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This Ancient Arab Health Treatment Should Be Your Go-To for Toned Skin

Photo: Ward Ivan Rakif

Remember Gwyneth Paltrow’s infamous turn down a 2004 red carpet, her backless evening gown showing off a prominent grid of circular, bright red welts? The now-holistically aligned actor raised eyebrows when she showed off her cupping marks. Previously better known as a muscle conditioning technique for elite athletes, the tension-relieving treatment involves using simple cups to suction skin. Victoria Beckham, Justin Bieber, and Lady Gaga now count cupping as a health maintenance must-have, with new takes on the traditional medicine refining it for today’s audience.

As a healing treatment, cupping can be traced back for centuries, with ancient Egyptian, Islamic and far eastern cultures using hollow animal horns to relieve pain caused by issues like tuberculosis and rheumatoid arthritis, or to suck out fluid from infections. Known regionally as hijama or hacamat, the traditional version involves small glass or bamboo cups being applied to the back and limbs, with a wad of gauze ignited and set inside the cup. The flame sucks up the oxygen in the cup, creating a vacuum and suctioning the underlying skin and tissue. Cups can be reapplied to the same area for a targeted treatment or slid across the skin as an intensive massage technique to encourage circulation. Practitioners believe the welts left behind can signify your overall health, with dark red marks suggesting a sluggish lymphatic system, while a lighter pink is purportedly a sign of well-oxygenated blood. Cupping also triggers the body’s immune system, flooding the affected area with oxygen-rich platelets and white blood cells to stimulate and renew the tissue. Facial cupping also helps firm and tone the face’s contours, cleanse inflamed and congested skin, and reduce post-travel or hormonal puffiness. There are also wider health benefits, with facial cupping useful to help prevent teeth-grinding by relaxing and unclenching the jaw muscles.

Photo: Courtesy of Bellabaci

A new cupping treatment has recently debuted in Dubai. The South African company Bellabaci takes the art of cupping to a more luxurious peak, releasing an exclusive treatment menu for The Pearl Spa at Four Seasons Dubai. This iteration does away with the heat treatment, with Bellabaci practitioners using malleable cups that can be squeezed to produce their own suction force. Gentler than the rigid, heated cups, the rubber versions don’t leave the signature dark bruising of the traditional technique. The benefits still stand, says Bellabaci founder Keren Trabelsi, who says the next generation of cupping is a pain-free alternative to more invasive treatments. “If you have ever looked for a non-surgical face lift, this is it,” she promises. “The Bellabaci facial cupping massage method addresses many concerns at once, such as congestion, fine lines and wrinkles, fluid retention, dark circles and eye bags, lips volumizing, and more.” Used with its range of oils to target specific complexion concerns like loss of elasticity, fluid retention, and scarring, the cups are firmly drawn across the face by the therapist. The results are instantly visible, especially in a spa setting where one side of the face is cupped first to compare the results. Cupping first-timers will see the treated side appears more lifted, depuffed, and awash with a slightly flushed sheen. Over time, the benefits build, with a healthy glow, replumped fine lines, and better absorption of products. For the body, rubber cupping is centered as a massage function, rather than the more ceremonial hijama “bloodletting” technique, which features in traditional Arab wellness centers from Egypt to Oman. “The actions of the cups, especially when combined with therapeutic wellness oils, create a solution for pain, cellulite, scars and stretch marks, fluid retention, and even emotional and mental concerns such as insomnia and stress,” notes Trabelsi.

Keren Trabelsi. Photo: Supplied

For a DIY approach, Bellabaci and other prestige brands including Tata Harper and Skin Gym have released cups and techniques designed for at-home use. Trabelsi suggests a combination of the Four Seasons spa and home treatments to reap the full benefits. “Instant results can be seen from just one treatment and then the cumulative benefits are created at the spa and at home,” she explains. One option is to book a hands-on tutorial to learn how to replicate the specific sliding movements along the facial contours. Bellabaci uses an effleurage technique, moving the cups in slow and relaxing gliding movements, without losing contact with the skin. You can choose the sequences that address your most pressing complexion concern. “Cupping massage at home can offer intensive self-care and treat an acute concern such as a muscle spasm, headache, or migraine,” says Trabelsi. “However, visiting the spa means much more than a spot treatment, as the therapist can reach areas you may not be able to.” The founder’s cupping mission has now moved beyond the beauty benefits, after realising the potential for stress release and self-care, noting that “in the current pandemic, we need to do even more to take care of our health and emotional wellbeing.” From AED 390. 

Deep tissue and detox massage

Six Senses Spa, Six Senses Zighy Bay, Oman

This massage uses sliding silicone cups to release muscle tension, in conjunction with hot stones and warm compresses. From OMR 68. 


Osana Wellness, Cairo, Egypt

Therapists at this holistic center use heated glass cups to help stimulate blood flow and relieve pain. From EGP 400.

Chinese cupping

International Chinese Body Care House, Doha, Qatar

Taking a remedial approach, this traditional Chinese cupping encourages heat to enter the body to rebalance the qi and can be completed alongside customary acupressure and gua sha methods. From QAR 120.

Read Next: This is How to Experience the Ancient Arabian Ritual of Psammotherapy in 2021

Originally published in the September 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia

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