Discover Bali’s DIY beauty experience

A hands-on beauty class in Bali offers surprising, natural results.

Several different spices on a banana leaf
  • Ronan O’Connell
  • June 2018

The setting of the workshop down a narrow backstreet just off Ubud’s main strip is basic – a large wooden table and two bench chairs beneath an air-conditioning vent. It seems an unlikely place to make my own beauty products, but flowers, fruit, powders and pieces of succulent are laid out on the table before me, ready to be transformed.

Over the next 90 minutes, and for just AUD $30, I’m going to make a basket-load of products, including body scrubs, face masks, sunscreen and shampoo.

Beauty direct from Mother Nature

Ubud Botany Interactive opens in new window’s enthusiastic teacher and owner is Dewi Rustini, a 28-year-old local with university degrees in biology, and botany and agriculture. She says Balinese women have long derived pride and pleasure from beautifying themselves using only what Mother Nature provides.

It was only in the second half of the 20th century that Western-style cosmetics, enriched with chemicals, became widely available in Bali, Dewi says. The simple recipes she teaches her students are identical to those used by local women for generations. “When I was a kid I remember seeing women make products this same way in their homes,” Dewi says.

Shampoo from scratch

She has run these classes for two years and also offers botany walks, using her seemingly boundless knowledge to guide tourists through the Ubud countryside, teaching them about native plants and how they’re used for traditional medicine, food and beauty products. In our class, we first make shampoo from scratch, finely chopping five hibiscus leaves, a three-centimetre-long piece of aloe vera and three flowers (ylang-ylang, magnolia and frangipani) and placing it all into a large metallic bowl containing 150 millilitres of water.

“What do I do now?” I ask Dewi, rather cluelessly. Her direction is simple and her enthusiasm is infectious. I mash up the solution with my hands as instructed and squeeze the ingredients over and over until the water begins to froth and bubble. Then I pour the contents of the bowl through a sieve and a funnel into a bottle. Later that night this shampoo leaves my hair shiny and fragrant.

After another 10 minutes of slowly crushing together seven natural ingredients, I’ve created a face mask, which I apply that evening to make my weathered skin smoother and healthier.

Our Beauty Class this morning. opens in new window

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Homemade sunscreen, tiger balm and body scrub

“That was actually very easy,” I tell Dewi. This also applied to the sunscreen, tiger balm and body scrub that followed. The sunscreen – a mix of aloe vera, avocado, coconut milk and coconut oil – is surprisingly effective, protecting me from the sun as my wife and I explore Ubud’s beautiful temples.

As a rough-around-the-edges Australian man I thought I would be completely out of my element around beauty products. Perhaps I should have swallowed my machismo years ago – all of a sudden my skin looks good.

Ronan O’Connell was a guest of Ubud Botany Interactive