In the days before Eid, Dubai's salons are packed with people getting ready for the festivities that come at the end of a month of fasting and inner reflection.
It's time to look at oneself from the outside again, and what better path to outer beauty than with some of the tried-and tested treatments and products from the region?
The Arab world has been renowned for beauty and cosmetics for thousands of years — think the steamrooms of Turkey, the argan oil of Morocco and, of course, the heady scents of frankincense and oud from the Arabian Peninsula. In modern times, this translates to luxurious spa treatments and a world of Arabic-inspired fragrances from today's top designers.
Forget the Western spa, with its overpriced lotions, gentle-fingered therapists and little foot-washing rituals. The hammam is the real deal — where people for hundreds of years have come to get washed and buffed to shining perfection. With the washing comes warmth, steam, relaxation and massage — the word, it is said, comes from the Arabic for touch, massa. tabloid! tried out two — for the ladies and gents — and came away shiny and new.
Dubai Ladies' Club Al Assala Spa
The Purifying Hammam, Dh360
Hammams are the answer to anyone who thinks spas are for ninnies. If I'm going to fork out for a treatment, then I need results, now. The hammam experience, wherever you may be, is all about results you can see, smell and feel. It follows the same routine — wonderfully comforting, that, like bathtime when you were a kid — of steaming, scrubbing, mud and massage, and my experience at the Dubai Ladies' Club Al Assala Spa lived up to it. There is the steamy, peaceful atmosphere where, almost instantly, you are transformed into a lazy, eucalyptus-scented lemming ready to follow any soapy instruction; the robust-yet-gentle woman ready to lather you up; and the deep, deep bathrobes.
My scrubber for the morning, the charming Hennan — from Morocco, no less, the home of the hammam ritual — wasted no time in washing off the muck with Moroccan black soap, an olive-based paste, then leaving me to steam a while in my private hammam room — no sharing a marble slab here. I was on a padded waterproof bed, which is unusual but very comfortable. Then followed my scrubbing with the kassa, a rough-texured glove which visibly sloughs off dead skin (there are few things as satisfying as watching it fly off — result!). I sit on a stool and have my hair washed and conditioned before, finally, I am coated with a pleasingly lumpy ghassoul mask from head to toe and left to lie in the steam again. The ghassoul is Moroccan mud, and it's mixed by hand with rosewater to form a mask — natural and simple. Finally, a shower and a sit in a warm, quiet room (shod in those lovely bathrobes, natch) with a glass of minty Moroccan tea. You're soft, smooth and scented the way women in the region have been doing for centuries. And in a very modern way, the traffic worries on the way home just don't seem as bad.
For the boys, too!
The One&Only Royal Mirage Oriental Hammam
Royal Hammam Experience, DH475
For those not familiar with the world of hammams and Turkish baths, the concept can be a bit daunting. After all, the thought of a half-naked man bathing you, as you sit or lay, half-naked, like a sulking child, is not everyone's idea of relaxation, irrespective of your, well, allegiances.
Having been to a few in my lifetime, I also know, depending on how it's all done, it usually ends up being a life-changing experience or something downright cheesy.
The guys at the One&Only Royal Mirage's Oriental Hammam understand all of this very well. This is probably why after you've walked in and are done with the formalities, a host arrives to take you on an induction tour. This is to familiarise you with the concept, to make sure you know what you're getting yourself into and are comfortable.
Upon entering the hammam, you're immediately struck by its sheer size. The octagonal changing room, which can probably fit two football teams comfortably, opens to an indoor pool.
A traditional hammam is where people came to relax, socialise, nap and basically rest their worries away. And this, explains my host, is exactly what this hotel is trying to recreate.
On the far left of the pool is the hammam's sanctum sanctorum, the main treatment room. And on the far right, is the cool room, complete with soft lounge chairs with rose petals strewn all over where guests can recoup.
The treatment room is held together by a massive dome. Lit artificially the evening I was there, I am told natural light streams though the dome's many circular crevices. When you lie on the heated marble slab for your treatment, staring at the dome, you will notice the circles forming different stages of the moon.
The 80-minute treatment starts off with deep-cleansing with Moroccan black soap, followed by — my favourite — a body scrub, and then a traditional eucalyptus-scented body wrap. This was then topped off by a massage.
My therapist, Mohammad, knew exactly what he was doing. Although the hammam is designed to be communal (no private warm slabs for the inhibited, unless you book out the whole place), there was no one else the evening I was there. Keeping just the right amount of distance and applying just the correct pressure as he scrubbed away, the warm slab proved therapeutic as I began to relax, the scent of the eucalyptus lightening the air.
After been washed, scrubbed, cleansed and washed again, I was ushered into the cool room, where, after all the heat and steam, warm, dry towels were laid out on a soft lounge chair.
Served a cup of hot Moroccan tea with dates, I was told I could rest for as long as I wanted. If only life were that easy.
Women only from 8.30am to 2pm; men only from 8pm to 10pm.
Arabian beauty may be cloaked in the magic of centuries past, but there are some very modern aspects too — especially in the advent of technologically advanced halal beauty products, free from alcohol and animal ingredients. Layla Mandi's Dubai-based OnePure range is designed to combat the beauty worries that affect Middle Eastern women, from whitening to anti-ageing and acne.
Get an introduction with the Travel Collection, which features the Crystal Clear Cleanser, Perfect Toner, Super-Charged Moisture Gel and Eye Dream Cream.
Approx Dh400 at Galeries Lafayette, Soiree boutique and Bauhaus at Ibn Battuta Mall.
Just a quick stroll through a mall in Dubai uncovers a world of fragrance that's a revelation to anyone new to the Middle East — think of the enchanting cloud of oud that lingers after the wearer has already drifted by, and you'll understand why some of the world's top perfumers are becoming inspired by the perfume traditions of the region. We take a look at three of the latest.
The latest European to be beguiled by the rose, amber and oud of the Middle East is none other than Giorgio Armani, who next week releases his "haute couture" tribute to the magical scents of the east with his Prive 1001 Nights collection, custom made for the Middle East. The three-part collection equates each ingredient with a fabric, as Armani imagines the scent enveloping the wearer the way his clothes would. Oud Royal, a deep, warm and spicy elixir, is a heavy brocade worked with gold and silver; Ambre Orient is the perfume equivalent of a gold lame blouse, with vanilla, sandalwood and thyme; and finally Rose D'Arabie combines the golden attar of Damascus rose with patchouli, cloaking the wearing in a swathe of purple and gold silk.
Pre-book your fragrances from September 15 and your bottle will be engraved in gold. The collection is launched on October 25.
Dh950 for 100ml at Giorgio Armani perfume counters Harvey Nichols, Paris Gallery Dubai Mall and Abu Dhabi Marina Mall, Saks 5th Avenue and Galeries Lafayette.
The British perfumers — famous for their unique "Fragrance Combining", which allows the wearer to layer scents for new, individual concoctions — has been inspired by the perfume traditions of the Middle East for a new collection launched this month called Cologne Intense. The range "begins in the Middle East with the centuries-old traditions and rituals of blending and layering scents, incenses and oils," says its creator, award-winning perfumer Christine Nagel. The result is four modern interpretations, the spicy Amber & Patchouli, exotic Oud & Bergamot, and the enigmatic florals Rose Water & Vanilla and Iris & White Musk.
Dh505 for 100ml at Jo Malone boutiques at Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall.
The American designer has often turned his nose to the region when looking for fragrance inspiration, with his Oud Wood one of his best-selling scents. Earlier this year he turned to Morocco's Thuya trees — a conifer known for its aromatic scent and strikingly beautiful wood — for his Bois Marocain perfume. The intense scent combines the thuya with black pepper, cypress, nutmeg and cedar.
Dh750 for 50ml at Paris Gallery, Dubai Mall.