I was lying on a marble altar, naked except for a white cotton thong, deep in the hammam of the Royal Mansour hotel in Marrakech with an attendant named Laila. Laila was vigorously scrubbing my skin with a glove that somehow felt like suede but did the work of sandpaper. I lifted my head to look down at my legs, where she was drawing the glove downward in long strokes. Every pass of the glove left sheaths of skin behind. (Sorry about "sheaths," but there's no pretty term for this type of aggressive exfoliation.) I assumed there was some sort of chemical sorcery at play: I've often suspected that the exfoliating peels I love just gunk up to make the user think it's actual skin that's peeling off. "There's no product on here," Laila said when she caught my eye. I was mystified. I'm well-practiced in the dark arts of exfoliation — I love my Baby Foot — but this was something different. I was molting. "Now," Laila said cheerfully, "you will have a new skin."
My visit to the Royal Mansour was my first time at a spa, which is a little bit like losing your virginity to Jason Momoa. Over the course of my three-day stay I was blessed with a battery of luxuries — among them a Bastien Gonzalez mani-pedi, a massage of my innards in which a woman banged a gong on my stomach, and a stay in a private three-floor riad that made me feel like Kristin Scott Thomas in The English Patient. But the hammam treatment was by far the most transformative. Partly because my own skin smelled like roses for five days, and partly because things that are meant to soothe me usually stress me out (meditation, for instance, is a fast track to frustration). But mostly because I arrived at Royal Mansour with skin I had known and loved for many years, and I left with new skin, as soft as a toddler's.
Half an hour before my great molting, Laila had greeted me in the vast, airy lobby of the Royal Mansour's spa. The lobby looked — and I promise Aladdin is not my only reference for Sahara-adjacent locales — like the ornate white birdcage Princess Jasmine keeps her doves in. When we met, Laila had been wearing the Royal Mansour's beaded, mint-green uniform. When I saw her again, after I'd bathrobed up, she'd changed into a short black dress and put her hair up — the first clue that things were about to get messy.
Laila guided me back to "the hot room." It was the first of three rooms I would pass through during the hammam bathing ritual, and it was as advertised. The marble is heated from within, by a wood-burning stove, and is then covered in warm water from a marble trough. Laila and I were both drenched in sweat, but she wore it better than I did — I am generally a bit red in the face, but in the hot room I reached vivid, concerning new hues.
There were two altars in the room, and the one opposite mine was occupied by a woman in a later stage of the ritual. She was lying very still and was being covered in a brown paste. When the attendant reached the woman's stomach she whispered a maternal remark about elasticity and the woman responded a little too sharply for the vibe: "I've had two children. They did that to me." The attendant laughed and moved the woman into a sitting position.
Meanwhile, I got the glove. My body had been tenderized by my own sweat and repeated douses of warm water, and Laila was sloughing off everything that had accumulated on my skin since my birth. And amazingly, when I looked down at my legs, they didn't look scrubbed raw; they just looked healthy and pink.
Once my new flesh had absorbed a battery of rose-infused masks, I lay on the hot marble, fragrant and immobilized by the room's temperature. Laila shepherded me to a shower, then on to the cold room with a plunge pool. The water wasn't frigid, or even particularly cold, but I was hot. The effect was like pouring tepid water into a frying pan.
Laila stood by the pool and counted me in, and I dunked myself on "three" to make her proud. A luxury baptism. I'd expected a plush, gentle spa day. But the hammam ritual, when properly executed, is actually pretty metal. Watching your skin float away — while maybe not for the faint of heart — is a catharsis all its own.
Now read more about spas:
- The Best Daycation Spas in New York City
- 10 Eco-Conscious New York City Spas to Know
- I Got a $300 Facial at Tata Harper's Swanky Spa
Done reading? Now watch this beauty editor try a $450 wine bath:
Originally Appeared on Allure