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At first, there was clay

By Hind

My very first beauty experience was clay masking.

Or as we call it in Morocco, Rhassoul, which literally means “washing paste,” as it is so anchored in our ancestral skin cleansing rituals.

Rhassoul is much more than a beauty product; it’s a process hard-wired into Moroccan women to bring about the softest skin and the shiniest, smoothest hair.  

Its earthy smell is one of my strongest memories. For centuries, it has been made by the hands of those in our community. How could a four-year-old girl with a slightly overactive imagination (that’s me, by the way) not irreversibly fall in love with this magical ingredient?

Throughout childhood, I was lucky enough to witness the process of hand-making Rhassoul: each spring, my grandmother’s cousin (everyone seems to be remotely related in my hometown) would deliver piles of raw clogs of Moroccan clay, sourced straight from the million-years-old Atlas Mountains, to my grandmother’s house. With the help of my aunts and cousins, my grandmother would transform it into the delightful clay base that I ( and millions of others) thank for beautiful skin and hair.

The women first start by washing and sieving the clogs of clay in homemade rose water to purify it from odd debris (debris is code for fossils) that happen to pollute the stones over the years.

The result is a big, goey gray mixture that gets poured onto sheets, carefully laid on the rooftop of the family house.

This begins the slow process of sun drying, and waiting.

“Rhassoul, as we call clay in Morocco literally means “washing paste,” as it is so anchored in our ancestral skin cleansing rituals.”

As a child, watching it dry was too tempting, like wanting to dip my finger in frosting. But as impatient as I was I never dared: during the drying season my beloved rooftop (I adore rooftops) was a no-access zone for children, in order to prevent anyone accidentally sliding in the wet clay. As it happens, sometime in the 1950s, my mom slid into the clay, which remains as fresh in memory as if it were yesterday. (There are few sins more difficult to forgive, I suppose).

Then the clay dries.

The gooey mixture has now turned into small, dry slabs. These are neatly packed in gorgeous fabric bags for each and everyone in the family to take home and treasure.

Treasured, because Rhassoul is the cornerstone of the centuries old Hammam ritual, itself a cornerstone of moroccan beauty for soft skin, silky hair and even more importantly, re-energised soul.

The Hammam. A gift to Moroccan women. That we want to share with all.

Seduced by the mysteries of the hammam? I share my earliest memories here (plus, all the things you’ll want to look out for if it’s your first time).

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