Tips for Taking a Relaxing Bath
There’s more to a bath than just relaxation, though let’s get real, that’s a big part of it. The benefits of a bath are so clear that there’s even a fancy word for it: balneotherapy. “Balneotherapy, taking a bath infused with minerals, salts or mud, has been practiced for centuries and is believed to [treat] some ailments such as arthritis and diseases such as eczema and psoriasis,” says dermatologist Michele Green, MD.
Baths are also often prescribed to ease pain and aid in recovery (which is why professional athletes are such big fans). “I broke my back when I was younger and the only way I could get the zero-gravity effect that is the ultimate way to relieve back pain was to get in a bath,” says Spencer Arnold, co-founder of natural bath product company Bathing Culture. Seeing the therapeutic effect firsthand turned him into a lifelong bath enthusiast.
You don’t have to have a skin condition or chronic pain to enjoy the benefits of a bath either. “Bathing helps release toxins and settle your body down,” says clinical aromatherapist Hellen Yuan, founder of Hellen, which makes bath products. It has positive effects on your physical and mental wellbeing and aids in relaxation, stress reduction and anxiety management. That’s why baths have become cornerstones of a growing self-care movement and why you may want to make bathing part of your regular routine.
Realistically, “there’s no wrong way to take a bath,” says Tim Hollinger, co-founder of Bathing Culture. However, here are 8 tips for taking a relaxing bath.
Shower Before Taking Your Bath
There’s a saying that “if you want to get really clean, take a bath” and that’s true. Sitting in water for a period of time does get you cleaner than your average shower. But if the goal of your bath is to chill out, you might not want to sit there in the dirt that came off your body. “We recommend showering first, just a quick rinse,” says Hollinger. “It’s going to allow you to focus on relaxation during the soak instead of worrying about dirt.”
Warm Water Is Best
The temperature of bathwater is largely a personal decision and, in some cases like ice baths, depends on what you’re hoping to get out of it. But bathwater that’s too hot or too cold “can put a strain on our cardiovascular system and send our body into shock,” says Dr. Green. “The temperature of your bath water should be close to the temperature around you to ensure your body won’t have to make adjustments when it gets in.” Scalding hot water is never a good idea, but especially if you have sensitive skin issues like rosacea. “Hot water is going to bring blood to your skin, so if you get red or flush easily, think twice about hopping into a hot tub,” says dermatologist John Zampella, MD. Go for moderate temperature (warm, but not hot) and test it with your wrist before you get in. Your fingers and hands have a higher tolerance for heat than other areas of your body.
Add Ingredients to Your Bath
There are plenty of things you can add to bathwater to make it more therapeutic and relaxing.
No matter what you choose, keep it simple. Start off with one thing at a time before you start mixing and if you have skin sensitivity issues avoid products with added fragrance or dyes, says Dr. Zampella.
- Epsom Salts: These magnesium-rich salts are classic balneotherapy ingredients and are known to be “soothing to the joints and reduce muscle swelling and inflammation,” says Dr. Green. They’re also known to stimulate the body’s circulatory systems. Other kinds of salt, like sea salt, can be beneficial too.
- Colloidal Oatmeal: Finely-ground (colloidal) oatmeal is often used to soothe skin irritation and calm ailments like eczema and psoriasis. “It replenishes some of the proteins that make up the barrier layer of your skin,” says Dr. Zampella. It can come in pouches or already mixed into bath liquids.
- Bleach: Seriously. According to Dr. Zampella, “soaking in a warm bath with a half cup of bleach is a good, safe, easy way to remove bacteria from the skin.” It’s a remedy used often for people with eczema and can also be useful for people whose sweat tends to smell (which is caused by bacteria, not the actual sweat). He promises that it’s not much different than the chlorinated water of a swimming pool.
- Essential Oils: Adding fragrant oils to a bath can turn on the aromatherapeutic aspects of a bath in a variety of ways, according to Yuan. “Lemongrass, eucalyptus, and thyme [oils] are anti-bacterial,” she says, whereas oils like “roman chamomile and lavender are really great for soothing the body. Clary sage helps with headaches and if you’re feeling nervous from anxiety.” Products like bath oils will often already contain essential oils or you can drop them straight into the water to release the scents.
- Bubble Baths: There’s nothing especially wrong with using a classic bubble bath, but Dr. Zampella does caution against them because they tend to be high in sulfates in order to make them foam. Sulfates have been shown to strip protective oils and moisture away from the skin, so it could cause irritation later. Instead, look for a sulfate-free version or use a bath bomb.
Create the Perfect Setting
To take a bath to the next level, spend a little time before you get in setting up your space (like while the tub is filling up). “Spend five minutes prepping,” says Hollinger. “Drag some house plants in there if you want. Bring in a reading lamp or other soft lights.” You can light candles, put on some soothing music, grab your favorite book, or even bring in some snacks. The most important thing is to leave your phone or other screens out. You’re trying to set up the space to optimize relaxation, not be tempted to answer work emails.
Make Sure to Hydrate
And not just in the tub itself. “When you’re detoxifying, make sure you drink a big glass of water,’ says Yuan. Herbal tea or coconut water is good too and make sure you bring them into the bathroom before you get in so you can sip while you soak.
Don’t Rush Bath Time
If you’re used to showers, a bath can feel slow, but to get the most of out of a bath means you need to commit. Allow yourself at least 20 minutes to really soak it all in. It takes at least that long for “the minerals and oils to absorb into your body,” says Yuan, and if you’re not going to reap the benefits of what you’re putting in the water, what’s the point?
It goes without saying that to take a relaxing bath you have to actually relax, but it can be easier said than done. Keeping your phone out of the bathroom is a start and so is putting on some calming music or a guided meditation. Think of your bath time as “meditation and yoga class rolled into one,” says Hollinger. “Realizing that a bath can actually give you time [instead of taking it up] can be hard to wrap your mind around, but when your mind is relaxed and your body feels better, you’re going to be so much more efficient.”
Moisturize Your Skin
Just like removing grease from dishes using hot, soapy water, your skin is going through the same thing when you’re taking a bath. “[A bath] removes the natural oils off your skin, so when you get out, you could actually feel dry,” says Dr. Zampella. Make sure to replace those good oils by applying body lotion or moisturizer, which will also help lock in hydration and reduce possible irritation.
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Source: Men’s Health