This Is How Turkish Girls Get Their Pretty On

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
For centuries, Istanbul has famously been the center of many worlds, the point where Europe and the Middle East — where the past and the future — intersect. The streets are lined with Zara and Starbucks and Shake Shack, but the skyline is dominated by the huge, arresting, ancient dome of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.
Also striking? The effortless, glowing beauty of Turkish women. Perhaps unsurprisingly, on a recent trip to the city, I discovered these ladies look toward bath products and skin care to achieve their look rather than stiff hair and heavy makeup. It's a beauty that comes courtesy of products that are both low-maintenance and luxurious; these wares use very traditional, Levantine ingredients — rose oil, almonds, black sesame, and Turkish coffee — in new and innovative ways.
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If you’re looking to update your summer beauty regimen with products that are subtle but feel indulgent, check out some of the Turkish products ahead. You might even find yourself tempted to eat most of these — though, don't forget that they're made out of soap.
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Photo: Via Bebak.
Bebak Aci Badem Cream (which translates to “baby bitter almond cream”) is everywhere in Istanbul. Made from bitter almond milk, this stuff feels rich and heavy — almost like Pond’s cold cream — and smells like sweet marzipan, but it goes on light and will leave you with a subtle glow. It's an all-purpose product, working just as well on the face as it does on dry hands. It also doesn't hurt that this product leaves behind a delicious, slightly cookie-ish scent.

Bebak products have been around Istanbul since the '30s, so there’s a nostalgia factor to the brand. In fact, Bebak’s almond line hasn’t changed its look for decades, giving the whole range a streamlined, '50s vibe that I can't help but love. Actually, my favorite thing about Aci Badem Crème is its retro packaging.

Better yet, this product is dirt cheap. Even if you have it shipped to the United States from Turkey, it doesn’t cost more than $10.

Bebak Aci Badem Kremi, $2.75, available at Best Shave.
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Photo: Via Rosense.
In Turkey, rose blooms are everywhere, from soap to tea to the air fresheners that hang from the cab drivers' mirrors. But, the flower-infused product that caught my attention was the Rosense Rosewater Cleanser. Rose water is a natural astringent but still gentle, and this cleanser feels great on the skin, reducing shine without dehydrating your complexion.

Rosense’s big, Pepto-Bismol-pink bottle makes you feel like you’ve been rummaging through Jayne Mansfield’s medicine cabinet. Fortunately, the product's scent is far more subtle than its packaging.

Rosense Eau De Rose, $21.41, available at Rosense.
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Photo: Via Guerlain.
Kohl eyeliner is the only stuff that didn’t melt off my face immediately when I arrived in Istanbul, and it’s probably all you need for makeup because you’ll be so flushed and glowy from the sun. I picked mine up at the Grand Bazaar for the haggled-down price of $1.50.

Kohl in Istanbul was so ubiquitous that it was basically brandless — just conical sticks of eye makeup sold with no wrapper. It’s virtue is that it lasts, but you’ll need a real makeup remover to get this stuff off — soap and water won’t cut it.

If you make the voyage here, be sure to pick up a couple of kohl sticks, because mine crumbled on the way home. Looking for a luxe upgrade? Go for the Guerlain Kajal Kohl Stick — very Greta Garbo at the Pera Palace (the Istanbul hotel used as a pit stop on Murder on the Orient Express.)

Whether you use the Istanbul version or the Guerlain stick, be gentle when applying; kohl liner can break easily.

Guerlain Khol Me Kajal Eyeliner, $38.50, available at Nordstrom.
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Photo: Via Lokum.
Lokum (which means “Turkish delight”) is a new company based out of Istanbul and London that makes beautifully packaged, gourmet candy. Namely, the sweets purveyor has been whipping up its namesake Turkish delights, the sweet, gummy treat served on every street corner and booth in the Grand Bazaar.

But now, Lokum has introduced a new line of perfumes and bath products — so you can effectively eat Turkish delight in a bath that smells like Turkish delight. (Rosense also makes Turkish delight. Combining spa products and candy sales is apparently the thing to do. Maybelline should look into this.)

However, you should also check out its other “Ottoman-inspired” perfumes, which come in rose, fig, violet, linden, Turkish tea, and lavender scents. I tried the company's Tea Rain body lotion; this stuff goes on even lighter than the Aci Badem cream, but it still feels divine. Sadly, they are currently only sold in the U.K. and Turkey, and the U.K. site doesn't appear to ship to North America. Fingers crossed that changes soon.

Lokum Istanbul Sumela's Tea Rain, $47.85, available at Lokum Istanbul.
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Photo: Via Olively.
Since Istanbul is home to the legendary Turkish baths, it’s no surprise the city produces rich, fantastic soaps. Here, the soap experience is largely olfactory: The most popular scents I found (or, really, smelled) were lavender, olive oil, and, of course, rose.

While I was directed to Abdullah, a tightly packed booth in the heart of Grand Bazaar, for beautiful, cheap soap, the company hasn't yet set up an online store. Instead, check out Olively Soaps, a new Turkish brand from a region south of Istanbul that claims to be the site of the ancient city of Troy. I like the Olively “Baby Soap” because it is fragrance-free and has an evil-eye charm woven into it to ward bad spirits away from your bathtub.

Harder to find, but perhaps most intriguing, was soap made with olive oil and black sesame oil, which is incredibly rich and said to help protect you from the sun (but it's no replacement for SPF, of course). If you can’t find this soap, you might want to try adding a few drops of black sesame oil to DIY your own Turkish bath. Almond oil works great for this, too.

Olively Olivette Baby Soap, $11.95, available at Olively.
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Photo: Via Marius Fabre.
Turkish soaps stand out because of their olive-oil base and their distinctive, exotic scents. But, my favorite would have to be Aleppo soap (which has its origins in Syria). This soap has been around since antiquity — its nickname is “Cleopatra’s Soap.” Helen of Troy, if she were around today, would use this stuff.

Aleppo soap is traditional olive oil soap with laurel oil mixed in. The laurel, an aromatic plant, is named after the wood nymph who, sick of being sexually harassed by the god Apollo, turned into a tree rather than spend another second with him. (I feel you, Laurel.)

If you're looking for frills, this soap isn't for you — it's not pretty. The months-long air-drying process leaves it rusty brown on the outside and green on the inside. Its fragrance seems a little antiseptic — laurel also helps bug bites — but the lather is divine.

This is the kind of soap they’ll use on you in a hammam or Turkish bath (after they scrub you raw). It feels great on the skin and leaves your face feeling so clean. But, use caution there, because if the kind you get has a higher percentage of laurel, it can dry you out too much and make you break out.

Marius Fabre Aleppo Soap, $12.90, available at Amazon.
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Photo: Via Chef Belinda.
Since Turkish coffee is stronger than regular coffee but less harsh than espresso, it offers an amped-up twist on a typical, brightening, caffeine face mask.

When you drink it, this cup of Joe is usually flavored with a mix of spices, including cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. But, these all have benefits for the complexion as well: Cinnamon tingles and plumps, cardamom calms stressed-out skin, and cloves are a natural antiseptic.

Here’s how to make your own face mask: Take 1/4 cup of freshly used Turkish coffee grounds, and mix with 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt. Add in 1 teaspoon cardamom, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon cloves, and mix. If you're not looking to start your own spice bazaar, many food retailers sell Turkish coffee spice blends to make the process easier. Add a squeeze of honey, if you want more moisture, or raw sugar, if you want to exfoliate. Apply it to your face, wait, and wash it off.

Chef Belinda Turkish Blend Coffee Spice Mix, $7.50, available at Open Sky.
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