana Skin refreshing gel. Credit: Juana skin
Moujawaz understands this well, which is why when Juana Skin products officially launch in the UAE this winter, they will first be available in health and dermatology clinics where consumers can ask questions and learn more. about CBD from trained professionals. Moujawaz also organizes educational conferences in the region to demystify the CBD, one of which included a recent sold-out “TED Talks” style event at private club The Arts Club Dubai.
Abbas also points out that although many women in the region tend to wear full makeup, the pandemic has sparked more interest in preventative skin care and more natural looks. This market change could work in favor of Juana Skin.
“After the pandemic, there is a greater interest in general wellbeing and personal care in the region,” she said. “And that includes a move away from color cosmetics to care for the skin.”
For Moujawaz, the launch of Juana Skin also means breaking free from different moulds. He also notes that female plants, which produce the highest concentrations of cannabidiol, are the main source of CBD.
“For my mother, it was an opportunity to show that it’s never too late to start over,” Moujawaz said. “She proved just the opposite, that you can entertain the craziest idea there is and start a cannabis company in the Middle East.”
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