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While standards of beauty vary from place to place, the desire to look your best is universal. Around the world, people turn to products and practices handed down over generations. Instead of pricey department-store potions, these recipes for glowing skin and silky hair usually rely on locally-sourced, inexpensive ingredients. The next time you feel like a pretty pick-me-up, try one of these 10 time-tested international secrets.
Garlic Nail Polish (Dominican Republic)
Vampires will not approve, but women in the Dominican Republic swear by this aromatic allium for strong and shiny nails. Rubbing a clove of garlic over your fingertips is one technique — and definitely deters nibbling on nails. But a more popular process involves adding a minced clove to a bottle of nail polish, and letting it rest for a week or two.
The resulting infusion is said to strengthen and lengthen the nails, and add a shiny coat similar to gel and acrylic polish. One possible reason for these results? Garlic has antioxidant and antifungal properties and contains selenium, a trace mineral linked to healthy hair and nails.
Nightingale Poop (Japan)
This centuries-old Geisha beauty treatment is now offered at exclusive Western spas, promising illumination and gentle exfoliation. Droppings from the Japanese bush warbler are first sterilized with ultraviolet light before being milled into a powder and mixed with water. The droppings create an (odorless) mask that leaves skin glowing like a pearl. The mixture contains guanine, urea, and enzymes that clean and exfoliate for a radiant complexion.
Rosemary Water (Greece)
This aromatic culinary and medicinal herb grows wild in the rocky hills of the Greek islands, but it’s used for more than just scenting a room and adding flavor to food. Grecian goddesses were famed for their lustrous locks, and rosemary water (as well as olive oil and yogurt) is credited with enhancing local women’s crowning glory.
Rosemary is rich in ursolic acid, which is believed to stimulate circulation and growth. Many Greek women swear by the herb for producing shiny, thick hair — steeping it in boiling water and using it as a hair rinse. The herb also contains compounds that protect tresses from the scorching Greek sun.
Black Soap (West Africa)
West African women in Nigeria, Benin, Toga, and Ghana give their complexions a healthy glow with traditional black soap, which contains antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. The recipe for the soap originated with the Yoruba people in Nigeria who discovered the exfoliating properties of local plants. Especially helpful for oily and acne-prone skin, the soap gets its dark color from the ash of local plants, such as palm leaves and cacao pods, which are smoked and burned before being added to moisturizing fats, such as shea butter and palm oil.
Free from additives, dyes, and perfumes, locally-made black soap is cooked for at least 24 hours and results in a soft, scoopable cleanser that exfoliates and easily rinses away without residue or build-up.
Dead Sea Mud (Israel)
Almost 10 times saltier than the world’s oceans, the Dead Sea between Israel and Jordan has the lowest elevation on Earth and has attracted health-seekers for millennia. The mud (as well as the salt) from this rapidly receding sea contains 21 minerals, many with healing, detoxifying, and therapeutic benefits.
Famous beauties from Cleopatra to the Queen of Sheba herself have lavished their skin with this mineral-rich earth. Sodium moisturizes and exfoliates, magnesium calms with anti-inflammatory properties, and zinc provides healing and sun protection. Whether used as a wrap or mask or incorporated into lotion or soap, this “dirt” wins the skin-cleaning category.
Rice Water (China)
Rice is a staple in many Asian diets, and the water from rinsing, soaking, and cooking this fluffy grain does not go to waste. Rice water is a mainstay for several health and beauty treatments in China. Inositol, one of the many chemicals found in the water, promotes hair growth and repairs damaged locks.
Minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants are said to slow aging skin, and the starch and chemicals contained in rice also reduce sun damage. Fermented rice water (rice wine) has also been shown to boost collagen production, which reduces wrinkles and fine lines.
Argan Oil (Morocco)
Moroccan women rock their beauty routine with the help of nourishing argan oil, which has spread beyond the Mediterranean to become an “it” ingredient in shampoos and lotions for hair and skin. The hardy argan tree grows in harsh semi-arid conditions, and the kernels found in its fruit produce an oil rich in essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamin E.
Luxuriously moisturizing, argan oil is prized for its anti-aging properties. The Berbers call the argan tree the “Tree of Life” and studies have shown the oil to have significant benefits for both internal and external use, including reducing inflammation and increasing skin elasticity and hydration.
Seaweed Baths (Ireland)
Bursting with beauty-boosting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, seaweed is abundant throughout the world’s coastal communities. The Irish have been taking advantage of seaweed’s unique gifts since at least the 12th century, and baths at seaweed spas promise to soften skin, improve circulation, and drain the lymphatic system, in addition to healing the liver and treating cellulite. Once numbering in the hundreds, only two authentic seaweed spas remain on the Emerald Isle: Kilcullen’s Seaweed Baths and Voya’s Seaweed Baths.
Snail Slime (Korea)
Much like Korean boy band sensation BTS, K-beauty products have taken the world by storm. No ingredient has spread faster than the slime (technically mucin) of the humble garden snail. Although Greek physician Hippocrates prescribed snails for skin inflammation 2,500 years ago, South Korea’s cutting-edge beauty industry recognized the ingredient’s potential and heavily invested in its research and development. Today, the slime is harvested from live snails, filtered, and added to other ingredients to produce creams, lotions, masks, moisturizers, and serums.
The root of the turmeric plant — a member of the ginger family — grows abundantly in Southeast Asia. Ayurveda (India’s 3,000-year-old system of medicine) has long-recognized the benefits of the rhizome. Modern research is finally catching on to the beautifying and therapeutic properties of curcumin, turmeric’s primary component that gives the plant its bright yellow-orange hue. Indian women mix the powdered root with yogurt (and/or honey) for facial masks that brighten the complexion, reduce inflammation, and boost collagen production.