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Passport to Beauty
Comments () | Published February 22, 2012

Mona Assemi, 32
Accessory designer, Mona Assemi Jewelry
Country of origin: Iran

The devil is in the details—especially when it comes to the old-world beauty rituals passed down by Persian women.

“All the Persian women I know are very put together. Their eyebrows are always perfect, and you’ll never see a chipped nail,” says Mona Assemi, who was two months old when her family left Iran, settling in Northern Virginia and then Maryland. “I don’t necessarily follow all these rules and regimens, but I try, if for no other reason than out of fear of my beloved mother, who taught me all these things since I was a little girl.”

No brow beating: “Eyebrows are very important in our culture. We’re not allowed to have them done at a young age, because doing so means we’ve reached womanhood. To groom them, we opt for threading instead of waxing because it’s precise and doesn’t involve the stretching and pulling you endure with waxing, which causes wrinkles over time. After threading, we apply cold yogurt to prevent irritation. I’ve also been told that putting castor oil on any bald spots on your brows will help hair to grow fuller.”

Kitchen confidential: “I save the fruits and vegetables I use in cooking to apply at night. Mashing strawberries and using them as a scrub or mask is a good way to absorb excess facial oil. Using olive oil instead of body lotion leaves skin soft and dewy. Soaking cotton swabs with Earl Grey tea and dripping it into the eyes helps clear up redness. For fuller hair, blend chickpeas and egg yolk, apply it to the scalp as a mask for 30 minutes, and then shampoo. When rinsing, use vinegar to reduce split ends.”

What she stocks up on at the Persian grocery store: “There are a few stores, like Yekta in Rockville and Assal in Vienna, where you can find popular Persian beauty products. A favorite is sefidab. My parents tell me that in Iran they’d go to bathhouses and have it scrubbed into their skin from head to toe to reveal younger, rejuvenated skin. It comes in a ball form, and you break off a piece and apply it to damp skin. As it rolls, it removes the top layers of dead skin.”

Sleeping beauty: “Many Persian women don’t use a pillow at night, to keep from squishing the skin on the face and neck and causing wrinkles. Though I don’t do this, it’s common to sleep in bras so that the breasts don’t sag. Some women wear a girdle to bed so the fat won’t jiggle as they age.”


Pilar Mendiola-Fernández, 40
Senior vice president, the Washington Center
Country of origin: Mexico

“Mexican women have a word that we use constantly—arreglarnos. It means grooming ourselves or making ourselves look better,” says Pilar Mendiola-Fernández, who left the city of Puebla after a walk over the Key Bridge led her to fall in love with Washington, the place she’s called home since 1995. “As soon as we learn to walk, we learn to groom ourselves, to highlight our features in the best way, regardless of age or size. That’s the mantra whether you’re 7 or 85.”

Her three pillars of beauty: Hair, nails, and makeup. Before moving to the States, she had her hair styled at 7 am—the standard opening time for many Mexican salons catering to women on their way to work—at least every other day. For 14 years, she has rarely strayed from her biweekly manicures with Julie Nguyen at Pentagon City’s Modern Nails. She’s been seeing the same hairstylist, Manuel Solorzano of Manuel Hair Salon, for five years. “For me, it’s not about what other women in DC are doing or what magazines or the beauty industry dictate,” she says. “It’s a discipline with myself, a relationship and respect for myself.”

Why she doesn’t need an eyelash curler: “A spoon is all you need for creating beautiful, natural curl. Hold the spoon horizontally so it’s touching your lid—the rim should touch the line of your upper lash line. Using the thumb of the same hand, softly press your eyelashes up against the back of the spoon. Then gradually push the edge up in the direction of the ends of your lashes. Repeat until your eyelashes are curled, and apply mascara.”

What she stocks up on when she goes to Mexico: “Mamey bone mascara, a natural mascara made from hueso de mamey, a Mexican fruit. It not only blackens your eyelashes but also protects them. I also use Talika Eyelash Conditioning Cream, for strengthening and growing lashes. My mom used it when she was young, and I’ve been using it since I was a teenager. Also for eyes is Miguett’s Ampolletas de Petalos de Rosas. These individual packets of rose-petal infusion help with dark circles and wrinkles. For my lips, I get pure glycerin, which I apply at bedtime. When I wake up in the morning, my lips have absolutely no wrinkles.”

Her favorite natural remedies: “Mixing brown sugar with avocado oil is a great way to exfoliate dry skin. I use it in the shower, and it especially keeps skin hydrated in the winter. While my skin is still damp, I apply almond oil, then pat it dry. I apply the same oil to dry hair and put on a shower cap, leave it on for an hour, then wash it out with shampoo. My hair feels stronger and looks instantly shinier.”

How she controls cellulite: “Mexican women believe that a mixture of camphor and red seaweed has a purifying effect on the skin. We apply it anywhere we have cellulite—like the thighs and hips—to prevent dimpling and keep skin smooth. It works just as well as a pore-refining tonic anywhere you have breakouts or clogged pores.”

This article appears in the February 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.


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Posted at 02:00 PM/ET, 02/22/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Articles