What is a hammam?
These mostly nude sessions (apart from disposable pants) involve opening the pores in a steam room, then bathing with olive soap and mud before an intense exfoliation to get rid of dead skin – you’ll see old skin cells falling off in clumps. The tradition can be traced back to the Greeks; when the Moors invaded Alexandria, they took up the pastime. The word ‘hammam’ translates as ‘spreader of warmth’ and as the Islamic faith spread, so did the tradition of hammams. Most hammams around the world are communal, social affairs, but in Dubai’s spas the one-on-one hammam has, somewhat thankfully, taken off.
And the benefits? Exfoliation and detoxification (thanks to all that steam), but the most obvious benefit is how soft your skin will be for up to a week afterwards.
Al Asalla Spa at Dubai Ladies Club
Setup: The spa is surprisingly spacious and very relaxing, if a little dated. The hammam is private and spotlessly clean.
Modesty factor: Yes, we were sliding around starkers on a plastic slab, but within 20 seconds our Moroccan therapist, Hanane, relaxed us. ‘Don’t worry, my dear, soon you will be baby soft, mash’Allah,’ she said, with a favourite-aunty-worthy smile.
The scrub: This was extensive. She covered every spot with firm pressure (and checked that was to our liking). The amount of dead skin rubbing off was gross but oddly satisfying.
Any extras? She washed our hair and left it in a mask, cleansing us with olive oil soap and lathering us in a honey and yoghurt mask. Afterwards, she took us to an ice-cold shower room to close our pores.
The Royal Hammam treatment is Dhs360 for 60 minutes. Dubai Ladies Club, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 344 9445)
Jebel Ali Golf Resort and Spa
Setup: The resort’s hammam is a big steam room with two large stone slabs, plus a dome with coloured lights and lanterns to help give it an authentic feel.
Modesty factor: There are two beds, but the other is only used if you opt for a couple’s hammam.
The scrub: The therapist uses an exfoliating glove, which you can take home after the treatment: it’s invigorating and we were amazed at the amount of dead skin she removed.
Any extras? After our scrub we relaxed in the whirlpool bath and steam room and were rubbed with black olive soap and a ginger mask that warms like an invisible electric blanket. Next up was a honey face mask, a full-body massage and a head massage – the therapist even washed our hair (just like they do in Turkish baths).
The Royal Hammam treatment is Dhs380 for 90 minutes. Jebel Ali Golf Resort and Spa (04 814 5555)
Saray Spa at the Marriott Harbour Hotel
Setup: While it it looks more East Asian, the venue is very relaxing.
Modesty factor: The treatment is one-on-one in an isolated room, although the steam room is shared.
The scrub: Thorough. From between our toes to behind our ears, we were soaked and scrubbed with carefully chosen soaps and coconut cream. Our skin felt and looked much better almost instantly.
Any extras? There’s a choice of massages. We opted for the deep-tissue massage, which was better than most we’ve tried thanks to therapist Rey (who’s available for lads).
Dhs330 for 75 minutes. Marriott Harbour Hotel, Dubai Marina (04 319 4630)
Heavenly Beauty Salon and Spa
Setup: This new hammam area is surprisingly light and airy.
Modesty factor: The treatment room is dark and steamy, so modesty isn’t an issue. Our ‘bather’, Smile, helped us relax with her friendly chat.
The scrub: After washing us for at least 20 minutes, Smile began a pain-free exfoliation. The amount of dead skin removed was staggering.
Any extras? Ginger moisturiser was applied during a massage afterwards.
The Moroccan Bath is Dhs295 for 75 minutes. Heavenly Beauty Salon, Safa Road, Jumeirah (04 344 4456)
Sisters Beauty Lounge
Setup: The room is private and the hammam is steamy, but the interiors are nothing to write home about.
Modesty factor: Wearing just disposable knickers, our lovely Asian masseuse Luisa (who was wearing a bikini!) did a great job of putting us at ease by making conversation, but she also knew when to leave us in silence.
The scrub: Using an exfoliation glove, the scrub-down involved just the right amount of pressure.
Any extras? We were treated to a plastic cocoon wrap, where we were slathered in two fragrant goos – one for our limbs and one our chest. It was followed by a firm scalp, head and body massage.
The ladies-only full hammam treatment is Dhs425 for up to two hours, depending on the size of the client. Sisters Beauty Lounge, The Dubai Mall (04 339 8500)