Baths can be a great therapeutic tool to enhance your health regimen, along with being relaxing and rejuvenating. The effect you get will depend largely on what you put in them. The following healthy additions to your bath take it from a nice, relaxing soak to a significant health modality! My favorite is Epsom salts, for reasons you’ll read in a minute, but there are other possibilities too, that may even be better in certain circumstances.
A nice long bath can have several different goals. For some of us moms, it’s just a way to escape for 20 minutes, possibly even with a book and a glass of wine! For many they are used as a detox tool. Athletes may use them to relax sore muscles and help flush out lactic acid. Bathing is one of our oldest traditions, and for good reason. Here are my favorite things to add:
Epsom salts are made up of magnesium sulfate, and it is that composition that gives them their healing properties. Magnesium acts as a muscle relaxant, so it can help with muscle aches, tension, and spasms. Magnesium is also calming to the nervous system and can promote better sleep quality. Magnesium is one of those minerals that is used in hundreds if not thousands of biochemical reactions in the body – including the production of serotonin, which is one of our “happy chemicals”. A bath is not going to provide as much magnesium as a nutritional supplement, but it can still have a positive therapeutic effect.
The other half of the magnesium sulfate is the sulfate. This promotes detoxication via promotion of sulfation pathway (which is part of phase 2 liver detox). It also nourishes the gastrointestinal system via production of mucins (glycoproteins that line and protect the GI tract). Sulfation is also necessary for the hormone cholecystokinin to function, a necessary trigger for pancreatic enzymes and bile release from the gallbladder.
Some people need to start slowly with epsom salts baths because of the detox effect, and potentially a shorter duration too. I would say the goal is 2 cups in the bath, soaking for 20 minutes. People with sulfate sensitivities and certain genetic predispositions (CBS mutations) may also not tolerate epsom salts well. By and large though, I’ve seen these baths be very helpful for my patients for detoxification purposes.
Himalayan Sea Salt
Himalayan sea salt contains minerals including magnesium, calcium, potassium, sodium, and bromides, all of which have important functions:
- Magnesium is important for combating stress and fluid retention, slowing skin aging and calming the nervous system.
- Calcium is effective at preventing water retention, increasing circulation and strengthening bones and nails.
- Potassium energizes the body, helps to balance skin moisture and is a crucial mineral to replenish after intense exercise.
- Sodium contributes to lymphatic fluid balance, which is important for the immune system.
- Bromides act to ease muscle stiffness and relax muscles.
I don’t feel that sea salt has quite the therapeutic action that epsom salts have, but should someone not tolerate epsom salts well, they can be a good substitute.
Baking soda is another possible addition, and can be used in conjunction with epsom salts or sea salts. I think of baking soda as being very alkalinizing. I would probably mostly recommend baking soda for eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions, but for those things it can be very helpful.
Generally speaking, 1/4 – 1/2 cup is a good amount to use.
I’m at the point now where no bath is complete without essential oils, both for their lovely fragrance but also their therapeutic benefit. I also add a drop each of lavender and ylang ylang to my daughter’s bath – I call it my “calm toddler” combo.
Which oils you choose will depend on the time of day and your goals. Many of us wind down with a bath at the end of the day, and as such may want to avoid more stimulating oils such as peppermint and citrus oils. If you are having a bath in the morning, you may love those for a pep up, and avoid the more calming, sedating oils that would include lavender, vetiver, roman chamomile and frankincense. Those with skin issues may gravitate towards lavender, frankincense, melaleuca and thyme.
Only 1-2 drops of each essential oil is needed, and they can be blended to make some great combinations.
Don’t have a bathtub?
All of the ingredients listed above can be added to a large, square bucket of warm water and the feet soaked in the bucket for 20 minutes. This will still give some of the medicinal benefits of the full body soak, although to a somewhat lesser degree because there is less skin contact. It may even be a better choice for highly sensitive people at least to start; but they’re certainly a good option for people who don’t have a bathtub.