Forget your acid peels, dermabrasions and Botox. The ladies of yesteryear across the Middle East just used natural, local ingredients to look good.
Here’s how to find them today.
Then: Women have been using olive oil as a beauty product across the Middle East for more than 5,000 years – if that’s not tried and tested, we don’t know what is. Ancient Egyptians were particularly keen on using it to soften skin and moisturise hair, as it soothes, heals and hydrates.
Now: You can use olive oil straight from the bottle – the same stuff you put on your salad – on dry patches of skin such as your elbows, knees and heels. If you have dry, dull hair, gently warm a few tablespoons of olive oil and massage it into your scalp and hair, cover with a shower cap or small plastic bag and leave for half an hour.
Eucalyptus black soap
Then: In the time of the Ottoman Empire, the hammam, or Turkish bathhouse, was a public place where people went to wash and socialise cheaply. Bathhouse staff would cover guests in black soap and give them a rough exfoliating scrub. The anti-microbial soap is rich in vitamin E, and is good for softening and smoothing skin.
Now: There are a number of hammams in Dubai that use this soap to give you a good, authentic scrub. For the girls, we particularly like Heavenly Beauty Salon’s reasonably priced treatment.
The Moroccan Bath is Dhs295 for 75 minutes. Heavenly Beauty Salon and Spa, Safa Road, Jumeirah (04 344 4456).
Then: Wearing patterns and swirls of henna dye on the hands and feet has been fashionable in this region for thousands of years. According to scholars, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is even said to have used henna to dye his beard, and was a fan of the leaf for medicinal purposes too.
Now: In recent years, the trend has spread as far as the fingertips of western celebrities hoping to work eastern mystique into their look. Because henna is so popular in Dubai, many local beauty salons
will paint your hands and feet for a very reasonable price. Be warned, though: stick to the brown henna as black dyes are not safe.
Try Rachna Salon, where a simple design on your hands will cost Dhs100. Al Wasl Road, Umm Suqeim (04 394 4489).
Then: Think Cleopatra’s infamous milk baths and you’re on the right track. The dazzling Egyptian queen was famed for her soft, youthful skin as well as her beauty. Camel milk is rich in vitamin C, A, B1, B2, B12 and carotene, and is known for its anti-oxidant properties. It’s also a natural source of alpha-hydroxy acid, which helps to keep skin supple and plump.
Now: If you don’t have a team of slaves on standby to milk camels, you can just pick up a bottle from the supermarket to get skin as soft as Egypt’s legendary temptress. Just add two to four cups of milk to your bath and have a good soak.
Dead Sea salt
Then: The Nabataeans, who lived in Jordan in about 300 BC, used to mix salts of the Dead Sea with balms and lotions because of the high mineral content and detoxifying properties.
Now: Of course, you can visit Jordan for a dip in the legendary waters, but if time and money constraints get in your way, book yourself in for the Hyatt Regency’s excellent Citrus Dead Sea Salt scrub, which softens skin while invigorating with scent. Cheaper still, do it yourself at home with Boots’ good-value Dead Sea Source De-tox Seaweed Salt Scrub.
A Citrus Dead Sea Salt scrub at Club Olympus costs Dhs240 for 45 minutes. Hyatt Regency, Deira (04 209 1234). Boots’ Dead Sea Scrub is Dhs50 for 650g, available at The Dubai Mall (04 339 9383).