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14 surprising things to put in your bath for softer skin and aromatherapy

Erin Bunch

Erin BunchMay 8, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images / Westend61

A hot bath can’t solve everything, but it does offer a brief respite from the overwhelming. And while you’re in the tub soaking up all that relaxation, you might as well find some things to put in your bath that smell nice and make your skin softer in the process, too.

First things first: You may as well come out of quarantine as dewy as the day you were born, and baths are actually a good way to make this happen. “Bath additives are a great way to hydrate and soften the skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. “By sitting in the bath for an extended period of time, it allows the bath additive to do its job effectively.”

The second area of focus is scent, because it’s difficult to imagine that you’re at the spa if the smells from dinner, the litter box, or your child’s failed attempts at hitting the toilet bowl are infringing on your tub time. By tossing in a little of this or a little of that, you can transform your, ahem, fragrant powder room into a proper spa.

The best things to put in your bath for softer skin and aromatherapy

1. Olive oil

“Pour a cup of olive oil into your bathtub and soak for 10 minutes,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Olive oil is rich in natural fats that hydrate dry skin.” (Note: He does not recommend olive oil for acne-prone skin, especially if you experience breakouts on your chest or back.) “Be careful when you stand up because the bathtub may be slippery,” he cautions.

To level up this routine, Katerina Mountanos, founder of olive oil-maker Kosterina adds the olive oil directly to her skin pre-bath. “I usually put Kosterina EVOO on my arms and legs and then do other things like brush my teeth, tweeze my eyebrows, etc. for 15-20 mins,” she says. “Then when you get in the bath, it will be in your bathwater to moisturize your skin for even longer.” This works especially well for dry spots such as the elbows, ankles, and feet, Mountanos adds.

For bonus points, she recommends tossing olive oil into your hair from the ears down and then tying it up while you take a bath (for at least 20 minutes). “Once the time is up, shampoo and rinse your hair out with water,” she says.

2. Flower petals

“For a true goddess bath, I add flowers by cutting away the stems and placing the petals in the tub,” says Greta Fitz, founder of fragrance company Ascention. “You can also used dried lavender—rub them between your hands to activate their aroma and sprinkle the buds into the bath.”

3. Eucalyptus and Tea Tree Oil

“My favorite addition to my bathing ritual is to add a few drops of organic eucalyptus and organic tea tree oil to both my bath and my shower, coupled with a deep breathing exercise: inhale to the count of 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8,” says Sparitual founder and Slow Beauty author Shel Pink. “The eucalyptus is excellent for lung health, helps to deepen breathing and promotes a healthy respiratory system, and the tea tree oil is a mood booster and helps to also boost the immune system.” (Fresh eucalyptus works, too).

4. Rosemary

“Rosemary eases stress, increases circulation, decreases inflammation, boosts mood, and helps to increase focus and concentrate,” says Pink. “Add a few sprigs to your bath and couple it with the same deep breathing exercises [as above] to deepen breathing and help to boost lung health.”

Fitz also likes rosemary, but she uses it in oil form. “I use rosemary oil to rejuvenate and bring clarity,” she says, noting that you’ll want to go light on it since it’s extremely pungent. “[I also use] lavender oil for relaxation and calm. If mixing the two, use two parts lavender and one part rosemary.”

5. Citrus

Cut lemons, oranges, grapefruits, or the citrus fruits of your choosing into thin slices and add them to the bath for an invigorating, stress-zapping mood boost (and Instagram opportunity).

6. Cinnamon sticks

Adding a few cinnamon sticks to your bath can be revitalizing and uplifting, too.

7. Oats

“For dry, itchy skin, consider an oat bath,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Oat extract forms a protective and hydrating seal over the surface of the skin and contains anti-inflammatory avenanthremides.” He suggests Aveeno’s soothing bath treatment, but notes that a cup of traditional breakfast oatmeal works well, too.

8. Palo Santo or Sage

“I cleanse the bath with with Palo Santo or sage to remove any heaviness or toxic energies and invite in good energy,” says Fitz. “The earthy aromas also work to clean the mind and heal the soul.”

9. Ginger

Feeling sore, achy, or unwell? Add half a cup of grated ginger into your bath.

10. Epsom salt

“For inflamed skin, Epsom salt has long been used,” says Dr. Zeichner. “This magnesium-based salt has anti-inflammatory properties and can soothe the skin.”

11. Coconut cream or oil

“I add coconut cream or oil to the water for a delicious and soothing aroma and softening benefits,” says Fitz.

12. Pineapple, lemon juice, honey, and sugar

“For a delicious bath scrub, I blend pineapple, lemon juice, honey and some sugar granules—it smells amazing and sloughs off dead skin,” says Fitz. “I pour the rest into the tub and soak in the glorious mixture.

13. Milk

Milk contains lactic acid, healthy fats, proteins, and vitamins and minerals that benefit the skin, including vitamin E and zinc. “Lactic acid is a naturally occurring mild alpha hydroxy acid, which can gently exfoliate your skin while you soak,” says New York dermatologist  Libby Rhee, DO. “Taking a milk bath once a week can leave your skin feeling soft, supple, and youthful.” For best results, Dr. Rhee suggests adding two cups of full-fat milk, a half-cup of honey, and the essential oil of your choice.

14. Basil

Since we can’t get outdoors much these days, making your tub smell like a garden isn’t the worst idea. (Thanks, Madge!) Plus, basil has anti-inflammatory properties, which is always a plus.

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