Nicola here and today I’m wallowing in the bath. Or I would be if it weren’t such an un-eco-friendly thing to do these days. Before I sat down to write this blog, I checked out whether showering really uses less water than bathing and of course it all depends on how deep the bath or how long the shower. A bath filled about a third of the way up (which takes the water level over your belly button when you lie down) requires around 75 litres. An ordinary electrically heated shower puts out four litres per minute. So a 19-minute shower uses slightly more water than a bath. If you have a power shower, flow rates could be doubled and you’d need just 10 minutes.
In terms of health benefits there is also positive news on either side. Showers are better for getting you clean and not stripping all the natural moisture from your skin. Baths are more therapeutic to help you relax and of course you can add things to them to soak in. Which is where this all started before I digressed, because what I wanted to blog about today is things we put in the bath!
This all began with bath pearls. When I was a child bath pearls were all the fashion. They were clear, colourful and squishy pearls scented with bath oil. I can remember the treat of being allowed to use some of my grandmother’s bath pearls when I visited. It was so luxurious! I haven’t seen them for years, and I do remember they were supposed to melt when you put them in the bath water but in fact often the sticky skins survived and stuck to the bath when you emptied it. Not so nice. Then there were bath bombs that would explode when you dropped them in the water. They were rather fun. And all to add something relaxing and therapeutic to your bath time routine.
Naturally this is nothing new. Through history, people have been adding things to their bathing in order to relax, improve their skin or benefit their general wellbeing. In the medieval period, babies would be wrapped in linen for washing and rose petals and salt were added to the water. Back in Tudor times, it was very much the done thing to add herbs and spices, even fruits to your bath, in order to make it and you smell nice. Contrary to popular view, our ancestors were generally very aware of hygiene and even if they couldn’t afford expensive soap, they could use homegrown herbs. A 14th century household manual called Delightes for Ladies suggests the use of ‘sage, marjoram, camomile, rosemary and orange peel’ as potential additives to bath water. So our current trend for deliciously scented soap that draws on wild plants has a long history.
The Mediterranean countries were early adopters of oil-based soaps, with “Soap of Castile” for example, which was mentioned from the 12th century onward and was made from olive oil. Many oil-based soaps were prohibitively expensive; only the rich could afford them because they were heavily taxed. But if we fast forward to the Regency era there was a great step forward for the masses when Pears soap was created. It is the oldest continuously existing brand in the world, registered first in 1789. This soap, manufactured since 1807, was gentler on the skin than many previous types of soap, it was also transparent and it smelled of flowers, and it was an immediate hit.
Water isn’t the only liquid available to bathe in, or course. A number of celebrities embrace milk baths, just as Cleopatra was supposed to have done in either goat or asses’ milk. Again you can add essential oils and honey, rose or other flower scents to the bathing milk. Queen Elizabeth the First and Catherine Parr were also fans of milk baths, believing that they improved the complexion.
And finally a shout out for vinotherapy. Yes, that’s right, some people bathe in wine and champagne! Actually that’s not quite accurate (or good for you.) Red wine, and indeed any alcohol, dehydrates the skin so it isn’t a good bathing liquid. However red vine leaf extract and the by-product of winemaking (known as marc) are both substances high in grape seed oil, which is very good for the skin and can be added to water to make a “Wine bath.”
My current favourite is sea kelp bath salts from the Scottish Fine Soap Company. I was at first put off by this having identified kelp as the large brown algae you see floating in the ocean. How, I wondered, could that be transformed into something that is not only relaxing and good for you but also smells so delicious? I don’t know how, but the scent is wonderful and I love it.
Are you a showerer or a bather or both? What if anything do you add to your bath or shower water? And do you remember bath pearls?