Horn Combs

Reversbale combs. Do they represent rabbits or birds? Although each comb has the same contour, the degree of rotation influences whether a rabbit or bird can be recognised.

Reversable combs. Do they represent rabbits or birds? Although each comb has the same contour, the degree of rotation influences whether a rabbit or bird can be recognised.

Horn comb making in near terminal decline

Having determined that just two master horn comb makers are left in Morocco and with the idea that there must be better to comb the hair with horn rather than plastic, I set my tireless Moroccan agent, the challenging task to track the makers down. After some months I was sent photos of the oldest comb maker, Master S. aged 79 and pictures of his combs. It was the photograph of the horn combs which took my breath away.

 

Living heritage from the Palaeolithic?

The animal shaped combs were uncannily reminiscent of Ice Age art, so well known from the painted French caves and from the intricately carved bone, horn and mammoth ivory aretacts fashioned by Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers living on the Russian plains. It was as if I had actually stepped into the past. The techniques necessary for comb making, the groove and splinter technique was first developed some 18,000 years ago and we can suppose that the first manufactued combs began to be made from that time. I regained my sense of time and took a deep breath. I wanted to work out why the combs seemed so archaic and wanted to meet the maker and find out how I could help preserve this nearly lost tradition.

Animal types represented

Many of the combs were animal shaped, camels, horses, birds and fish. Certainly not what I had expected so see from a Muslim country – where animals and humans are rarely depicted. However in the Palaeolithic, animals were the dominant theme in art. Was this comb maker actually transmitting imagery earlier than the spread of Islam?

Style features of horn combs

The combs portrayed a particular animal species conveyed with an economy of means by the shaping of the outer contour and by the careful positioning of the eye. However, as the tines nearly always equate to the underbelly of the animal, it is the dorsal line and the profile of the head which enables recognition of the animal species portrayed. This again is the way animals were recognised across the open landscapes of the Ice Age and this is how animals were represented in Ice Age Art. Many of the animals painted in the French caves are little more than a dorsal line and profile head and these combs were using a similar means of expression.

Ambiguity in the deep past and now

The fish half eaten make a humourous idea for a horn comb

The fish half eaten make a humourous idea for a horn comb

One comb type which fascinated my was the fish, half eaten where the ribs exposed along the belly acted as the tines of the comb, and the uneated part served as a handle. This was clearly a joke on the visual play between the ribs of a fish and the tangs of a comb. While the comb is suitable for combing the hair, a fish skeleton would clearly give a very bad hair day. This sort of visual humour was abundant in the Palaeolithic, and was not revived in Europe again until the Surrealists and Dadaists made their impact less than 100 years ago.

I made the arrangement to visit the comb maker with my husband and an interpreter, to buy a collection and to conduct more research on the comb making process. For now I must skip what happened during our visit, although it was full of activity and laughter, to continue with the analysis of the combs.

Ambiguous Combs, Rabbits or Birds?

With the comb collection in hand, I have been able to take a closer look. I had several more surprizes. I began to sort the combs into piles of similar animal forms, and found that I had created two stacks out of what appeared to be the same shape. One stack was of rabbits with the tines along the belly and one of birds with the tines along the back. They were infact the same comb shape, but just took on the appearance of the other animal when the comb was rotated. This is another form of ambiguity, also stemming from the Palaeolithic yet very present in this comb makers mind. It was as if I was handling fresh Palaeolithic work.

Properties of Rhassoul Clay

 

Clods of freshly mined clay, ready for transportation to the riverside washing and drying site.

Freshly mined clay, ready for transportation to the riverside washing and drying site.

Rhassoul Clay is famous for use as a ‘soap-free’ shampoo and for washing and detoxing the skin. This clay has many beneficial properties and it is known for its purity and high detoxification power. Rhassoul is collected from the exact place where it originally formed where the subterranean clay layers have remained undisturbed since the Tertiary geological era. Rhassoul Clay is only found in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

The clay layers are found in the Moroccan desert, receiving very low rainfall, and so the clay remains full of trace elements and minerals, all of which enhance its activity.

Treated with almost holy respect and in accordance with its nature, the clay is dug from small underground chambers using a pick ax, then it conditioned by the sun and desert breeze and these are some of our photographs from when we inspected the Rhassoul Clay mine. We have it milled to massively increase its power of absorption and activity.

Here are just a few of the properties:

Rhassoul Clay has a Powerful Negative Electromagnetic Charge

It is the powerful negative charge of rhassoul clay which makes it so effective as a detoxifying agent. Toxins such as heavy metals which lay under the skin’s surface have a positive charge – the clay draws them through the skin inside the clay particle. During use, the clay can be seen attracting the lymph fluid under the skin layer. Toxins are transported out of the lymph fluid, through the skin layer and they are locked inside the clay particle. This is why rhassoul is so helpful with skin conditions and also why it is used in inch-loss body wraps and in poultices and why people with lymph troubles gain so much from even washing in clay. Clay is particularly effective at absorbing excess sebum – retaining the health of hair follicle and helping to reduce hair loss. It works as well on skins troubled with acne as it does on skins troubled by dry skin conditions.

The Exterior of  Clay Particles are Positively Charged

Rhassoul clay attracts chemical residues such as pesticides.  These substances attach to the outside of the clay particle and are simply washed away.

Rhassoul Clay has an Amazing Carrying Capacity

Rhassoul is known for its ‘swelling’ ability as it fill with toxins and having such a fine particle size it has a huge surface area and carrying capacity. These features are best described in the following analogy. According to Robert T. Marin, a study conducted by Lei in 1996, a mineralogist at the Institute of Technology, demonstrated that 1g of this type of clay has the surface area of 800m2! It is hard to find other natural materials which have this high carrying capacity.

Clays are Ionically Active

Rhassoul clay is composed of 100% minerals and trace-elements. The skin will absorb some of these, while giving out toxins in a process called ionic exchange, resulting in an improved skin structure and feel.

Clay is Naturally Antimicrobial

Clay is anti-microbial and is known to kill viruses and helps to protect the skin from attack. At the same time clay does not destroy our individual skin flora.

Clays are the Smallest Naturally Formed Crystals in the World

Clay is of crystalline structure and each tiny particle is like a powerhouse. Crystals are capable of holding and transforming energy. Rhassoul is subject to the natural energies of the earth, air and sun. Perhaps it is the energy of the sun which makes the clay so meaningful people with psoriasis and skin conditions which normally respond well to sunlight. Equally, the energies of the earth are ‘grounding’ and calming.

Clay Particles are Gently Exfoliating

On the molecular level clay particles are somewhat rough, helping to exfoliate the skin, returning dry and flaky skins or scalps to optimum condition. The outer layers of the skin are designed to be sloughed off, allowing the skin to be free to exchange gases, to release sweat, sebum and toxins. Dead skin also contain many toxins which the body has not eliminated through other channels of elimination.

Clays have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties

People with inflamed and itchy skins wash in clay to feel more comfortable.

Clays have many other amazing properties!

Argan Oil: Sustainability

Argan Oil long known to the Berbers of Morocco – famed by the Ancient writers for their beauty, is now being hailed in the West as the one of the most remarkable anti-aging oils. Not only is the oil of intrinsic interest for its virtuous properties – the method of production, so tied in with the traditional ecology and economy is worthy of expansion:

Argan Oil is pressed from the seed kernel of the Argan tree (Argania spinosia L.). It is a relic tree species, dating from the Tertiary era, (think Jurassic) growing only in dry forests in Southern Morocco. There, across dry mountain foothills, this tree is found in an area of about 800,000 hectares. The tree was protected first by Moroccan law, and then more recently by UNESCO, as part of our world biosphere heritage, not only because the species is unique, and the deep roots of the Argan tree help to prevent encroachment by the Sahara desert, but also due to its economic and cultural value.

Over the course of its 200 year life, the fruits are collected for producing oil for cooking and as fully natural cosmetic oil for the hair, skin and nails. All parts of the tree are used by humans and mammals as fodder, fuel wood, lighting oil and shelter. Even, finally the roots are used in some way, as are all of the by-products of Argan Oil production. Argan Oil literally permeates the lives of three million mountain Berbers.

An argan tree, heavy with fruit.

An argan tree, heavy with fruit.

It was from the 1980s when Berber claims about the many virtues of Argan Oil began to be substantiated by Western scientists and several rare biological compounds were identified with high therapeutic values. Beside its anti-ageing effect on the skin, the oil was found to contain anti-cancer compounds, and to help acne sufferers. In fact this oil is beneficial for all skin types. Ironically, this was at a time when the Argan Forest had already shrunk by one third in less than one century. The trees are still under threat from increased crop planting, more intensive grazing by livestock and low wood stocks. It is a common sight to see goats high in the limbs of Argan trees, browsing on the leaves and the kernel bearing fruits, or migrating camels snatching mouthfuls of Argan fodder. Despite the damage goats inflict, the villagers used mainly to collect the fruits from the ground after they had passed through the goats insides. However at this time the human population level was just two million, and there were few thoughts of exporting the oil.

Nowadays, due to the increased commercialization of Argan Oil, the trees are better protected from goats and the ripe fruits (yes, some things are actually ripe before they are harvested!) are knocked off the tree and collected for sun drying before they are stored in clay pots (away from goats!). By tradition women process and market argan oil, however since the establishment of well over one hundred women’s cooperatives the production has become more organized, the oil quality controlled and the women earn considerably more than working alone. Although virtually all Argan oil is organically grown, the oil imported by Natural Spa Supplies Ltd is Ecocert laballed as pure and natural – Ecocert is the French equivalent of the Soil Association and they also inspect the work premises.

Sun dried Argan Fruits: After the ripe fruits are knocked off the tree, they are sun-dried and then stored in clay pots. If necessary such as in times of drought, they can be preserved for years. Here the argan fruits are about to be processed. The dried fruit covers a hard seed case and inside this case lay the tree seeds or kernels.

Sun dried Argan Fruits: After the ripe fruits are knocked off the tree, they are sun-dried and then stored in clay pots. If necessary such as in times of drought, they can be preserved for years. Here the argan fruits are about to be processed. The dried fruit covers a hard seed case and inside this case lay the tree seeds or kernels.

These Argan cooperatives are run entirely by women. It is quite incongruous to see the women first removing the very hard seed case by cracking the dried fruit on stone anvils with a hammer stone – a prehistoric method exposing the oil bearing kernels and then, after the oil is pressed, turning on a computer to print out the invoice! The cooperative helps the women (many of who are divorced or widowed Berbers) to earn a fair wage and to become literate, and literacy is passed on through the generations.

A Moroccan lady, uses a stone anvil and a hammerstone to expose the argan seed kernels. First she removes the dried fruit surround, then she cracks the seedcase and finally separates out the argan kernels.

A Moroccan lady, uses a stone anvil and a hammerstone to expose the argan seed kernels. First she removes the dried fruit surround, then she cracks the seedcase and finally separates out the argan kernels.

There are three methods of pressing: A stone hand mill – the argan producer sits on the ground and over the course of many hours extruding an oily paste. After mixing with water, the paste is squeezed to gently coax the oil out. With this method it takes about one and a half days of labour to produce one liter of oil. Although a charming sight for tourists, this is really back breaking and laborious work, the oil yield is quite low, and unfortunately the shelf life is short (due to contamination from the water). While this method of production is fine on a household level, for commercial production on occupational health grounds alone, it is unacceptable.

A second method uses machine extraction, giving a yield of yield oil some 50% greater, with excellent preservation qualities (up to two years in glass, stored in the dark), the aroma is light, and the oil very fine and fast absorbing. Natural Spa Supplies Ltd imports oil produced with this method.

A third method uses volatile lipophilic solvents in a steam distillation process to produce an oil with no aroma -‘deodorized’, popular in Italy and America – the remaining oil may contain contaminants although it is fine for industrial and laboratory use, and it is beyond the reach of most Moroccan cooperatives. Deodorized oil is more likely to be made in the French or German installations, somewhat reducing Berber autonomy.

It takes the combined harvest of about 8-12 trees (about 100kg of ripe fruit), to produce about 60kg of dried Argan fruits. Of this about 30kg is dried fruit pulp, 27kg, the nut cases, and innermost, about 3kg of seed kernels, sufficient to make 1 liter of precious oil. To give some idea of the high preservation qualities of argan oil, the seed kernels, if stored correctly last for some twenty years. The pressing of virgin Argan Oil is overseen by Natural Spa Supplies’ Moroccan agent, who assures that only the best preserved fruits are selected. The agent commented to Sally Mittuch, Managing Director of Natural Spa Supplies Ltd, ‘Without the growth in Argan demand, many of these mountain villages would have changed irrevocably. Thousands of families would have left for the cities abandoning their roots, culture and heritage.’

The argan kernels how extracted are ready to cold press

The argan kernels how extracted are ready to cold press

Despite the growth in cooperatives with export capabilities, the price of Argan oil has not increased in the forest region and the availability to locals is still high as most households have access to more than 300 Argan trees – the collection of fruits begins on the household level. The women of the household only sell the dried fruits to cooperatives after their own household needs have been met. Now some cooperatives are actively replanting new Argan trees, a real investment as the they take many years to reach maturity and they must be protected from wayward goats and camels!

This oil, though rare is sustainable – the Argan trees have only survived in this region for millions of year because they go dormant, producing neither leaves nor fruit during times of drought and so Argan Oil, especially in years of pour harvest can not be taken for granted. It is in a way reassuring that attempts to plant the trees in other countries such as Spain have not met with success – Argan production has been sustained for countless generations of Berbers, in fact this is the sort of human knowledge for which no beginning can be found. Whatever its origins, the tradition of Argan Oil production rightly belongs to these sharing Berber matriarchs and these women alone. Let’s hope for ample winter rains and a bountiful harvest for everones’ sake.

Argan Oil is an traditional oil made for countless generations by the Berbers in Morocco. Famed by the Ancient writers for their beauty, even contemporary visitors to Morocco, marvel at the youthfulness, vitality and freshness of the faces of Berber women and the virtual absence of acne from youth. Among women of advancing age, despite differences in sun exposure, the Moroccan women are some of the most youthful appearing of all.

Argan Oil is a fine, fast absorbing oil, ideal for the face and neck due to its anti-aging and rejuvenating effect. It can be applied to any part of the body including the nails and hair. The oil has also been used in traditional Berber medicine for helping skins troubled by allergies, eczema, psoriasis, and burns and it is applied before sun exposure. It is held in very high regard for preventing the appearance of age spots (liver spots), stretch marks, and for reducing the signs of scarring from surgery, acne and chickenpox.

Until now most scientific studies have centered on the role of the the oily constituents of argan oil with regard to its consumption – it reduces bad chlorestorol levels, reduces the risk and promotes recovery from heart attacks, strokes and cancer – especially colorectal cancer and helps arthritis sufferers. While Argan Oil prepared with roasted kernels is ideal for culinary use, it lacks only the essential fatty acid omega-3 which must still be consumed from other sources such as green leafy vegetables, walnuts and brazil nuts etc.

This article overviews the virtues of cosmetic oil – the kernels from which the oil is pressed remain unroasted and the aroma of the oil is lighter. Overall research is in its infancy, and scientists are very excited by the high concentrations and sometimes rare combinations of the constituents of argan oil and the potential of this oil to enhance the function and appearance of the skin. In the meantime we only have to look at the low levels of Western type disease in Morocco, and the grace, energy and beauty of the older members of their society to accept that the Berbers of the Argan forests have preserved and are sharing the knowledge of something truely remarkable.

More info on the constituents and properties of argan oil

Rhassoul Extraction

In September 2007 the company secretary, my Moroccan researcher and I were generously welcomed and given a tour of the Rhassoul mining and primary production site.

At the Mining Site

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Well off the beaten track, crossing the now desiccated Jurassic lake, herds of camels give way to goats. A Berber herder will be close by. Although the desert gives little for human subsistence, it is a retreat for a full chain of wildlife including large bright green lizards which dart under rocks faster than you can blink and the mysterious jackal who watches always from a distance.

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View from the open chamber across the vast Jurassic lake. An approaching dust storm gives the desert a mauve hue.

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Rhassoul clay miners are provided with accommodation in the mountain HQ. The recreational facilities, hammam bath, medical services, mosque etc. attest to the remoteness of the mine. It is a home from home – there is even a semi-feral jackal who lives in the camp, too shy to photographed properly.

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This clay chamber was worked by two miners who alternated digging and removal.

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The seams of clay are chased with a pick axe. Dynamite is never used in these mines. Several chambers are worked at once giving an average production of 12 tonnes per day.

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The clay in clods emerges into the light of the day after laying in the earth for millions of years.

At the primary production site

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The clay is washed in mountain source river water and aerated by being turned in vats.

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The rhassoul clay seams are found between layers of crystallized gypsum. Over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, tiny earth tremors and animal activity has caused little fragments of gypsum to migrate into the clay layer. In this photograph, the clay is about to be sieved to remove any extraneous matter.

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The clay is poured on the ground for drying.

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The clay is dried for 24 hours by the pure desert breeze blowing from the Sahara and the Atlantic. In harmony with the natural crystal structure of each clay particle is charged under the sun and the moon.

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The dried clay is ready to use. We have ours milled to increase its activity.

Product Info

Natural Skin, Hair & Body Product Information

At Natural Spa Supplies we love to share our expertize on our washing and cleaning eco products. Remember we use everything ourselves – with no cheating! We are fully committed to using these natural resources not just for caring for the hair and skin, but also for household cleaning. If you are looking for product instructions, you will find will find them in the shop.

This area depository of extra research which we have compiled to enable you to understand the properties, uses, history and potential of our key products. These uses extend well beyond washing and cleaning.  So if you can’t find the information you are looking for in the shop or on the links here, the chances are we have the answer, but just haven’t written it down yet – just give us a call and ask away!

All of our products are multi-purpose. For example, a commercial deodorant would only deodorize and it could not be used for anything else – our natural volcanically formed alum crystals are used as a shaving styptic and for insect bite relief. Actually there is nothing to stop you from using our alum as a mordant for dyeing textiles, tanning hides, water purification or any of its other historical uses.

Alum Crystals

Natural Alum crystal and stone can be used for range of purposes – such as an effective natural deodorant, and shaving product – capable of reducing shaving burn and stemming bleeding from nicks. The most popular articles are:

How to Deodorize Really Sensitive Skin

The History of Alum in Britain

Argan Oil

Argan Oil possesses amazing anti aging properties, it is also widely used as an natural Afro-Caribbean haircare product.

Rhassoul Clay

Rhassoul Clay, mined from a Jurrassic lake in Morocco, is used for washing hair, face and body and as a powerful detoxifying agent.

Horn Combs

Our traditional Horn Combs have been made in Morocco by an 84 year old master craftsman. These beautiful and unique hair care tools, individually fashioned from cow horn, have a fascinating heritage and visual appeal.

Hemp Soap

With over 1200 uses, from shaving, washing, cleaning, for natural plant care, we rejoice in our 100% British Hemp Oil Soap.

Soapnuts

How to make soapnut liquid for washing up and cleaning. Soapnuts are the perfect companion to our Hemp Oil Soap and between them there isn’t much which can’t be cleaned.

Professional use

Resources and information for health and beauty professionals using Natural Spa Supplies Ltd products.

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Many people think that going green is expensive, but at Natural Spa Supplies our products are great value. Our customers typically spend 5-13p doing a load of laundry with Soapnuts. You can even use our products if you are on a budget.

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