Unwanted body hair is a problem for the majority of women, and Lebanese women have a myriad of options at their disposal in Beirut, from laser treatments to monthly waxes to sugaring and threading.
However, in many Lebanese mountain villages, new parents rely on the traditional hair removal technique of applying a freshly slaughtered bat’s blood to a newborn baby’s body. This depilatory technique has not been widely practiced for over 50 years.
Lebanese tour guide Sheikh Hasan Tarabai has relied on natural medical treatments his entire life and never visited a doctor. Tarabai was coated with the blood of a bat when he was born. He has since rubbed this hair removal treatment on the bodies of his children and grandchildren.
“I am 53 years old and completely hairless,” Tarabai told The Daily Star. “It’s a tradition that has been going on for many years [and] all of us who live in the mountains still use it. If you ask those who are 50 and over, they will all tell you they received bat’s blood, but if you talk to the new generation they would say it’s just a myth.”
Tarabai hunted and killed the bats himself immediately before his wife and daughters were due to deliver.
“Once the child is born, we rub oil on its body and a week after that we use the bat’s blood two times a day for around 10 days,” Tarabai explained to The Daily Star. “The blood has to stay on the child’s body for at least two hours and at the same time, we would be boiling water and salt to wash it off with after two hours.”
Tarabai comments that he believes it’s unfortunate that new parents dismiss bat’s blood as a myth, leading their children to use harmful modern depilatory treatments as adults.
Four of five doctors interviewed by The Daily Star claimed they had either received inquiries about the bat’s blood treatment from expectant mothers or heard about it from older female relatives. However, none of the doctors interviewed said they would recommend the treatment to their patients.
“We’ve all heard of this ritual quite a bit and I have a few patients whose moms and grandmothers have done it and they swear it really works,” Dr. Labib Ghulmiyyah, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at AUB, told The Daily Star, “but I haven’t been able to find any scientific evidence to support this except that bat’s blood was used as an ingredient in hair removal products a long time ago [during the Roman era].”
Although about six patients have questioned Ghulmiyyah about the treatment over the past few years, the doctor has not heard of anyone recently applying the blood to their newborns.
“I won’t deny it, but scientifically I cannot explain it and I worry about the potential risks,” Ghulmiyyah told The Daily Star. “There are viruses that have been associated with bats and I’m not sure if it’s 100 percent safe. Plus what kind of bats are you going to use? Where will you get them? Is it fair to the bats?”
Dr. Fadi Mirza, Obstetrician-Gynecologist and Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist at AUB medical center, claims that the treatment would likely be safe as long as the bat’s blood does not penetrate a puncture in a newborn’s skin.
“There is a slight risk of rabies from bats,” Mirza told The Daily Star, “but the way that [the blood] is applied does not really pose a risk of rabies transmission.”
Amera, an Egyptian-born manicurist and aesthetician at Gemmayzeh’s Wissam Hair Studio, claims that her clients often ask her whether anyone in Lebanon still administers the treatment. Although her grandmother received the procedure at birth, Amera claims she doesn’t know of anywhere outside of the Lower Sinai in Egypt where it is still common.
“I think it stopped because of technology,” Amera told The Daily Star. “People no longer follow natural things; all they want are artificial and expensive things. Due to my experience I would definitely recommend that women do it. It is a lot easier. I even told my own child to use bat’s blood but she refused. My granddaughter is full of hair now.”