Smell Good For Days


When I started university in Qatar three years ago, I had what I thought was a "signature scent." It was Daisy by Marc Jacobs and, even though I loved how it smelled, I couldn't make it last much longer than my first lecture. Qataris seemed to walk around in clouds of exquisite and exotic fragrance; warm and musky, but sweetly floral at the same time—everything I wanted to smell like. Clearly they were using something more potent than my bottle of eau de toilette. I asked my classmate and native Qatari, Jury, how everyone managed to smell so good for so long. Was it fragranced steam rooms? Cosmetic procedures replacing sweat glands with perfume glands?

Turns out, it's smoke. More specifically: bukhoor, a wood that, when burned, lets off the fragrance I'd been admiring on passersby. Sold in any Middle Eastern perfume shop, bukhoor varieties range from aged sandalwood and myrrh to younger wood soaked in oud oil. "My family were Bedouins and they would have been using it," said Jury, noting bukhoor is the Arab equivalent to perfume for the French. It's something done for both personal use and after meals shared with friends. She'll heat up a brick of charcoal in a special burner and add the bukhoor, letting the heat do the rest. "You can do it inside or outside," she says. "It's not a fire hazard or anything."

And then, like the smell from sitting next to a campfire (but so, so much better), it just lasts. For two or three days, Jury tells me—her secret is running the smoke through her hair while it's still wet: "I usually do it after I shower. I just take a small piece of wood, and waft the smoke through my wet hair. It lasts so much longer that way.” After that, she'll dab a little of the oud oil or western perfume behind her ears and throughout her hair to customize the scent. "The bukhoor with the oud smells warm, a little smoky, musky, amazing," she says. "Sometimes I'll use Trish McEvoy No. 3 because it has nice vanilla notes. My mom uses some of the Estée Lauder fragrances mixed with oud to soften it out.”

It's about identity more than anything else. "When you smell it, you know that the person is Arab or has some relation to this area of the world,” she says. "I've noticed that there are all these synthetic ouds on the market now. We have this. It smells so good—why would we use anything else?”

—Tamim Alnuweiri

Photo by Tom Newton.

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  • Ailyn Koay

    i love the scents but too bad some of them make my nose itch and run

  • Haiku Jew

    I love smoky scents
    they evoke summer campfires
    and some sticky s'mores.

    • Badedasforever

      Haiku Jew, for a while now, I have suspected you are a genius.

    • Ellen Findley

      When you comment, friend,
      you bring me joy in wordplay.
      Keep up the good work!

    • billyidol929

      i seriously click on every post, even if i am not interested in that topic, to read your posts!

  • dela_beautyblog

    Wow! This is cool and something I would love to try this.

  • Emma

    Where can you buy in the US? Or where can you order online to ship to the US?

    • Tamim Alnuweiri

      Hey Emma,
      The Misk Shoppe ( has a pretty good online selection and if you look through their Stores page they also provide you with their retail locations. I would recommend a Cambodian wood, or the Batool wood for a first time user!

      • MADCUTE

        These refreshing tissues are exactly what I need. Thanks for the site!

      • AsphodelJones

        Oh my God. Thank you for this link!

  • kp

    What a cool idea! I love incense and this sounds even better. Sandalwood has such an amazing smell. So many great things to learn around the world.

  • Addison Cain

    I don't always want to smell camp fire-y, but when I do, I light incense right when I get out of the shower and let my hair air dry.

  • Tamim Alnuweiri

    We don't advise you to burn the charcoal unattended that is definitely a fire hazard! But when you move the charcoal to the burner there's no fire hazard. You can also invest in an electric one that doesn't require any coal like we did!

  • AMS

    is that an electronic bukhoor burner i spy?? didn't know they made those! where can i get one! x

    • Tamim Alnuweiri

      Amazon has a good selection. That's where we got ours!

  • Deedee

    A+ post ITG! Keep em coming!

  • Ailyn Koay

    nah, I don't know what giogio armani has in theirs but my nose doesn't like it one bit. I wear CK fine

  • Emma Hager

    Not only must it smell nice, but what a beautiful process, too! I love the looks of the burner

  • Hafsa Issa-Salwe

    I absolutely love bakhour, there's no scent quite like it and I'm immediately taken back to my childhood as it reminds me of my mother. Nowadays I use bakhour or burn frankincense to scent my clothing when I'm packing them in a suitcase, pop it underneath the drying rack whilst my laundry's drying and to scent my hair of course.