Tehran: Banned after the 1979 Islamic revolution, cosmetics like lipstick and nail polish have flooded Iran so much in recent years that it is now the Middle East`s second largest beauty products market.
Following the revolution, the morality police patrolled the streets, fining or even arresting women who flaunted the strict rules until they were eased after the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
And most women were quick to catch on after a decision to allow imports in the mid-1990s with many taking to the streets all dolled-up, especially chic young urbanites.
Iranians spend about two billion dollars a year on cosmetics and the country of 74 million accounts for 29 percent of the Middle East market, which is dominated by Saudi Arabia, according to a recent survey.
Most beauty products are now imported or smuggled into Iran, as the country produces little of its own makeup but has a vast, porous coastline just across the water from modern Gulf city states like Dubai.
Almost all popular international brands like Yves Saint Laurent, Guerlain, L`Oreal and Bourjois are available at trendy uptown malls and stores in cities and large towns.
"Most specialists estimate that about 700 to 750 million dollars worth of products are imported to Iran illegally," said Abbas Najafi, the head of Iran`s counter-trafficking bureau.
Vista Bavar, who promotes the recently launched European brand Caprice in Iran, was of the same opinion, stressing that "many products are smuggled into Iran."