Emirati women are known for their modesty and adherence to customs and traditions. However, this did not limit them from having their beauty rituals and taking care of themselves using means and resources available.
In the past, Emirati women used to create what enhances their beauty — sewing their own clothes and making their own perfumes to scent their hair and bodies. They also took care of their skin and hair, utilising the resources provided by nature.
Here, we look back at the traditional beauty secrets of Emirati women and discover the rituals passed down from one generation to the next.
One of the most intriguing aspects of these beauty secrets lies in the creation of perfumes. Emirati women crafted various fragrances, using ancient beauty tools that have stood the test of time.
Among these tools is the exotic combination of Mahlab which is a kind of fragrant spice made form the seeds of mahlab cherries, and saffron, commonly known as ‘Sena’. This enchanting mixture was delicately applied to the hair, cheeks, neck, and body, radiating a mesmerising aroma that embodied elegance and grace.
The method of making it involves grinding equal amounts of Mahlab and adding ground saffron, which was previously sifted through a piece of cloth to make it smooth. The mixture was tested, and if its colour turned orange, more saffron was added to make it slightly red. The dry mixture was preserved, and when used, the required amount was mixed with water or rosewater. Fragrances such as oud or amber could also be added.
The beauty rituals of Emirati women also included the use of Al Bada’a, a blend of ground sandalwood infused with musk and perfumes. This fragrant concoction was cherished for its ability to impart a captivating scent to the hair, leaving a lasting impression wherever they went.
Another treasured beauty secret, known as Al Mukhmariah, showcased the creativity and resourcefulness of Emirati women. This blend combined natural elements such as oud, musk, saffron, saffron essence, amber, rose perfume, and black musk. After meticulously mixing these elements, the mixture was left to mature in a container for approximately two months, resulting in a luxurious fragrance that lasted throughout special occasions and joyous celebrations.
Beyond perfumes, the traditional face veils, known as ‘Burgaa’ or ‘Burqa’, played a significant role in Emirati women’s culture. Each region boasted its unique style, with subtle yet significant variations. These face veils served as a symbol of modesty and identity, with some Emirati women choosing to wear them even today, showcasing their deep-rooted connection to their heritage.
Hair care held a prominent place in the beauty regimen of Emirati women. At that time, long and black hair was highly desired, and since shampoos were not widely known, washing hair involved the use of available materials. One of the main ingredients used was the fine leaves of the sidr tree (known as ‘samar’), which were dried and ground to create a shampoo-like substance.
Sidr was commonly used by both men and women due to its affordability. Another hair-washing method involved the use of “red clay” imported from Iran, which added smoothness and shine to the hair. However, red clay was not as widely used due to its availability only in shops, unlike sidr, which was easily accessible.
The common hairstyle during that era was the “aqs” or braid, with variations in styling, especially for special occasions. To add fragrance, the hair was perfumed with ingredients such as mahlab, saffron, Mukhmariah, which ensured a delightful aroma until the next wash.
Henna holds a special place among the cherished Emirati folk traditions and is considered the epitome of adornment for Emirati women. Besides its varied applications, henna was also used for hair decoration. Ancient Emirati women displayed their creativity by designing and adorning their hands and feet with henna, using tools as simple as a quill or palm spike.
Unmarried girls were only allowed to have plain designs, known as “ghamsa”, which involved fully coating the hands and feet without intricate patterns. Married women, however, were free to embellish their henna with designs like qasah, which featured various finger arrangements on the palm.
With time, henna designs have evolved, and women now turn to beauty salons to get the latest intricate patterns that blend Emirati, Indian, Sudanese and various other styles, offering a rich variety of designs and ideas in the market.