When it comes to modern cities, Dubai is the youngest, prettiest sister with a penchant for shiny things. The ultra-modern city in the United Arab Emirates is revered for its sleek, futuristic architecture and has become a destination for those seeking a luxurious, balmy escape. Speaking of balmy, there are perhaps no women we’d rather learn hot-weather beauty secrets from than our sisters in Dubai. With high temperatures and even higher humidity year-round, Dubai could leave even the most well-versed beauty aficionado with a dire frizzy hair/shiny face situation—which is why we asked one of the city’s own for her beauty secrets. Dr. Lamees Hamdan is the founder of Shiffa Beauty, one of Dubai’s most revered luxury natural skincare lines that has since migrated stateside (think of it as the La Prairie of natural beauty). Hamdan grew up in Dubai and often travels back there to find inspiration for her line. In other words, she was full of fascinating information on how we, too, can channel the luxury of Dubai in our own routines—all while staying (and looking) fresh, no matter how hot it is outside.
Keep scrolling for seven fascinating beauty secrets, straight from Dubai!
Dubai is hot (understatement of the year). How do women there keep their faces fresh and shine-free through the blistering heat? Simple: an on-the-go toner (Shiffa’s Floral Facial toner is out in April). “Spray a toner throughout the day; then blot with a tissue over our makeup,” Hamdan says. “Blotting paper is also a great idea to battle the humidity that can cause your oil glands to be overactive.” She says that women in Dubai will buy rose water from the supermarket and use it as a toner in their skincare routine, as well as throughout the day.
Speaking of roses, Hamdan mentions that rose water is huge in the Middle East and Dubai, and not just for applying topically. “Dried rose petal tea is drunk after eating to aid in digestion,” she shares. “Rose teas also have a high amount of vitamin C.”
“We are not soap-and-water girls,” Hamdan says. “Even if we used them as teens, we quickly graduate to ‘proper’ cleansers bought at beauty department stores.” She describes how even her teenage daughters now avoid foaming (read: drying) cleansers found at most pharmacies. What exactly is a proper cleanser? Basically, anything that cleanses your skin gently and is free of synthetic fragrances and sulfates (here’s a good list).
Women in Dubai know how to use their kitchens to their advantage when it comes to beautifying—they’re kitchen beauticians, if you will. “We love masks—DIY masks or ones you buy in the store,” Hamdan reveals. “Our favorite ingredients are yogurt and honey, but they’re not to be used together. These two ingredients are the basis of a lot of skincare recipes.” She shares a simple mask-scrub hybrid made of oatmeal, honey, and a bit of lemon that women mix together and scrub their faces with (“Women in the Middle East love exfoliating and scrubbing!”). After rinsing, your skin will feel fresh, clean, and bright.
Below are two more of Hamdan’s favorite mask recipes.
Apple and Yogurt Mask (Oily Skin)
1 tbsp. freshly grated apple
1 tsp. full-fat organic raw yogurt
1 tsp. lemon juice
Combine ingredients and apply to freshly cleansed skin for 15 minutes. Rinse off with lukewarm water.
“The apple has a natural fruit acid that helps slough away dead skin, and the lemon exfoliates dead cells, clarifies clogged pores, brightens the skin, and helps control sebum production,” Dr. Hamdan says.
Apple and Honey Mask (Dry Skin and Acne)
1 tsp. honey
1 tbsp. freshly grated apple
Combine ingredients and apply to skin (or problem area) for 15 minutes.
“The reason that this mask is suitable for both dry skin and acne is that the honey is both a humectant (i.e., it draws water in) and a potent antibacterial agent. It is also an antiseptic when combined with water (as honey and water produce mild amounts of hydrogen peroxide). Apple contains malic acid (part of the AHA family) and is a mild astringent. It has mild exfoliating action and is especially beneficial for acne-prone or sensitive skin.”
One place the women of Dubai tend go to at least twice a month? No, not a spa or salon—the answer is a hammam. In Arabic, hammam means “spreader of warmth,” and Hamdan explains that much like the Roman baths before them, hammams are a place of rest and an important social site. “All levels of society come to the hammam, or steam baths,” she says. “Wealthy women who had their own private hammams at home would visit the local hammams for their social appeal.”
Lately, the Western world has caught wind of the luxurious, relaxing experience, and hammams are slowly gaining more popularity in the U.S. “The combination of heat, steam, and essential oils used in the hammam experience help to relieve stress, relax muscles, ease respiratory problems, and stimulate the circulation,” Hamdan explains. “The hammam experience also deeply cleanses the skin and exfoliates it to improve its tone and texture.” (If you’re interested in getting the hammam treatment stateside, Shiffa offers four different experiences in their luxury spas.) If you want to re-create the hammam experience at home, Hamdan says, a typical hammam involves a steam with a nourishing mixture of black olive soap, then exfoliation with an exfoliating mitt (we’re partial to this one, often used at Korean spas); a body mask (The Body Shop has a Himalayan Charcoal Body Clay, $24); and then a moisturizing body oil. “It’s such an enjoyable experience, and one not to be missed if you’re traveling in Dubai,” Hamdan says.
The secret to thick, silky hair even in the sweltering heat? Hamdan cites hair oils, which she says women in Dubai use at least once a week before washing their hair to moisturize and nourish the scalp. Plus, there’s another benefit. “The act of applying hair oil to the scalp also encourages blood circulation, which helps nourish and feed the hair follicles,” she says. To DIY your own hair-oil ritual, try using jojoba, argan, or grape-seed oil—all of these ingredients will absorb easily into your hair and won’t leave you with a sticky-feeling scalp.
You might associate henna with intricate body art, but women in Dubai have been using it to add rich color to their hair. Hamdan says it’s less popular with younger women but can be an alternative to the chemical dyes found in most hair salons; her 15-year-old daughter is not allowed to professionally color her hair but is allowed and encouraged to use henna. “She buys them from Lush, or gets it from her great aunt,” Hamdan says.
To use henna at home, Hamdan says, you need it in its “purest” form (made from the leaves of the henna tree, which are dried and ground into powder form). Then, all you have to do is add water—but only add warm water, and mix it thoroughly until it forms a thick paste. “You can always thin it out later with more water, but you want it to be slightly thick so it can be spread on the scalp and hair without dripping or running,” she says. Leave this paste alone for few hours, so the natural color can develop; then apply it to your hair in sections, starting from the roots to the ends.
“I remember waking up early on Friday, which is our equivalent of Sunday, and my mother putting henna in our hair,” Hamdan says. “We would then wrap our hair in black turbans (to protect the furniture!) and keep it on for a few hours, then wash off.” The result? A rich, multi-tone hair color with just the hint of auburn-red undertones. If you prefer a brown tone with less red, Hamdan says you can use tea instead of water to mix. And henna can be drying, so if your hair is very dry, you can add a beaten egg to the mixture for added moisture. And lastly—always wear gloves, and immediately wipe it away if it comes in contact with anything (including your skin). Henna stains, after all.
Want more? Check out these beauty secrets from the Middle East, India, and beyond.
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