The Natural Bath
By Sarah Villafranco, MD
Posted in Blog, on September 29, 2013
When you're in the mood for a bath, nothing else will do.
Sometimes it is the need to unwind that makes you crave a bath. Sometimes it’s a wet, chilly day that seeps into your bones and makes you cold right to your core. Sometimes it’s your kids, saying “Mama!” just one too many times. Whatever the reason, sinking into that tub is one of life’s great pleasures and if you're a natural skin care product junkie like I am, you're going to choose non-toxic, natural bath products that are excellent for your skin and easy on the environment.
Baths have been praised for centuries for their relaxing and rejuvenating qualities. Some natural hot springs have earned reputations for near-miraculous cures of various ailments, from wrinkles to rheumatism to skin disorders. While few of these claims have been studied scientifically, there is no doubt that regular, warm baths contribute positively to one's mental and physical well-being. These benefits are probably the combined effect of physical immersion in warm water and both conscious and unconscious psychological factors, not the least of which is making the choice to dedicate a few moments to yourself in a given day. Conversely, a bath that is too hot can leave you feeling tired, dehydrated, and more prone to dizziness or low blood pressure when standing, so a nice, warm bath is always better than a hot one.
But what, if anything, should you put in your bath water?
There are many options, but the one broad certainty is that natural bath products are just plain better. When you soak in warm water, the absorptive capacity of your skin increases substantially. Warm water causes the blood vessels near the surface of the skin to dilate, which is why people with light skin tones appear so pink after a warm bath. This dilation allows an increased exchange through the capillary walls - in short, higher absorption by an organ that absorbs close to 60% of what we put on it at baseline. Another aspect to consider if you're trying to be greener in the home is that when your bath water goes down the drain, it either heads to a treatment facility or to a septic field. With it flows the dirt from our bodies and the chemicals we have put into the bath with us. So here’s an easy solution to this environmental issue: don’t put chemicals in your bath water! Continue reading below for specific examples of how you can take a bath, the eco-conscious way, using only what nature has to offer.
Natural Bath Products: Some Options
Epsom salt and sea salt are the two main options when it comes to bath salts.
Epsom salt is a combination of magnesium and sulfate. Soaking in an epsom salt bath allows magnesium, deficient in many diets, to be replenished in the skin and muscles, which is important in maintaining a balanced cellular environment. The likelihood of imbalance at a cellular level is increased after serious physical exertion, which is why athletes often reach for epsom salt after their workouts.
Sulfate acts to flush toxins and heavy metals from the skin. Both magnesium and sulfate are present in sea salt as well, in addition to other minerals and trace elements, depending on the body of water from which it was harvested.
Some salts, such as the French gray sea salt from the Osmia's Salt Bath, contain natural clay, which means even more skin-softening minerals. The reason these minerals in sea salt are so softening is that they attract water at a molecular level, plumping up the skin and softening callouses.
Herbs, Flowers, and Grains
One plant that has gained a great reputation for skin benefits is the oat. Both the oat grain itself and the straw upon which it grows have soothing and healing properties when placed in warm water. These properties are due to the release of amino acids, saponins (soap-like molecules), and a skin-hydrating effect of oats due to their water absorbing capacity. The texture of bath water changes substantially when oats are added - it becomes softer and more emollient. At Osmia Organics, we created the Organic Tea Bath, which contains dried botanicals, epsom salt, and oats - excellent for itchy winter skin, or skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis.Various herbs and flowers can be added to the bath, with benefits specific to each. Skin-softening compounds, vitamins, and essential oils in the plant material are released when immersed in warm water, allowing your skin to absorb them. There is also the added benefit of the natural aromatherapy that occurs when the botanicals release their oils.
MilkAlmost any type of milk will have a softening effect on your skin when added to your bath water. Milk acids have an exfoliating effect due to their ability to help break down and slough away dead skin cells, leaving behind soft, living skin cells.
Whole milk and buttermilk have the highest fat content, and will leave the most moisturized feel to the skin, though a slight rinse is probably best to avoid a sticky feel from milk residue. Pouring fresh milk in your bath is only recommended if your bath water isn't hot – otherwise, the milk may curdle!
Powdered milk products, like Osmia Organics's Organic Milk Bath, are just as effective and quite practical to use in the tub, as they will keep for longer periods in dry form.
Natural plant oils are very softening to wet, post-bath or shower skin - the water has already hydrated the skin, and so pores are open and ready to accept the benefits of a well-chosen oil. That being said, using straight oil in the bath may not be the safest plan - many a hip has been bruised or broken by slipping when getting out of an oily tub!
If using oils in the tub, very small quantities (one tablespoon per bath) will leave your skin soft, and are less likely to cause you to slip. The best, easy-to-find oils for the bath are natural plant oils with low odor, such as sweet almond, apricot kernel, jojoba, or sesame (not toasted). Olive oil works as well, but is best combined with another, more emollient oil. Alternatively, you can save the oil for after the tub and apply it to wet skin after you've stepped onto the bathmat - this is how we recommend using Osmia's line of luxury body oils.
Ahhh, the aromatherapy bath - perhaps the Queen of all Baths. Essential oils can be included in any bath preparation, or used by themselves. A word of caution about undiluted essential oils: they can be very acidic, and so they can burn or irritate the skin if used incorrectly (like when there's too high a concentration or when there's a poor choice of oils). The safest choice is to pick your essential oils, and add them (6-8 drops) to a tablespoon of one of the carrier oils mentioned above. Or you can add them to milk for a bath that would make Cleopatra herself green with envy! The best oils for the bath include lavender, sandalwood, neroli, chamomile (Roman, rather than German), rose otto, ylang ylang (watch for skin sensitivity), atlas or virginia cedarwood, rosewood, and geranium. Avoid citrus oils in the tub - these will cause itching and burning in most people, and should not be used in products that stay on the skin, as they can cause sensitivity to the sun (resulting in a rash). If you are not sensitive to evergreen oils, they can provide a very uplifting and fortifying bath – the perfect boost after a long day!
Whatever you choose - milk, oils, herbs, salt - make sure you protect your time in the tub. If it’s a precious time for you and your little one to soak together, treasure every second and gently twist those damp baby curls in your fingers. If it’s an escape, then ESCAPE! Lock the door, light a candle, put on some music, and don’t come back until you’re ready. And if it’s just an unwinding at the end of a day, use it as a transition to sleep if you can - step out of the tub and get straight into your jammies and into bed. Remember that regular, warm baths are a wonderful, healthy part of any skin care routine, not to mention the mental health perks.