x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

You think dates are only for eating?

For centuries, 'our national pride', the date, has yielded up its natural goodness in the production of cosmetics, beauty products and skin remedies.

A customer applies newa kohl, an eyeliner made by Noura al Mazrouie from crushed date seeds, at the Liwa Date Festival.
A customer applies newa kohl, an eyeliner made by Noura al Mazrouie from crushed date seeds, at the Liwa Date Festival. "Every bit of the date is beneficial," says Mrs Mazrouie.

LIWA // Something strange is simmering in Fatima al Mohairbi's kitchen, and while it may smell sweet and delicious, it is destined for the bathroom rather than the dinner table.

Mrs al Mohairbi swears by her beautifying date soaps, which emerge from the kitchen transparent, or in light shades of brown or yellow. Carefully preparing them over the past five years, she uses the products herself while selling them at her stall at the Liwa Date Festival. Mrs al Mohairbi is among several women who have found cosmetic uses for the fruit - in addition to soap, there are oil perfumes, eyeliners and body scrubs - after finding inspiration at the festival.

"I wanted to come up with something unique that everyone could use," said Mrs al Mohairbi, 31. "And I wanted it to be luxurious at the same time." She learned how to manufacture soap on the internet, trying out the different recipes as her daughter read out the instructions. "Nobody taught me how to do it, I did it all by myself," she said, with a smile. A bar of her date soap costs Dh50 and takes about 24 hours to make, a process she keeps under strict wraps, calling it a "trade secret".

The soaps are made using only natural ingredients, with added vitamin E, out of "our national pride, the date", said the mother of three. At the stall next door to Mrs al Mohairbi, Noura al Mazrouie is selling "newa kohl": eyeliner made from ground up date seeds. "Every bit of the date is beneficial," said the 46-year-old mother of eight. The idea came to her as she dwelt on the wastefulness of throwing away hundreds of date seeds in her household each week, and wondered whether they could be put to good use.

"It seemed like a waste," she said. "Since Allah gave us the palm tree and its fruits to be used to their fullest potential, I decided there must be some use for the seed itself." She remembered something the elders in her family used to say: that besides its health benefits, the "newa" of the date was used as kohl in the time of the Prophet Mohammed. One day more than a year ago, instead of throwing them away, she cleaned a whole pile of the seeds and left them to dry in the sun.

She then burned them on the stove, crushed them, and used the cloth of her scarf to filter through the finest powder to be used as kohl. "The wetness of the eye will keep it from smudging, and at the same time, it is all natural and doesn't cause any allergies," she said, retouching her eyes under the gaze of curious onlookers at the festival. The thumb-size bottle of kohl with its applicator sells at Dh80, packaged inside gold or silver purses.

"I dare anyone to tell me this is not healthy, for the Prophet himself said that the crushed seed helps in the thickening of eye lashes," said Mrs al Mazrouie. Both women have sent off their products to be patented, and have already been approached by investors wishing to partner with them in marketing their beauty products. They would like to see their wares form part of a line promoting dates as an Emirati beauty secret.

Besides the soap and eyeliner, date body scrubs, oil perfumes and even date coffee are all on sale at the various stalls. One visitor to the festival, Amina Abbas, was impressed with the wide array of products manufactured from a single fruit. "It is quite amazing that these women have come up with such different and unique uses of the date," she said. "I am sure that a date kohl is safer than a charcoal or artificial one."

And the humble craft of soap manufacturer represented a return to a "natural and organic" tradition, she said. Mrs al Mohairbi concurred. "Just look at the date. It has a smooth skin and a gentle smell and colour. It is a beautiful fruit in every sense." @Email:rghazal@thenational.ae