Some of the best recipes for a do-it-yourself spa come from those cultures known to go in for a bit of sybaritic pampering. Japan is high up on the list: A highly developed sense of aesthetics, a long tradition of bathing and a sublime appreciation of ritual have helped beauty practices here evolve into an art form.
The French and Italians have traditionally given beauty treatments high priority, which is perhaps one of the reasons that some of the best product lines originate in those countries. Also wonderful are the beauty recipes of the cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, where the hammam (steam bath) is an hours-long communal rite, and where for centuries women have devoted themselves to achieving soft, silky skin and gleaming hair. We continue our discussion of body treatments with some secrets from these places.
The salt scrub
This is a simple scrub long used in Europe. A small muslin bag filled with sea salt is rubbed over dampened skin prior to bathing; alternatively, handfuls of coarse-textured sea salt can be moistened and scrubbed into the skin as is. Use no soap at all, for the salt is cleansing enough. This technique invigorates and enlivens the skin, while exfoliating and polishing the surface so that it feels incredibly smooth. It is also said to firm and tone the tissues, and thus may help if you are on a weight-loss regimen.
The dry bath
Another European tradition, this technique consists quite simply of scrubbing the dry body with a gant de massage (massage glove) made of hemp or a similar rough material. These days there are good ones made of nubbly plastic. A Japanese-style abrasive tenugui (loofah) or a bath brush may also be used in this way.
The important thing to remember about the dry bath is that, because the material used for scrubbing is rough and there is no liquid to soften the process, your movements should be light and gentle. The dry bath should be practiced no more than once a week, and you should take care not to damage your skin — common sense will tell you where to go easy and where you can apply more pressure.
Devotees claim that it will improve circulation, rid the body of rough, dead or dry skin, help to eliminate toxins and relax the body. The French advise a dry bath just before bedtime. Note that if your skin is sensitive, you may be better off avoiding this technique and instead gently scrubbing your body with soap and water to reduce friction.
The harem skin secret
For this technique, combine a spoonful of powdered dried rose petals, a spoonful of powdered dried tangerine or orange peel, a spoonful of powdered sandalwood or patchouli (or a drop of the essential oil if you can’t get the powder), a handful of ground raw almonds, a similar amount of powdered oatmeal, a soupcon of clove powder and nutmeg powder, and enough sweet almond oil or olive oil to form a paste. It is important that all ingredients are very finely ground. After bathing, rub the paste over your entire (dry) body so that it forms a thin layer. When it dries, brush it off using your hands or a dry cloth.
Sometimes exotic recipes are difficult to follow because the ingredients are hard to locate. When you travel, remind yourself to visit the local markets and drugstores, and you’ll find ingredients that are rare in other locales — find out how they’re used, then take them home and try them out.