So you want to learn the best way to exfoliate your body—I’m with you! I want to start off by saying that while I haven’t tried every single exfoliation method known to (wo)man, I have tried many. The method I’m about to share? By far the best. But be warned: hammam exfoliation is possibly the most uncomfortable practice as well.
As a North African (Tunisian to be exact), I’ve exfoliated with a kessa, a kind of mitt, for as long as I can remember. I have memories of my grandmother scrubbing my arms until my olive skin painfully transformed to various shades of pink. I would brace through the pain and watch with fascination as clumps of gray matter would emerge from my skin and fall into the bathtub. It might sound a bit gross, but I promise you this method of exfoliation is the most satisfying feeling in the world. I now know that a little bit of pain and a whole lot of redness is completely normal and a non-negotiable for smooth and luxurious skin.
Feature image by Michelle Nash.
So what exactly does a hammam exfoliation entail? It’s a very simple process that essentially mimics a traditional hammam, the oldest bath tradition in the world. Originating in Turkey, a hammam will leave you feeling more squeaky-clean than ever before. And if bathing in private is your thing, trust me: there’s nothing more luxurious than turning your bathroom into your personal hammam.
What is a hammam?
A hammam is a public steam room used for cleansing and relaxing. I’ve never been in one myself, but my mother has told me stories that provide some insight into the hammam experience. The hammam is full of steam, pools, and an intoxicating scent of essential oils. The pools are split by sexes and each section has attendants who will care for you and scrub your whole body down with a kessa until layers of skin emerge. Once the exfoliation is done, you can rinse your body off and relax in the warm pools at your leisure.
How can you recreate the hammam exfoliation experience at home?
So, what do you need to mimic this luxurious experience? Two things: a kessa and a steamy shower. (Bonus points if you have a partner who isn’t opposed to scrubbing your back.) A kessa is a traditional exfoliating mitt with a rough texture that eliminates all dead skin and dirt from the skin’s surface. These are typically sold in Arab souks, or markets, for under a dollar. This, after some baklava, is the very first thing friends and family will request when someone mentions a trip overseas. The second best way to find a kessa is, of course, Amazon. My current favorite is from Zakkia’s. It’s definitely pricier than anything you’ll find in the Middle East, but it’s sturdy and has held up for years.
Step 1: Get your shower steamy.
The key to shedding layers and layers of dead skin is lots of heat and steam. Here, the goal is to mimic a proper hammam spa. So get the water going as hot as you can handle, make sure the curtains are shut so the steam can’t escape, and breathe deeply as your skin starts to soften. You can also do this while taking a bath as well, but I prefer to shower. If you do this method right, the water will be so full of dead skin, you do not (I repeat, do not) want to sit in it.
Step 2: Start Scrubbing
Spend about 10 minutes in the steam before you start scrubbing. Double cleanse your scalp, put in a leave-in conditioner, and maybe a face mask while you’re at it, too. Once you start feeling almost dizzy from the steam, it’s time to start scrubbing. Grab the kessa, dip it in water and then wring out the excess. After that, I like to move the showerhead so that it’s no longer spraying water on my body.
Once you’re in a dry but steamy section of your shower, get to work and watch layers of skin swim down the drain. As you scrub, keep rinsing the dead skin off the kessa but make sure to always wring out the excess water. Also, don’t add any soap or body wash for this step—water, soap, and body wash makes it harder for the dry skin to slough off.
Step 3: Lock in moisture
Once you feel like a brand-new person and broke a bit of a sweat scrubbing yourself clean, it’s time to moisturize and give some love to the fresh new skin. It doesn’t really matter what you use, but the thicker the better. I’ve been obsessed with Weleda’s Skin Food because it’s affordable, lasts forever, and locks in the shine. Whatever you choose, make sure to use it as soon as you get out of the shower and you’ll have soft skin that shines for weeks!
Things to keep in mind as you start your hammam exfoliation practice
If you use self-tanner, this is not something you want to put on right after a self-tanning session, as you’ll probably scrub that beautiful bronze right off. Hammam exfoliation, however, is the perfect way to prep your skin before adding self-tanner as your skin will be baby-smooth.
This exfoliation method will transform your skin. I introduced my roommate to this method and she, like me, has struggled with keratosis pilaris, and dull leg skin. But now? She has legs that literally shine across the lake. This is what she said, “I’ve always had trouble with razor bumps and irritation on my legs after shaving. Now I use the exfoliating mitt twice a week and my legs have never been smoother. After only two weeks, my bumps and irritated skin have completely gone away. I’m a fan for life!”
The case for hammam exfoliation? Consider it closed.