Cleopatra did it and now it is my turn. I am in Jordan, floating in the Dead Sea, which I am told is the ultimate beauty treatment for your skin. It is surreal—the Dead Sea is pretty dead—no waves lapping up to the shore, just a huge expanse of very dense water sitting quietly, surrounded by what I can only describe as lunar landscape, stark, barren, craggy, strangely undulating. Think of a crater on the moon, fill it up with very salty water, and that’s what the Dead Sea looks like. It is the lowest point on earth—some 400m below sea level—and as I bob effortlessly, there’s a sense of immense stillness, as if I have hit the pause button on my life. I feel a sense of history, of Jesus who was baptized just 10km from here, of Moses whose final stop was Mt Nebo just 30km to the east, and I can’t help wondering if these men found time to come down for a little soak in these same waters. Cleopatra certainly did, apparently setting up the first personal spa on its shores, using the area’s rich natural resources to pretty up.

Cleopatra’s secret: The Egyptian empress treated the Dead Sea as a giant spa.

I figured this was my chance to finally get that glowing skin I have hankered after all my life, that too for free. I started with a 20-minute float-about in the sea. It is a bit scary because you can’t really swim in this water, the sea stretches out forever and without doing a thing I found I had floated out some distance from the shore. Then I got the hang of navigating around and was soon sitting, yes sitting, comfortably, legs bent, chest up, using the sea like an imaginary chair tilting back at 45 degrees. I was happily soaking in the goodness when it suddenly occurred to me that my face was totally dry—it wasn’t getting the benefit of the nutrient-loaded Dead Sea water—so I promptly patted some on. Big mistake, my eyes were stinging like crazy, and I had to get out in a hurry.

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Next came the mud massage, utterly wonderful, lying flat on the beach while one of the hotel staff rubbed you top to bottom—face included, leaving goggle-shaped holes for the eyes—with fresh mud from the Dead Sea. It’s slimy, it’s smelly, it’s pitch black, and you look like an idiot with it on, but with the prize of instant skin nirvana within reach, I happily submitted. Then I lay in the sun to dry it up, and watched in horror as the skin shrivelled up and looked like an elephant’s with charcoal grey wrinkles and folds. Have faith, I said to myself, this is Cleopatra-tested stuff, as I went back into the Dead Sea to wash it off, trying to keep my balance in the over-buoyant water while scrubbing the over-sticky goo from all over the body. The skin didn’t feel that good either—dry, thirsty, uncomfortable.

Cleopatra obviously was made of sterner stuff—and she must have had an army of slave girls rubbing her down with more secret potions—as for me, I had abandoned all notions of a glowing skin and was hankering instead for the luxuries of a modern hoity-toity high-end spa. Fortunately the Anantara Spa (at the Kempinski Hotel) was a short buggy-ride away, and I heaved a sigh of relief as I got out of my stinking swimsuit, showered, and slipped into one of their crisp clean robes. I wasn’t done with the Dead Sea though—I was pre-booked into a Dead Sea Salt scrub—but this time it was different. I lay face down on a massage table, soothing music flowing in, while Su, the expert Thai masseuse, scrubbed a pleasant-smelling, salt-rich secret potion into limb after limb, hopefully scraping away all the dead cells, while I relaxed and dozed off. I showered off the salt and was back on the massage table for a round of moisturizing massage.

“Skin feel like a baby?" Su asked expectantly, as she settled me down with a cup of ginger tea. I stroked my arm and smiled. It sure did. The Dead Sea had finally worked its magic. Just had to be repackaged for modern-day Cleopatras who need air conditioning and all the comforts of a luxury spa.

Radha Chadha is one of Asia’s leading marketing and consumer insight experts. She is the author of the best-selling book The Cult of the Luxury Brand: Inside Asia’s Love Affair with Luxury.

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