The column appeared originally in Arab News dated 18/2/2013
Beauty salons in Saudi Arabia are probably one of the biggest thriving businesses in the Kingdom, and is without question the least regulated.
So it comes as a great surprise to me that Saudi women, who have a reputation for having a fetish for cleanliness, would patronize establishments that often don’t pay close attention to hygiene.
Some years ago I went to a local beauty salon and the beautician used a body sponge to apply some cosmetics, and then proceeded to use it on herself, including her armpits. When I told her that I wanted clean sponges from a sealed packet, she was insulted because I had the audacity to tell her how to do her job. Apparently no customer felt the need to tell her that only fresh appliqué should be used on patrons.
I am not condemning all beauty salons. There are many fine, professional places that do fine work to appeal to a woman’s vanity. These clean and professional shops are owned by people who have trained outside Saudi Arabia and know what they are doing. But there are plenty of shops in the Kingdom that breed bacteria.
I have been to more than a few shops in which lipstick from the same tube and body care tools are given to multiple customers. Brushes are not washed and combs are not cleaned for each patron who walks through the door.
Shops not regulated by the Ministry of Health pose unnecessary health dangers to women. Consider that between January 1995 and December 2005, nearly 25,000 cases of Hepatitis C have been reported in Saudi Arabia. About 77 percent of those cases involved Saudis. The number of cases peaked in 2002 at 4,167 and leveled off in 2005 to 2,674 cases. According to Tariq Ahmed Madani’s 2007 report for the Department of Medicine at the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, most of these cases were attributed to intravenous drug use or faulty blood transfusions.
I can’t say that any of these cases originated in unclean beauty salons, but the potential for quickly spreading bacteria can be found in untested beauty products sold in unhygienic shops.
For example, there are some creams designed to lighten the skin that contain high levels of cortisone. It shouldn’t be used on a wide area of the body and not to be used for a long period of time. However, many customers and beauticians violate these cautions, which causes acne and creating different shades of pigmentation on the skin. Imagine if these types of creams are applied on the skin with acne and then the application sponges are used on different customers.
At the moment, beauty shops are not held responsible for spreading illness among patrons. Instead, the Ministry of Health should be conducting inspections of shops to enforce more hygienic and healthy procedures.
I recall my early stay in England when I went to the Boots Pharmacy. There was an open tube of lipstick on the shelf, which was available to customers for testing. I was about to apply the lipstick to my lips when a clerk ran up to me and told me that for the sake of my own health, she could not permit me to apply it to my lips. “We can’t guarantee this lipstick has not be infected,” she said.
She was keen to teach me simple health procedures, which does not happen in Saudi Arabia. When I go to a cosmetics counter in the mall, I often see women apply lipstick and makeup to their faces that has already been open and used by other customers instead of applying them to their hand. At the big department stores in the UK, the cosmetics clerk makes it a point to use sterilizers in front of their customers.
It’s a simple process to regulate cosmetic products and the beauty salons and mall shops that sell and demonstrate them for customers. Minor medical problems like acne and the more serious infections like Hepatitis C and B can be avoided. But an unchecked cosmetics industry will only contribute more health problems among women in Saudi Arabia.