From Hijama to camel-soap: The UAE’s traditional Arabian beauty treatments

From frankincense and rosewater to dates and camel milk, here’s your guide to traditional beauty remedies and recipes in the UAE.

The outdoor section of the relaxation area.
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There's possibly no better place to indulge in traditional Arabian beauty treatments than in the desert. With that in mind, I made the 40-minute drive from Dubai Marina to Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa. Off the beaten track, the luxury, low-rise venue is of Arabian fort design and nothing short of an oasis.

After passing sun-dappled courtyards and camels resting on the dunes, I arrived at Satori spa. The spa treatment I opted for was the Blissful Desert Rose Experience – long at three hours but, as I found out, completely worth it.

It began with an invigorating body exfoliation with finely ground olive pits blended with rosewater. The sensation was far more comfortable that it sounds, with the therapist relieving aching bones and tension with neuromuscular techniques, while using lymphatic drainage to encourage circulation.

I was then ushered to a private Middle Eastern steam room, whose mosaics soon disappeared as I was enveloped in a fragrant mist for 10 minutes to open the skin’s pores. A shower of organic sea kelp came next, before I headed back to the treatment room for a desert rose-oil massage, which left my skin feeling nourished and delicately scented. Fortifying frankincense was then wafted under my nose before a relaxing scalp massage and an essential-oil foot reflexology almost sent me to sleep. While prescriptive facials were available as part of the package, I instead plumped for the trio of what turned out to be skin-changing cosmetics on offer to take away.

In keeping with the Arabian theme, the cosmetics comprised a superfine Dead Sea scrub, whose almond shell granules left my skin soft and glowing for days. The star of the show, however, turned out to be the facial mask with its main components of natural black mud, aloe vera, olive oil and honey. And completing the line-up was the Bloom moisturising cream from Jordan made from sea salts and minerals.

From the Arabic music that plays softly around the spa, to the palm-weave slippers you slip into upon arrival and oversized Emirati dates you’ll enjoy before you leave, Bab Al Shams’ spa feels like an authentic desert experience. If you’re looking for an out-of-town retreat that will allow you to feel the sand between your toes in the morning and give you a taste of traditional beauty in the afternoon, let yourself be pampered in these serene surroundings.

• The 180-minute Blissful Desert Rose Experience at Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa in Dubai costs Dh1,400. Call 04 809 6232

The therapy: Hijama

Hijama is Arabic for wet cupping. The traditional treatment is seen as a way to cleanse the cardiovascular system as well as clearing lymphatic blockages and improving immunity. Practitioners light suction cups and place them on a patient’s back in positions pertaining to key organs. Dr Benazir Quraishi of Cleopatra’s Spa in Dubai’s Wafi explains all:

What are the benefits?

There are lots of benefits as Hijama acts like a natural pain-killer, improves blood circulation, boosts metabolism and the production of blood cells - it’s naturally detoxifying.

What’s the difference between wet and dry cupping?

I perform both, but the wet or hijama draws blood whereas the dry doesn’t. Hijama is from the ancient Greco-Arabic system of medicine and it’s a traditional Islamic practice.

Does it hurt?

It’s not painful and marks usually fade in a week.

• A session last around 30-45 minutes (the cups extract an estimated 15ml of toxins). Costs average Dh485 and for a healthy person, hijama might only be necessary twice a year, but varies depending on the patient. Cleopatra’s Spa & Wellness is in Oud Metha, Dubai. Call 04 324 7700

* Bedouin beauty essentials

1. Organic camel milk antibacterial soap at Little Majlis: Dh25. Camel milk contains biologically active proteins found in its whey which is nourishing for the skin (

2. Desert sand body scrub: Dh360 for 90 minutes at Dubai Ladies Club. Sand has to be the original and natural exfoliant, when mixed with essential oils it is non abrasive but just as effective (

3. Frankincense facial serum: Neal's Yard, Al Wahda Mall, Abu Dhabi: Dh325. Frankincense helps regenerate the skin, diminishing spots and scars. It's also believed to counterbalance excess dryness or oiliness, restoring the skin's equilibrium (