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RIYADH: Muzon Ashgar, founder and director of Saudi brand MZN Bodycare, has always had an interest in natural skincare products, which she sourced in the United States.

But after hosting a recreational “spa party” for friends a few years ago, she realized there was no need to look abroad to be ethically conscious.

Ashgar has developed her own recipes for natural skincare products and packaged them herself. She went from distributing products as gifts in her home spa to selling at local markets and events, eventually starting her own business.

Now, its cruelty-free and sustainable products can be found in major drugstore chains, high-end retailers and spas across Saudi Arabia.

“We are impressed that most of our customers actually care about MZN being a sustainable brand. There is a remarkable awareness within our community of the benefits of buying sustainable local brands,” Ashgar told Arab News.

But this awareness has not always been apparent and is non-existent in some communities.

A report by business consultancy Mordor Intelligence found that the major players in the Saudi beauty industry are cruelty-free companies, including Beiersdorf AG (parent company of brands such as Nivea and Labello) and Estee Lauder.

When a brand is not cruelty-free, the company either conducts individual animal testing itself, or through its supplier, or through a third party.

Procter & Gamble, which owns brands such as Herbal Essences, Pantene, Olay and SK-II, is at the forefront of the huge global market. The consumer giant recently announced its commitment to #BeCrueltyFree across its 19 businesses, highlighting steps the industry is taking to become more sustainable.

Avon comes in third, a completely cruelty-free brand. Although Estee Lauder is not, some of the brands in its portfolio, including Smashbox and Too Faced, both popular with Saudi consumers, are certified cruelty-free by US animal rights group PETA.

The issue gets complicated because some brands cannot fully develop a cruelty-free approach because they sell products in countries that require animal testing by law, such as China. Drawing their supply from these countries would result in a huge loss of revenue.

However, Saudi Arabia does not insist on animal testing for skincare and beauty products. This creates an easy market for local sustainable and vegan cosmetics to scale up and meet the demand for these items.

Saudi environmentalist Zahra Alqatari told Arab News that there is only limited awareness of sustainability as an issue in the Kingdom.

“This reduces the demand for cruelty-free and sustainable beauty products. As a result, the beauty industry continues to produce products that harm us, animals and the environment.

However, this is changing as local brands, such as MZN Bodycare, champion natural, vegan and cruelty-free products for the everyday consumer.

The brand, established in 2015, believes in using local plants to create eco-friendly products.

“Our area is full of plantations that have amazing benefits like moringa, olive oils, rose and lavender essential oils, and date powder and seed oils. We have found through published research that these oils are very rich in skin-beneficial antioxidants and vitamins,” Ashgar told Arab News.

The company has seen a growing interest among Saudis in developing sustainable and environmentally friendly lifestyles.

“In fact, some customers have asked us for a ‘return packaging’ program, where we take back used packaging and refill it for them. Some call us to verify the source of our raw materials and that we are in fact a cruelty-free brand,” Ashgar said.

Another cruelty-free brand, Mama’s Alchemy, is based on veganism as a core value and motivation.

“We wanted to provide vegan options in the body care category in Saudi Arabia and the region, as there are very few brands that address the cause. We believe that veganism plays a vital role in keeping our planet clean and reducing waste,” Dina Horanieh, the firm’s managing partner, told Arab News.

The brand’s founders went looking for vegan body products for their personal use, but couldn’t find any – so they made their own. Mama’s Alchemy appeals not only to vegan consumers, but also to anyone looking for clean and sustainable body products.

“The response (from the Saudi public) has been heartwarming. We hope to see more local suppliers offering sustainable options. We are continuously working to offer more vegan and sustainable products,” said Horanieh.