The Lord of the Rings, filling out a tax return, Formula 1. There are certain things I will never fully comprehend. Mostly, though, I cannot fathom individuals who abstain from one of my greatest pleasures. Having a bath.
The shower-or-nothing response usually goes something like this: “yeah but, like, it doesn’t get you clean. What’s…the…point?” I’ll concede, a shower is a more thorough cleansing option. But I’m not in this game to rush to a destination, I want to enjoy the view. Relax with a capital R. Weather the emotional seasons. Sad? Stressed? Confused? Happy? Bored? Frustrated? = BATH. No question.
According to recent research, a regular warm bath can have a greater effect on one’s mood than physical exercise, which also makes me feel OK about not having gone for a run since March. Worries do not evaporate entirely just because I’m submerged in, what is essentially, a gigantic floral-infused stew. But they do soften. Over time.
Time is key, here. “One hour of warm water immersion leads to lower the heart rate, blood pressure and plasma cortisol, the stress hormone,” says Dr Marine Vincent, Founder of The French Pharmacy. “It also makes you breathe deeper and lower, the base of relaxation.”
As someone who is both a long-term fan of this restorative practice and inherently curious as to what people get up to behind closed doors, I’m always intrigued by other people’s bathing habits. What’s your lighting situation? How long do you soak for? What do you put in it? Are you a salts or essential oils person? What kind of oil? Bubbles only? How often do you bathe a week?
Writer Bre Graham is a big advocate for a twice daily ‘dip’, for different purposes. “I have one first thing every morning and always read my emails and morning news,” she says. “Then, last thing before bed have another one. More luxe. With bubbles.” Sadly, I’ve yet to come across someone who says that, like Mariah Carey, they too enjoy filling their tub with cold milk.
There will always be some variables to suit your mood. However, to maximise the overall experience, Dr Marine Vincent offers up some useful pointers, whether you’re a die-hard bathing lover, or sceptical-but-willing-to-try.
Maybe you want to read a magazine / light a scented candle (Byredo's Burning Rose will transport you to a secret garden in a land far far away) / drink some wine / listen to Taylor Swift’s new album. Bath time doesn’t, and shouldn’t, equate to boredom. But a calm environment, where you know no-one can disturb you, is an “absolute condition” to fully relax.
According to Vincent, there isn’t an optimum time to spend in a bath, however as a framework, “30 minutes is a minimum to feel the effects of relaxation” and “more than one hour can potentially dehydrate your skin.” In terms of the AM versus PM debate? “Morning is good for relaxation, as it lower cortisol levels,” she says. “Also, your mind is more alert in the morning, [so] this relaxing moment will allow your creativity to unwind. But, if you’re looking to relax after a very stressful day, to release tension in muscles and be prepared for a great night sleep, definitively evening. That will help also resynchronize your body with its natural circadian cycle.”
I am completely fickle when it comes to bath products. I’ll try anything in the name of self-indulgence (though I’ll always have a supersized bottle of Badedas lurking nearby, the best affordable bubble bath IMHO). My skin can be sensitive though, so I stick to the rule of two, to avoid potential skin irritation. Vincent says: “an ‘ideal” bath for both your mood and your skin will be to combine magnesium salts (magnesium is better absorbed through the skin rather than orally) which will replenish the magnesium lost by stress, with a product containing an essential oil proven to act on stress such as Lavender oil, chamomile, ylang-ylang, clary sage, orange, or rose.”
“Bath time is an essential part of our skincare routine because we use the steam as pores opener and get the most of our face masks,” says Marie. “French people take ‘le rituel du bain’ very seriously so much so that we find skincare products to add to the bath all the time. Karl Lagerfeld, for example, used to pour a full bottle of Collosol Eau de Lait in his bath every day.”