Since ancient times, baths have been used for much more than simple cleansing. Adding a few simple household ingredients can make a bath much more than just a bath.
When it comes to bathing, getting clean needn’t always be the only objective. (No, don’t let your imaginations get carried away just yet!) As the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans knew--and often practiced--while almost any bath can be satisfying and beneficial, with the right additives, bathing can take on a number of other purposes. Just by adding the right herb, oil, or household pantry ingredient, you can ease tired muscles, heal dry skin, warm yourself up or cool yourself down, or put yourself in virtually any mood you so choose. (Remember Cleopatra and her famous milk baths?) Here are a few additives you probably have in your cupboard right now, and what they can do for you:
Apple cider vinegar: For sore muscles or itchy skin, add one cup to a nice hot bath. This is also excellent for over-exposure to the sun (though I’d recommend tepid water).
Baking soda: Like vinegar, baking soda will neutralize skin irritation (from such irritants as hives, poison ivy, insect bites, and even chicken pox), but will also ease muscle tension. Just add ½ of a small box to warm water for skin problems, or to hot water for muscle ache. Also, a whole box in a hot footbath can work miracles for sore feet. (As an anthropologist I walk many miles per day and rely heavily on this.)
Lemon: In hot weather, lemon baths are especially refreshing--and can be down-right addictive. Just add the juice of six lemons--peals and all--or ¾ cup of bottled juice to a warm bath. (You may be tempted to use cool water, but warm cuts body oil better.) Not only does this cool the skin, it tightens the pores and makes you all tingly!
Ginger: Adding one tablespoon of ginger to a bath will ease muscles, eliminate toxins from the body, and will help sweat out colds, flues, or congestion from hay fever. And when it’s cold outside, adding ginger to bath water will raise the temperature of your skin and make you feel all toasty.
Milk: One of the best possible things for dry skin, you can add one quart of cow’s milk, one can of condensed, or one box of powdered to your bath. Make sure it’s dissolved well into the water or you may come out a bit sticky (which can be a good thing in the right circumstances!) Also, many powdered brands make froth-like bubbles in the tub--which can add to the mood.
Oatmeal: One of my favorites, by adding two cups of oatmeal to your bath (placed in a large tea bell or old nylon), you can get one of the most cleansing baths of your life, cure the worse skin irritations imaginable, and if you rub the oatmeal directly on your skin, is one of the best emollients available--and waaaaay cheaper than that oatmeal soap that costs $5 a bar in a specialty boutique.
Nut oil (peanut, sesame, almond, etc): Better than most any commercial skin softener (at any price), nut oils penetrate skin better and have no nasty toxic by-products like drugstore brands. In this case, soak in a hot tub for at least ten minutes before adding one or two tablespoons of oil. (This one will make you smell and taste especially good as a bonus!)
Now on to a few you might not consider:
Jello: Adding ½ box of the unsweetened kind can not only make your skin smell delicious, it can work miracles on dry skin. And since it comes in various flavors (and scents), it is known to affect mood. Research shows that many people find that their mood is lifted when they smell particular scents like watermelon or cherries, for instance. (There’s a whole endorphin-dopamine reaction we really needn’t go into here.) Since it’s highly individual, if you don’t already know which scents serve to elevate your mood, you may need to experiment--but that can be a whole lot of fun. And on a tactile level, Jello feels down-right good on the skin! (And with this one, feel free to let your imagination get carried away!)
Green tea: While green tea has been getting a lot of positive attention in the past few years regarding its many health benefits when consumed, most people don’t consider what it can do externally. Adding 8--10 tea bags to a hot or even cool bath acts as an astringent for oily skin, draws toxins out of the pores, has a neutralizing affect on sunburn, and feels amazingly soothing. (And I’d wager it does a number of other beneficial things we don’t even realize!)
Cinnamon: Though sticks are more convenient, powder will do just fine. Put ¼ cup of cinnamon in a piece of cheesecloth and drop it into a warm or hot bath. Long used for spiritual purification in many cultural traditions, cinnamon will remove toxins from the body (especially valuable after an illness), elevate the mood, raise the body temperature in the winter, cure various rashes, and is a natural disinfectant, stimulant, and astringent, and has even been known to counteract edema.
Remember: as with all herbal remedies, various people react in various ways. Just as some people are allergic to common bath soaps, some will find their bodies reacting negatively to certain of these baths. Should you find yourself reacting negatively, get out, shower off, and discontinue any further use. But should that be the case, do not assume you will ill-react to all such cures.