Beauty treatments and regimes in Morocco are Arabian in nature, but heavily influenced by centuries of trade with both European and African countries. As all other aspects of life that have stood the test of time, when it comes to looking and feeling good in the Maghreb, the simplest tricks are those that work the best. So-called beauty ‘secrets’ from North Africa that are becoming mainstream in the U.S. are no secret at all to Moroccans.
To maintain smooth and healthy skin, a weekly trip to the hammam, or public bath, is essential. Reflecting Morocco’s multicultural past (and present), the hammams are based on a mixture of both Turkish and Roman bath culture. For men, it is a quiet time of solitude and relaxation. For women, it is a bustling scene to get the latest gossip and catch up with friends. So important is the weekly bath ritual to Moroccan life, that each quarter in every Moroccan city has at least one hammam. It’s the perfect place to lather up with pine tar soap, a black soap made out of extracts of pine used in many Moroccan spas to exfoliate and soften the skin. Afterwards, any skin moisture lost from sweating in the hot, steamy rooms of the hammam can be replaced by a mixture of Indian black kohl with a little bit of indigo, sugar, white and long pepper, and honey.
So important is the weekly bath ritual to Moroccan life, that each quarter in every Moroccan city has at least one hammam.
Another Moroccan secret for flawless skin is rose, derived from the flower petals that are grown in the Mgouna Valley, appropriately nicknamed the Valley of the Roses. In its oil form, mixed with a few drops of olive oil, rose helps minimize the appearance of wrinkles, scars, age spots, and stretch marks. This is due to its retinoic acid, which speeds up skin-cell turnover. Rosewater is also beneficial, as well, reducing under-eye circles and puffiness with applied with a cloth as a compress.
Argan oil, another Moroccan specialty grown in a specific region of the country — the southwest — is renowned for working wonders for nearly every aspect of one’s appearance. It can be lightly dabbled on wrinkles to smooth them out, or rubbed onto the nails and cuticles to keep them shiny and strong, protecting them from fungal infections. Argan oil can also be heated and worked into the hair and scalp as a hot oil treatment for dry or damaged hair. Once worked in, wrap a towel that’s been dipped in very warm water around your head for fifteen minutes, then shampoo and condition as normal.
Rhassoul is yet another beauty ingredient by which both Moroccan men and women swear. Coming from the soil of the Atlas Mountains themselves, this mineral-rich clay is superb at absorbing excess oil from various parts of the body. For example, it can be used as a facial mask by adding enough honey or olive oil to make a paste, then applied to the face and washed off after fifteen or twenty minutes. It’s also not unusual to see both reddish-brown and grey rascal being used as a common soap, or as a shampoo for oily hair.
Of course, in addition to ingredients put on the body, ingredients that are put in the body have every bit as much influence on the outward appearance, not to mention physical well-being. Both the stick and the bark of the arak tree are chewed and gently scraped along the teeth with the tongue to clear off plaque and freshen breath. The plant contains a natural flouride, which adds yet another health benefit. The typical Moroccan cuisine incorporates lots of spice, many of which are effective at speeding up metabolism, such as turmeric. Fenugreek, also commonly used, boosts circulation to the scalp and normalizes cortical levels, which in turn reduces dandruff. And the ubiquitous mint leaves that fill countless glasses of tea as Morocco’s national drink and symbol of welcome naturally curb appetite.
Argan oil is renowned for working wonders for nearly every aspect of one’s appearance.Of course, sometimes a little something extra is needed. A common cosmetic in Morocco, seen on nearly every woman there, is kohl. In the ancient tradition, lining the eyes with black kohl was a reminder of Islam’s holy black stone in Mecca, the kaaba. Using kohl as make-up was not only for beautification, but as a religious duty to remind the wearer of their beliefs. No matter what your religion, however, kohl is a dramatic way to emphasize the eyes.
For special occasions such as weddings, however, nothing tops a Moroccan woman’s list of must-have cosmetics like henna. A tradition for centuries, no traveler to Morocco can consider her visit complete without receiving a temporary henna tattoo on her hand. The henna plant in Morocco is grown completely in the southern parts of the country. To apply, it is ground and mixed with water until it reaches just the right consistency, and is then placed in a plastic syringe for easy application. The intricate and often geometric designs are often so stunning, they are used in lieu of jewelry! After a few days, the tattoo designs naturally wear away.
Moroccan beauty focuses not on covering up one’s appearance in order to achieve beauty, but in maintaining the health and integrity of the beauty which already exists. Regular bathing, healthy diets, essential oils, and mineral-laden clay make up the bulk of a Moroccan’s beauty toolkit, proving once again that sometimes it’s the simplest tricks that work the best.
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