The Pleasure and Ritual of the Bath

I love baths.  Given the choice between a bath and a shower to clean off, baths win hands-down.  10 to 1.  For me it’s more comfortable, easier to shave, and I end up feeling cleaner, even though my hair and body is technically all washed in the same soapy water.  I’ll admit to liking the occasional cool spritz in summer before bed when it’s hot, but other than that unless it’s an emergency wash-off I’m taking a bath.

I’m lucky enough to have bought a small clawfoot tub off of ebay a few years ago.  With a good coat of outside paint, and some horrendously expensive but beautiful plumbing fixtures, it’s one of the most prized things in my house.  When I installed it, I chose to spray coat the inside of it to make it look new.  MISTAKE!  I would definitely never suggest that to anyone.  I was so happy to have my new tub.  I went to walmart and picked up bath fizzy balls and bubble baths.  Back then I wasn’t picky.  After a year and a half without a bathtub, I just wanted to take a soaking bath.  The pink fizzy ball was fun, but it dyed my new tub PINK!  I was horrified, and after using a chlorine bleach cleaner to get the pink off, I made a vow then and there to never use commercial bath products.  Who the heck decided that bath products need dye in them?   I researched many different bath recipes, and started my way towards making many of my own personal products.

Now, a bath doesn’t necessarily mean a full-tub soaking experience.  Doing that on an every-other-day basis would be rather wasteful of water, especially since I don’t have a greywater system.  I can bathe and wash my hair in exactly how much water it takes me to take a shower long enough to wash, shave, and shampoo.  I’ve tested this theory.  It helps that I have a rather short tub, so the water doesn’t have to spread out so much and can be deeper.  Once my body mass displaces the water, there’s plenty for a basic bathing, including my hair though that does take a bit of splashing.

For me, unless I’m just doing a quick wash, soaking and steam are a big part of taking a bath.   And to really make good use of that heat and steam, it takes time.  Given time, that hot water and steam softens dead skin so it can be removed easily.  The Romans used to go to the steam room of the bath house and rub on olive oil.  They would sit around in the steam, then use smooth-edged shells to scrape off the oil, and with it came the dead skin.  One of these days I have to go to the beach and look for some nice smooth clam shells like those the romans used.  Now I don’t have a sauna, so I do something similar in a soaking bath.  The bath can be done with regular soapy water, or in a “soaking bath”.

When I take a soaking bath, I use a recipe I call “The Roman Matron’s Bath”.   I sit in the tub and read until the dead skin softens.  I can tell when it’s soft because I look at a trouble spot like the sides of my heels, and the skin at the edges has turned white.  I usually also start to feel itchy on my arms and shoulders, which is a big dead skin area for me.  I softly scratch my nails over my trouble areas (heels, elbows, wrists, ankles, neck, shoulders) and the dead skin comes off in gray clumps.   This bath is a soaking bath, and no soap should be used.   Take a quick shower the following morning if you need to.  Once I’ve worked for a short time at removing the dead skin (it’s better to repeat the bath in a couple days than be perfectionistic about it), I make sure to submerge and wash with surface oils all my bad spots so they get the benefits of the bath, and I get out and gently pat dry.  I put on comfy jammies and go to bed to continue my reading and sleep.  The oil in the recipe absorbs into the skin and nourishes it while I sleep, then the next morning I take a regular soap bath or shower and use a regular moisturizer afterwards.   I’ve been doing this ever since my chemotherapy, and I can attest that it’s wonderful.  If I use it once a month, and a bit more often in the winter when the air is dry, I don’t have gray dry skin areas or cracked and painful heels and elbows.

Roman Matron’s bath

1 cup milk (I use 2% lactose free, because that’s what I have.  I think any type should be fine, though I believe that some milkfat is a good thing for this)
2 Tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon  olive oil
1/2 teaspoon jojoba oil
2 capsules worth of Vitamin E
5 drops essential oil (I use Lavender or Rose)

Heat the milk, honey, and olive oil in the microwave for 30 seconds.  stir the mixture and see if the honey has combined well with the milk.  Repeat a few times if necessary until the honey is melted in and the milk is warm but not scalded.

Add the other ingredients.

Start the bath with hot water, then add cooler water to get it to a good hot tub temperature, as hot as you can stand to have on your softer parts.  I’m not advocating scalding yourself here, I’m just suggesting that steamy water works better.  Use common sense.   Once it’s at the depth you want (remember to leave room for water displacement! you don’t want the good surface stuff to end up down the overflow drain! you can always add more), pour the Matron’s Bath into the water stream and turn off the water.  Stir it around a bit, climb in, and relax.  Sure a shower is quick and efficient, but I think many of us have forgotten how wonderful a bath can be.

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