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“Heeeey there! I’m Salima Issaoui (@salissaoui), a full-time human who’s also the founder of a Moroccan skincare brand called Uzza. I was born and raised in Barcelona, where I’m writing this from, but I’m usually in Morocco this time of year. Spending time there helps me connect with the layers of my identity that go numb in Spain. My parents emigrated from Africa to Europe in their early teens, so yes, I love a good tagine just as much as I love a Catalan suquet. But being in Morocco is grounding. It’s the sound of Darija (a north-African dialect), it’s the energy of the people, it’s going to the market with five dirhams for some oranges and coming back, after intense negotiation, with oranges, mangoes, lemons and a very detailed update on the vendor’s family’s health. It’s risking my life every time I drive on a roundabout. It’s hearing my name well-pronounced and not being asked ‘Where are you from?’
My mother lives for beauty in every sense—she plates dishes like beautiful paintings, perfumes the house, and spends endless afternoons searching for fabrics to make new kaftans. She also made personal care mandatory at home, so I would say I’ve had a relationship with skincare since I was born. My background in biotechnology makes me think of skin from a health perspective, not just as a cosmetic item there for us to change. If you keep your skin healthy, it will look beautiful. And if it’s looking unhappy, instead of running to buy a new concealer, pause and listen to your body. What is your skin telling you? I feel really inspired by nature and also love when a product is backed by science—both worlds can coexist and deliver great results.
In 2019, I was drinking tea with friends in a lovely garden in Marrakech when I started talking about the need for a cool Moroccan skincare brand focused on identity and heritage. My heart started beating faster, goosebumps popped up on my arms, and as I broke into a big smile I said to my friends, ‘I’m going to create it.’ They say as you sow, you shall reap, but I’m not so sure about that anymore! It should be: Sow. Make sure you know what fertilizers you need to use. Build a great structure. Make room for growth. Water—but not too much, and not too little. Wait. Prune. Wait a little bit longer, and prune more. Then, only maybe, you shall reap. I think the growing process is what I love best about my job.
When I wake up, the first thing I do is drink a blend of lemon juice, aloe vera juice, artichoke extract and warm water. Then I put three drops of a customized Bach Flower Remedy under my tongue. I’m a morning shower person, and I usually start by dry brushing with my kessa glove. Once I feel like my skin is well exfoliated, I wash it with Moroccan black soap. At the moment I am using one infused with eucalyptus which feels really refreshing! If it’s hair day (I wash every two days) then I apply some ghassoul clay on my body and leave it as a mask while I’m washing my hair. I’m such a time optimizer—my waiting moments are full of things to do. I use the Curl Clarity Shampoo from As I Am and the Coconut Oil Hair Mask from Novex as conditioner. Out of the shower, I like using a blend of ginger oil and black cumin seed oil to keep my scalp healthy. Black cumin seed oil is a very common beauty ingredient in Morocco and other north-African countries due to its high calcium, niacin, vitamin A, and folic acid content. My hair styling products depend on whether I’m blow drying or not, but if I’m leaving my hair to air-dry I like using As I Am’s Twist Defining Cream. If I’m blow drying it, I like using the Texturizing Curl Setting Lotion from Creme of Nature.
I cleanse my face with Open Sesame—I love a good cleansing oil, this one has a really gentle texture that feels very nourishing. I then spray some Mazhar Garden on, which smells like the orange blossom water my mom uses to cook baklava or briwats. I like to observe myself in the mirror (or the vision boards I keep in my bathroom) and set some intentions for the day while that product dries. Once I feel my skin is ready I start playing with serums—I am obsessed with using vitamin C and niacinamide in the mornings. While I was living in Amsterdam I fell in love with a few Nordic beauty brands. The Hydration Serum with Niacinamide from Verso and Supreme-C Serum from Nuori do a great job keeping my skin bright and glowy. Another vitamin C serum I’ve recently tried out and liked is CC Me from Summer Fridays. I think it works well and it is well priced for what it offers. Afterwards I apply Wonderful Lamp, an eye cream packed with black cumin seed oil. I like to finish my routine with Peri Banu, massaging my face with some techniques my mother taught me. I basically slap and pinch my face to firm up the muscles and activate blood circulation. It also helps me wake up and abstain from coffee! Your fingers can do so more than that pretty jade roller. Finally I apply La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, and I’m ready to start my day.
When I was young, my parents didn't approve of me wearing makeup. Every time I painted my nails or straightened my hair, I had to deal with my dad’s ‘You’ll get cancer from all these chemicals!’ And every time I wanted to buy a new lipstick, my mother would suggest that I use akar al-fassi instead. I started playing with makeup when I moved to Amsterdam, because I felt like I had the space and independence to play with shades and colors without being judged. However, I must admit that you’ll hardly ever find me wearing makeup during the week. I do love shaping my brows with Boy Brow and adding some good glow to my lips with Gloss Bomb from Fenty. If I’m feeling more playful, I love a colorful eye—my sister Manar introduced me to Tarte’s palettes and I am having so much fun with their shades.
In my pre-adolescent years I developed several insecurities. All of a sudden my face was too round, I didn't like my big lips, my curls were in a never ending battle with the humidity of the city, and, ah! I was a B cup while the rest of the girls in class still wore those lovely seamless cotton bralettes. I remember going to bed and praying ‘Ya Allah, please! I want to wake up with smaller boobs, and defined cheeks, and straight shiny hair.’ Adolescence, what an awful time! Eventually I became a really shy person, and wouldn’t even change in front of my friends. That summer, when I went to Morocco, I said no to all the hammam plans. Until I couldn’t—it was my cousin’s wedding and she really wanted me to be there. I went to the hammam in my navy swimsuit that made my boobs look smaller while all the other women were happily naked. One of my aunts said something to me like, ‘Salima, you don’t have to feel shame because your boobs are smaller.’ And just like that I realized that all the cousins my age had bodies that were more or less like mine, with boobs and curves. While I was feeling insecure because I felt my boobs were too big, they thought it was because they were too small! That was a huge lesson to me about how beauty is perceived differently in different cultures.
My nighttime beauty routine starts in the living room. I make myself a good herbal infusion—usually a blend of roses, sage, lavender, calendula, cornflower and poppy. Then I prepare a bucket with ice, water, a few tea tree essential oil drops and ghassoul and exfoliate my feet with a traditional Moroccan mud tool. This is a remedy my mother taught me to help my body calm down after a busy day. She also says it’s why women in my family don’t have varicose veins—I’m not sure about that, but it sure feels great. These days, since I’m feeling a bit homesick, I replaced the tea tree for cedarwood atlas, which in addition to having great antifungal, restorative, and detoxifying properties smells like home. I leave my feet in the bucket for as long as it takes me to drink my herbal infusion. Afterwards, I massage my feet with rose oil from Morocco and start with my skincare routine. I take out the sunscreen and also replace the serums for oils. Moroccan skincare is all about blending oils—I get my oils from there, and my very favorite one is a natural blend of prickly pear oil, black cumin seed oil, and cold-pressed carrot oil. It gives my skin a great boost of vitamins and antioxidants. I’m also enjoying Sunday Riley’s Luna retinol oil, which leaves my skin looking radiant and even-toned. I can’t call myself Moroccan if I don’t mention argan oil, but you know what? I actually prefer using it as a cooking ingredient (I make a delicious broccoli salad with argan oil, caramelized onions, and raisins) than on my face.
Oh, how I adore a good woody aroma. At the moment I’m using the pure oud and sandalwood perfumes my grandmother Fatima brings me every year from Saudi Arabia. When I want something floral, I love wearing Tubéreuse Vertigineuse from Molinard, however I’ve just discovered this fantastic brand called Maya Njie Perfumes through my coach Eva Dixon and I am so in love. I can’t wait to order myself one as a birthday present this September. I love burning a good scented candle or some incense, but when I’m stressed, it just ends up being incense-scented stress. Can anyone truly relax from just that? To be honest I’m still learning to relax, but what seems to be the most effective for me are boxing and meditation. I have a very loud and naughty mind that keeps me busy all the time, but these two practices shush my thoughts.”
—as told to ITG
Photos via the author