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How This UAE-based Entrepreneur Binds Mental Health & Clean Beauty

Project bYouty’s founder, Amy Wilkinson-Lough tells us how she pioneers clean beauty in the UAE and beyond.

The Middle East’s demand for clean beauty is thriving; consumers seek clean (see: ‘halal’) skincare and beauty products to make more mindful choices. And so, creating a community and platform for a plethora of clean beauty brands and open conversation about overall wellness couldn’t be more important.

Enter Project bYouty.

Founder, Amy Wilkinson-Lough launched the e-commerce platform following a personal discovery. Throughout her experience, she saw how damaging one particular beauty or skincare product can be to one’s physical health. She was faced with an imperative: providing a space for consumers to shop consciously whilst being part of a wider conversation about women’s health topics often considered taboo. Shedding light on such issues, Amy believes, creates inclusivity and opens the floor to self-love, acceptance, and body positivity. The clean beauty pioneer believes that knowing what goes into everything our skin consumes and taking care of our mental health go hand in hand.

Amy’s “less is more” approach to beauty is refreshing, especially in a social media world where unattainable body and beauty ideals seem to rule. caught up with the inspirational, no-nonsense, entrepreneur and delved into why beauty goes beyond just skin deep.

What is Project bYouty?
Project bYouty is a proudly homegrown online E-commerce community focused on bringing the very best conscious beauty and wellbeing brands to the GCC region and educating the consumer; both male and female on why and how to use them.

You have a background in the music industry, tell us a little bit about your foray into the world of Project bYouty…
Certainly, wasn’t a planned one but sometimes the universe takes over and you have to run with it right? I’ve been in the music industry for 20 years, I’ve delivered shows across Australia, Asia, Europe and of course here in Dubai and can hand on heart say I’ve loved every single minute of it. I raised an investment round to set up Louder Entertainment and sadly after some incredible shows including Drake, Take That, Masterjam there was an unexpected and heartbreaking fall out with investors essentially leaving me with no business. It took an enormous toll on my mental health and just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse we had a significant cancer diagnosis in the family that unequivocally broke my heart. I found myself clinging onto face masks, hair masks, essential oils anything that would keep me from a flood of what felt like constant tears. Moment I arrived back to Dubai my access to such purpose driven brands and products was essentially nonexistent unless I ordered from overseas which just felt wrong on so many levels given the state of the planet. Hell hath no fury when it comes to a woman, her emotions and her skincare – que all things Project bYouty.

With the awareness that many health issues can be relieved by using clean beauty products, what is it about the state of the beauty industry that people should be informing themselves about?
The problem is the idea and understanding of ‘clean beauty’ is still so grey, what it means to one brand it doesn’t mean to the other. The parameters of clean on one E-comms site is different to that of the other so is it any wonder the beauty consumer feels overwhelmed and confused?! For us we kept it simple, no parabens, no SLS. Science still plays a part, a very much needed one, in skincare and it’s important that’s not forgotten. That said, knowledge is power, as a rule of thumb before purchasing a product I’d really understand the brand, their why and how they curate their ingredients it tells you a lot more than you think. Then, familiarize yourself with the ingredient list – essentially if you can’t pronounce the ingredient, do you really want it going into your blood stream?

The Project bYouty platform also has a number of informative articles. You cover topics such as miscarriage, periods, mental health and other issues surrounding women's health that are less spoken about in the Middle East. Why do you think sparking more conversation about these topics is important in this region?
I’m hugely passionate about bringing to light everyday ‘things’ that happen to women. As a region, we don’t do it anywhere nearly enough. My husband and I have been on a pretty brutal IVF journey for the last 6 months, and to the surprise of so many around us, we’re totally open about it! Society has made us believe that it’s something to be ashamed of and subsequently, many of the women I sit opposite of in the clinic waiting room do nothing but look at the floor – it’s just wrong, so wrong and I’m determined to see it change. I know of people battling some serious mental health issues, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks (all totally normal by the way) and it has affected and indeed continues to affect their everyday lives but they have absolutely no idea where to go or who to talk to for help so they suffer in silence – no good can possibly come of that right? It’s been a tough two years for everyone, we’ve spent waaaaay longer than we would have liked staring at ourselves on zoom, then comparing ourselves to some unrealistic heavily filtered friend or colleague – and next thing we’re mentally in a cloud of darkness. Now more than ever we need kindness and just to say to those around us “hey, it’s okay not to be okay” and if we can be the ones to lead the way then it’s a mission I’m very comfortable accepting.

How do you think Project bYouty can be directional and a safe space in changing the way women talk about these issues?
My honest answer is that I’m not entirely sure, it’s a constant discussion point in the office and we definitely don’t have all the answers! Our hope is that if we can just keep bringing to light these issues people will start to join the conversation, and more importantly, feel comfortable doing so. Our game-changers within the site’s magazine are every day women like you and I who have come forward to write for us about something they feel is important to tell the world. The very fact that we don’t have to go hunting for ‘content creators’ as it were, is testament to people embracing the idea of this safe space. We know beauty has the ability to be a conduit for way bigger conversation and it’s up to us to make that conversation worth having.

Living in a world where image is everything and women aspire to, quite often, an unattainable beauty ideal, what is your personal take on beauty?
“Ugh!” That’s probably the best way I can describe how I feel about it. I’m crushed that my ten-year-old niece talks to me about calories and pouts every time we take a family picture! Comparison is the thief of joy and sadly we, men and women spend way too long comparing ourselves to unattainable images that have been so heavily filtered that the person doesn’t even look like themselves anymore. Personally, I’m an advocate for the less is more approach, I think there’s genuinely nothing more beautiful than a woman with her hair in a top knot, sweat pants on, skin breathing, living her purpose, and yeah that includes cellulite, pigmentation and acne #reallife

Can clean beauty ever be totally "clean?" And what can we, as consumers, be mindful of when purchasing beauty and body care items - especially online?
Not when science is so vital to performance – I can’t see it. Just do your research and remember salt always looks the same as sugar! Buy only from legitimate, registered businesses that have the permission to be a stockist and if you’re not sure, jump on the brands central site and check! Sadly, the grey market in this region is huge which means that you may see a brand you know, but you have absolutely no idea of its legitimacy- and neither does the person who’s selling it and let’s face it, they’ve purchased it from an alternative site hence you’re seeing such inflated prices! I’d say 70% of the brands we spoke to and have listed with us on the site have never ever granted permission nor instigated the necessary paperwork to be here yet they’re on 10 or 15 websites.

What is the one concept/product or ingredient that you would like to see eradicated from the beauty industry?
Animal testing – and the good news is we’re almost there! China remains the only country to legally allow testing on animals in fact in many cases is mandatory to entering the marketing, but new rules are coming into play slowly to stamp that out- by 2022 I believe!

What does Project bYouty do to be kind to the environment?
We’re determined to lead the way in reducing unnecessary, oversized packaging. Everything we use is FSC certified, we only work with suppliers that are members of the eco alliance meaning for every item we purchase we plant a tree in return. We use entirely recyclable boxes, acid-free tissue paper and soy stickers. Our mailers are compostable made from a combination PBAT – a bio-based polymer, and PLA - a combination of regular field corn and wheat straw. We hold it all perfectly in place with water-activated tape certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and its all 100% recycled.

Skincare isn't always affordable or accessible to many, which Project bYouty brands/products would you recommend to those on a shoestring budget?
When it comes to budget, people assume that means a lesser quality product and it’s just not the case at all. Look for products that do multiple things, for example 8 Face’s Boundless Solid Oil  is a cleanser, a toner, a mask and a moisturizer! It’s all about the amount of time you leave it on the face. Bolt Beauty is another incredible brand, cost effective but possibly one of the most innovative we came across, the seaweed capsules contain the exact amount of product you need, are completely biodegradable and come in stackable pots – genius. 

Take us through your daily self-care routine - What products do you use and why?
Important that I say I’m sent lots of things to try, as nothing goes on the site without someone in the team trying it. Self-care starts for me with a workout, I live for Crank or a good boxing session – I train 5/6 days a week purely for my mind, and I won’t lie, I also love cake! Skincare wise, I’m addicted to Mara’s entire range it packs an absolute punch when it comes to hydration and glow.

I’m never without Ultrasun Anti Pigmentation SPF – ever. It’s the Holy Grail and I can’t stress enough the effect it has on pigmentation reduction. I’ve always got Emma Hardie Moringa cleansing balm in the arsenal, it’s my go to when in need of double cleanse, the smell has an instant calming effect on the mind and the process of massaging it into the face and then removing it with a warm muslin towel is a sacred one.

I finish everything with Augustinus Bader’s Rich Cream which is eye wateringly expensive, but worth every dirham, I promise.

Lastly, as a beauty entrepreneur, what words of empowerment can you share with our readers?
Nothing looks as beautiful as kindness. 

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