UAE national Leena Al Abbas couldn’t find a salon to fit her philosophy. As a vegan and an environmentalist, she discovered there were no ventures in the city that really addressed her needs. ‘Some salons offered an organic treatment here or there, but none were 100 per cent eco-friendly,’ she says. Her body was also reacting to many of the traditional, chemical-laden treatments. ‘Sometimes I’d get a rash on my hands after going for a manicure, or a burning sensation on my scalp after colouring my hair,’ she explains. It was then that she decided to fill the gap in Dubai’s spa scene herself.
Her venture, Zen Beauty Lounge, does more than pay lip service to organics. Instead of using bought-in products, most are made in-house using natural ingredients (strawberries, oatmeal, avocado and coffee all feature in the spa’s treatments). Even the hair dye and nail varnish are vegan and free from chemicals. What’s more, Zen uses energy-saving lighting, the wallpaper is made from sustainable bamboo, and the towels are all biodegradable. It also uses filtered instead of bottled water and recycles everything – all measures that are almost unheard of in Dubai.
Al Abbas maintains that many everyday ingredients have amazing health properties for the hair and skin. We asked for a few top tips: here are her inside secrets.
‘Ancient Mayan, Aztec and Incan beauties knew avocados to be a wonderful beauty aid,’ reveals Al Abbas. ‘Avocados’, she continues, ‘have hydrating properties, are rich in vitamins A, B, D and E, and are great for battling dry or frizzy hair.’
To use as a hair conditioner, look for organically-grown, firm avocados with a slight give to the flesh. Cut the avocado in half lengthwise and remove the stone. Mash the avocado with a fork to form a paste, then add a splash of extra virgin olive oil. Mix well and apply to your hair. Leave on for 30 minutes before rinsing with lukewarm water.
‘Oatmeal is a popular remedy for dry skin,’ explains Al Abbas. ‘It not only cleanses, but it also helps to soften the skin as well.’
Mix ¼ cup of bran or oatmeal with 2 teaspoons of baking soda. (Don’t use commercial breakfast oatmeal loaded with sugars and preservatives. Organic oatmeal works best.) Add enough water to make a thick paste, then apply liberally all over your face, avoiding the eyes. Leave on for 15-20 minutes, then rinse gently with warm water. For best results, apply once or twice a week.
‘I’m not sure where to begin regarding the health benefits of strawberries,’ says Al Abbas. ‘They can be used for conditioning the skin, they have an antiseptic in them that can lighten skin pigmentation, and they’re a natural exfoliant. Also, their gentle acidic nature helps to take care of those flaky dead cells that sit on top of the skin.’
Mix ½ cup of fresh organic strawberries with a tablespoon of sour cream for a weekly facial mask. The strawberry juice helps to tighten your skin, while the cream acts as an emollient to battle dehydration. Leave the mask on for 20 minutes, then wash off with warm water. Pat the face dry and follow with moisturiser.
Zen Beauty Lounge, Discovery Gardens, Street 1, Building 3 (04 434 3017). Open daily 10am-8.30pm. Manicures start at Dhs70, massages start at Dhs50 for 20 minutes.