Monday, June 26, 2006

Exfoliation Nation

Magazines and experts advise us to exfoliate regularly, but not to scrub too hard. Try telling that to a Moroccan.

They traditionally go to the hammam once a week to soak, steam and get scrubbed. The hammam is a public bathhouse and is an important social (but not religious) aspect of life in many Islamic countries.

In Marrakesh, I was feeling a bit grubby from walking around in near-100 degree heat, so I decided to try a "Berber Hammam" offered by my riad (small guest house), a treatment fashioned after how the mountain people of Morocco bathe.

The Hammam at the Riad Jnane Mogador

I was led to a marble room with pretty fountains in it - small enough for just 1 client. After being instructed to leave my clothes in a locker, I sat upon the warm marble floor and the attendant used copper bowls to scoop water from the fountain over my bare skin.

Next, she gave me a blob of a black soap, which had the consistency of Vaseline, and indicated I should spread it over my body, head to toe. She let the soap soak in for a few minutes, then rinsed it off with more scoops of water.

After she uttered a few words in a mixture of French and Arabic, I figured out that I was to lie flat on the warm marble floor for the gommage, or scrubbing. She put on a rough fabric mitt and began rubbing it all over me, one limb at a time. Eyes closed (because you really don't want to look at the person who's seeing you nude!), I focused on the sensation and decided it felt like a rough cat's tongue - but much harder. At times, the scrubbing hurt a bit, but I didn't want any special treatment because I was tourist. Besides, you can't help but feel that if it hurts, it's got to be good for you.

When I did peek my eyes open, I could see she'd manaaged to roll dead skin right off. After a few rinses, she doused my head and washed my hair with rhassoul - a dark, clay-like substance. After a final exfoliation on the face and a few more scoops of water, and I was left squeaky, shiny, pinky clean.

Create the hammam experience at home with Red Flower's Hammam line of bath and body products. They smell fantastic. I'm especially in love with the Cardamom Amber Oil. If you can't decide what to get, try each product in the gorgeously packaged Hammam Gift Set - or buy it for a friend who needs a little body TLC.

Tadé makes a Turkish Black Soap that looks quite similar to what I tried. If you'd like to try the cleansing clay, The Body Shop makes a Rhassoul Soap and Lush's Reincarnate Solid Shampoo also uses the Atlas Mountain mud in its formula.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pick This Up!

You might know Zoe Rice from the hilarious and true entries on her blog, Real Girl Beauty. But now she's officially a PA - published author. Her novel, PICK ME UP, has just come out! This great summer read has something for everyone - a romantic triangle, hidden secrets, laughs, and a heroine you'll want as your best friend. Plus, it offers an insider's look at the New York art world. Zoe is heartfelt and hilarious as a person and her book promises to be that and more.

Read the synopsis or, better yet, just run to your local bookstore (or to get it!

Event Note: For those in the New York area, she'll be doing a reading in Brooklyn on June 14th at 7:30 PM at the Park Slope Barnes & Noble: 267 Seventh Ave. (corner of 6th St.) The F Train stop at 7th Avenue is only three short blocks away.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Mountain Makeup of the High Atlas

When I'm traveling, it's always fun to learn about local beauty rituals. Right now, I'm in Marrakesh, the former capital city of Morocco. It's a wonderful city, set against the mountains, where snake charmers, beaded slipper sellers and carpet salesmen compete for every tourist's attention.

Deep in the labrynthine market alleys, we visited a pharmacy where locals go to get nature-made remedies for every ailment. Rose oil is said to eliminate under-eye bags, and jasmine oil smells lovely and has the benefit of helping mosquito bites (in which I am covered). I also saw how Berber women use kohl to line their eyes and dried poppy juice to rouge their lips and eyes. Of course, I had to get examples of these natural and centuries-old beauty treats, which come in wooden and clay jars (which look like mini tagines, the conical clay pots in which the most delicious stews are cooked). You apply the kohl as eyeliner by dipping the wooden stick into a reservoir of ground minerals inside the wooden bottle at left. The dried red poppy powder can be applied dry as rouge to the cheeks, and if you dip your finger into water, you can apply the resulting crimson liquid to your lips. The salesman promised that the pigment would last 24 hours - I think I have found the original mineral and long-wearing cosmetics!

Here's hoping I'll have more international beauty secrets to share in the coming weeks. Posted by Picasa