Although some nuances exist (cosmetics made from hemp seed oil are legal in Dubai, for example), possession of CBD-based 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 in the form of illuminating moisturizers, night creams. , facial 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 disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, itchy or itchy skin, and inflammation.
“I wanted to go where no one else has dared to go.”
Yann Moujawaz and his mother Juana Martini. Credit: Juana Skin
But Moujawaz says he wasn’t interested in serving consumers who already have plenty of options. I wanted to break new ground and bring the health benefits of CBD to a new market that was closed.
“I wanted to go where no one else has 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 in prizes) in the French LH Forum economics and entrepreneurship competition with a proposal to convert leftover fruit into a sustainable skin care brand. . Moujawaz now admits that the idea largely came from repackaging the homemade skin care remedies her mother used to make for her family from natural oils and food scraps during her childhood in France.
It was a tradition rooted in Martini’s own childhood, when she lived on olive farms in Syria and made Aleppo soap, a Castilian bar soap made with olive and laurel oils.
“I am very passionate about natural products, especially oil-based solutions, as I was born into a family that produced olive oil,” Martini said during a Zoom interview from Dubai. “I always watched my mother do natural remedies and I did the same with my children.”
A young Juana Martini, photographed in one of her family’s olive farms. Credit: Juana Skin
After graduating from LSE, Moujawaz worked on major development projects in the Middle East as a Principal Consultant at the Dubai-based Boston Consulting Group. But the stress of his jet-setting lifestyle took a toll on his health; she was losing her hair, suffering from back pain and insomnia, and had her gall bladder removed.
“I had a moment of understanding when I told myself that no matter how brilliant my career was, I would never get back the organs I had lost,” Moujawaz, 32, said. “Then I understood the true cost of a poor quality of life.”
At the same time, Martini was struggling to navigate life as an empty nester single in Paris after her three children had left home and were living abroad.
Between his deteriorating health, exhaustion and his mother’s deepening depression, the wheels in Moujawaz’s head started turning and he asked his mother to come with him. Only this time, instead of orange peels and scraps of fruit, they’d create a brand using the family’s new natural remedy obsession: CBD oil.
During a family vacation in California in 2019, Martini had discovered the powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of CBD oil—the way it calmed her eczema within hours and sped up 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 on another level,” said Martini, who keeps handwritten records of different formulas in a notebook “I was very impressed.”
Moujawaz also became a convert as CBD helped ease his insomnia and stress levels. She obsessively read about their benefits and learned how they’ve been shown to aid the body’s endocannabinoid system, a cellular signaling network that regulates everything from sleep, appetite, memory, fertility and health of the skin, to function without problems.
Beyond dispelling myths and misinformation about CBD, Moujawaz says it was key to highlight these benefits. 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.
Maintenance of high standards
But the process of creating products that would bypass local drug bans and meet regulatory requirements took time and patience. Moujawaz and Martini partnered with registered organic hemp farms in Spain and Portugal to source their CBD strains and pumped their products with two to four times the strength of average Western market products to ensure efficiency . During the product development process, they implemented bans on about 2,000 filler ingredients, while approved formulas underwent clinical trials in France and Germany. He describes the painstaking 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 strong medical pharmaceutical value, we pushed ourselves daily in reformulating our products.”
While Juana Skin may have cleared the administrative hurdles, Amna Abbas, Middle East health and beauty consultant at 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 still not there,” he said. “If you say cannabis, it has a negative perception.”
Juana Refreshing gel for the skin. Credit: Juana Skin
Moujawaz understands this well, which is why when Juana Skin products officially launch in the UAE this winter, they will be available for the first time in health and dermatology clinics where consumers can ask questions and learn more about the 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 members’ club The Arts Club Dubai.
Abbas also notes that while many women in the region tend to wear full-on makeup, the pandemic has sparked more interest in preventative skin care and a more natural look. This market change could play in favor of Juana Skin.
“After the pandemic, there is an increased interest in general wellness and self-care in the region,” he said. “And that includes a shift away from color cosmetics and into skin care.”
For Moujawaz, releasing Juana Skin is also about breaking free from different molds. 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 out there and launch a cannabis company in the Middle East.”