17 Sep 2018
Ramallah, Palestine
Sustainable Cleaning Products and Cosmetics

Palovina, Elham Zaben’s Palestinian skin care and beauty product line, does not do anything by halves. Founded in 2012, Palovina only uses natural ingredients — an impressive commitment in an industry awash with artificially enhanced offerings. Zaben argues that this approach benefits both the purchaser — who receives a better product and the environment, which suffers damage from harmful, commonly used chemicals like titanium dioxide.

Palovina has cultivated a loyal customer base in Palestine, but Zaben has grand plans for the business’s next moves. Zaben has patented her secret formula for 100% natural liquid soap, which could open up lucrative markets overseas. Palovina has also grown its reputation in far-flung Japan, where word is spreading that Palovina’s products are the real deal. Can Zaben and her dedicated staff deliver on these great expectations?

Six years ago, a conundrum struck Elham Zaben in her Palestinian village of Mazari al-Nubani, about one hour by car from Ramallah. Palestinian communities have made oil-based, castile soaps for millennia, yet the local skin care market was flooded with lesser quality, chemically enhanced products. “In 2012, I began to produce natural skin care products,” Zaben says. “We didn’t have them in Palestine, even though we already have the olive oil.”

That year Zaben founded Palovina, her company that offers a diverse range of natural skin care and cosmetic items. Palovina has built its market share since its formation, while also remaining environmentally sustainable. The company’s packaging comes from recycled materials, and its products do not include harmful chemicals.

The widespread use of artificial additives has brought the global cosmetics industry under sharp scrutiny in recent years. For example, the UN Environment Programme released a 2015 report raising concerns about microplastics. Found in many cosmetics, these tiny plastic particles can cause pollution when they find their way into wastewater streams. Chemicals can also be harmful to humans. Parabens (preservative agents used in cosmetics) have been linked with illnesses like breast cancer, while common foaming agents can wreak damage on eyes and even the skin itself.

Zaben’s operation fights against both of these social challenges. “Palovina only uses natural ingredients, so it is a friend to the environment and a friend to the human body as well,” Zaben says.

Building the master formula:

Without any formal pharmaceutical training, Zaben began experimenting with recipes for skin cleansing products nine years ago. Back then, she reports, Palestine’s natural skin care industry was at a very primitive stage indeed. “I remember going to a local university to learn more about the issue, but I could not get any good information.”

For this reason, Zaben decided to go it alone. She developed her own formula for various soaps and cleansers from all-natural ingredients, and then tested those prototypes at a professional laboratory. The results were good, giving Zaben the basis for her new business, Palovina. Over time, the company’s offering has expanded from skin cleansers to beauty products and remedies for acne, itching and hair loss.

Palovina’s operation began as a small factory in Mazari al-Nubani, where Zaben and her team produce skin care products to this day. Now the center of Palovina’s operations has shifted to the regional hub of Ramallah, where members of the public can browse the company’s range and make purchases over the counter. According to Zaben, Palovina currently commands a customer base of 4,000 to 5,000 people.

Certain clients have given Zaben particular cause for optimism about expanding Palovina’s business internationally. The cities of Tokyo and Ramallah may not always come to mind in tandem, but Palovina has cultivated a devoted following amongst workers at the local Japanese embassy. The diplomats’ strong feedback has made Zaben turn her gaze to the Far East. “My Japanese customers ask me, ‘why don’t you sell Palovina in Japan?’ so I am exploring business opportunities there,” says Zaben.

Palovina has another ace up its commercial sleeve a registered patent for an all-natural liquid soap formula, which Zaben claims does not exist anywhere else. Zaben plans to exploit this trade secret by building a range of clients across the highly lucrative American and European markets.


The future is female:

While Zaben stresses that Palovina is a commercially sustainable enterprise, the business model also revolves around positively impacting the local community. In addition to its eco-friendly commitments, Palovina deliberately employs local women. At present, four out of five staff members are female, supporting Zaben in both production and design.

“After graduating from university, it can be very hard for women to find work in Palestine,” Zaben says. Palovina’s employees have tertiary degrees in fields from business administration to marketing to graphic design. The women now receive a stable source of income, not to mention a vehicle for using their personal talents.

Palovina’s insistence on using natural ingredients can place it at a competitive disadvantage with less diligent companies, who have entered the organic skin care market without maintaining the same standards. “Some companies make ‘natural products,’ but they are not 100% natural,” says Zaben. “It is hard to compete with these brands, especially imported products from overseas.”

Despite that, Zaben has her patent, her growing customer base and her drive to bring Palovina to the world. The people of Mazari al-Nubani, for starters, would be loath to doubt Zaben’s ability to drive Palovina from strength to strength.


Learn more about Palovina through its Facebook page.

Photos courtesy of Palovina.

Since getting his MA in Middle Eastern Studies last year, David has worked as a freelance journalist based in Accra, Ghana, and Cairo, Egypt.David Wood
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Palovina Organic Cleaning Products & Cosmetics