Your guide to the art of bathing

The bathroom can be a special place: a place for fun, privacy and relaxation with your partner; a place for splashing, scrubbing, laughing and talking with your children; or simply a place to get clean. Bathing is also an excellent way to treat many complaints, as water cleanses, stimulates and promotes healing. Baths are a simple and useful way to gain the benefits of essential oils and herbs.

Bathtime preparation

The skin, given optimum conditions, can be responsible for one-third of the excretion of waste matter from the body, relieving the liver, kidneys and lungs of quite a lot of work. In order to work efficiently, the skin needs to be clean and free from dead cells that can block the pores and give the skin a muddy appearance.

Dry brushing your body before bathing will remove dead skin cells. Brushes can be purchased from variety stores and pharmacies. Brush your whole body using circular movements, paying special attention to areas where there are glands (armpits, groin and just below the collarbone). Be gentle on the breasts and around the genital area. A quick shower after dry brushing and before entering the bath is recommended to put your skin in optimum condition to benefit from any oils and salts added to the bath water.

Quiet, warm-scented and peaceful are words which best describe the ideal conditions for the perfect bathtime. Make your bathroom as restful and beautiful as you can, with a shelf at hand for a book, drink, cassette player, bath salts and oils, candles anything that will make you feel secure and relaxed.

Types of baths

Except in special circumstances, bath water should be warm. Hot water is very destructive to the skin and can result in dryness, irritation and broken capillary veins.

Hot bath (38-40º Celsius)

Bathe for 10 to 15 minutes only. The effects are increased perspiration and rate of breathing; reduction of fevers; and elimination of toxins. Wrap up in blankets after the bath and drink appropriate hot herb teas during and after the bath.

Warm bath (28-34º Celsius)

Indulge for 20 minutes to one hour. The effects are mild, calming and relaxing.

Cold bath (21-27º Celsius)

Bath for two to five minutes only. The effects are improved breathing and muscle tone; decreased fatigue; improved thyroid function and skin tone; and relief from constipation.

Bathing with herbs

While herbs in the bath soothe and hydrate the skin, its not much fun having a bath with twigs and leaves floating around in it. Much better to use one of the following methods:

Put a handful of fresh or dried herbs in a pan, cover with water and add two teaspoons of cider vinegar. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Strain (put the herbs in your compost bucket) and pour the wonderfully rich herb soup into your bath or sponge it over your body after showering. The cider vinegar creates the correct acid balance and also extracts more properties from the herbs than water alone.

Chop herbs and tie them in a piece of fine cloth or a muslin bag. Hang the bag under the hot tap while its running and then use it as a wash cloth. (Less glamorous but very effective are bags made from the feet of pantihose.)

Make a very strong brew using herbal teabags (approximately six teabags to a cup of boiling water) and tip the resulting tea into the bath. Tie the bags in a piece of thin cloth to use as a body washer.

The accompanying recipes use dried herbs for their keeping qualities, but if you want to use fresh herbs, reduce the quantities to enough for one bath.

Bath vinegars

Vinegar restores the acid mantle to the skin and relieves dryness, itching and the pain of sunburn. Cider vinegar has the most therapeutic properties but a good-quality white wine vinegar is more gentle and refined.

Bubble baths

There are few bath treatments that are as much fun, or feel as luxurious, as a bubble bath. However, be aware that most bubble baths are detergent-based and can overdry your skin, so you shouldnt indulge for too long or too often. Use only the amount recommended. The addition of honey, glycerine or oil to recipes also counteracts the drying effect of the detergent.

Bath oils and creams

Bath oils can be dispersible, semi-dispersible and non-dispersible (floating). As their descriptions suggest, the dispersible oils dissolve entirely into the bath water; semi-dispersible mostly dissolve into the water; and non-dispersible float on the water. There are advantages to all three types. If your skin feels dry, you may enjoy the sensation of little droplets of oil settling on your skin as you step into the water.

Bathing with herb oils

Don’t be tempted to use more than eight to 10 drops of essential oils in a full bath. Essential oils are not suitable for children under two years of age. For children between two and six, use no more than four drops; age seven to 12, no more than six drops.

The oil needs to be mixed with either one tablespoon of full cream or vegetable oil before adding to the bath. This helps the oil disperse and prevents hot spots of oil. Run the bath and add the oils just before getting into the bath, otherwise the precious essences may evaporate before you can get the full benefit.

All the oils used in the accompanying recipes are 100 per cent pure essential oils. Perfume oils and other synthetic oils are not suitable, as they have no therapeutic value and could be skin irritants.

Oil suggestions for the bath


  • 3 drops tea tree oil
  • 3 drops eucalyptus oil
  • 2 drops thyme oil
  • 1 drop lemon oil
  • 1 drop clove oil.


  • 3 drops tea tree oil
  • 3 drops eucalyptus oil
  • 3 drops lavender oil
  • 1 drop thyme oil.


  • 4 drops clary sage oil
  • 2 drops rosemary oil
  • 2 drops thyme oil,
  • 2 drops peppermint oil.

Dry skin

  • 4 drops palmarosa oil
  • 4 drops geranium oil
  • 2 drops patchouli oil.

Oily skin

  • 5 drops lemon oil
  • 3 drops ylang-ylang oil
  • 2 drops cypress oil.

Spotty skin

  • 2 drops eucalyptus oil,
  • 2 drops thyme oil
  • 4 drops lavender oil
  • 2 drops chamomile oil.

Head clearing

  • 2 drops peppermint oil
  • 2 drops lemon oil
  • 1 drop thyme oil
  • 2 drops rosemary oil
  • 3 drops lavender oil.
Just ahhhh!
  • 1 drop lavender oil
  • 2 drops grapefruit oil
  • 2 drops geranium oil
  • 2 drops ylang-ylang oil
  • 2 drops patchouli oil.
  • 4 drops lavender oil
  • 3 drops rosemary oil
  • 2 drops peppermint oil.


  • 4 drops chamomile oil
  • 3 drops lavender oil
  • 3 drops ylang-ylang oil.

Rise and shine

  • 2 drops bergamot oil
  • 3 drops grapefruit oil
  • 3 drops lemon oil
  • 1 drop peppermint oil
  • 1 drop cinnamon oil.

Citrus Refresher

  • 3 cups lemon balm
  • 2 cups lemon verbena
  • 2 tbsp dried ground lemon peel
  • 2 tbsp dried ground orange peel
  • ½ cup mint leaves
  • 1 dropper (20 drops) peppermint oil

Crumble the herbs to the consistency of tea leaves, then mix with the peel and drip the oil in slowly while stirring. Store in a jar with an airtight lid. Use ¼ to ½ cup for each bath.

Silk Touch

  • ½ cup bicarbonate of soda
  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups bran
  • 2 tbsp wholemeal flour
  • 1 cup dried milk
  • 20 drops lavender oil

When your skin feels sore and dry, this bath will make it feel like silk. Mix all the dry ingredients and drip the oil in while stirring thoroughly. Store in a tightly sealed container. Use ¼ to ½ cup for each bath.

Moonlight & Roses

  • 2 cups scented rose petals
  • 2 cups rose geranium leaves
  • ½ cup lavender flowers
  • ½ cup jasmine flowers or patchouli leaves
  • 1 dropper (20 drops) ylang-ylang oil

For romantic evenings, this sensual, sensuous bath evokes memories of moonlight and violins! Mix the herbs well together. Drizzle the oil over the mixture while stirring. Store in a tightly sealed container. Use ¼ to ½ cup for each bath.

Herbal Bath Vinegar

Herbal blends for bath vinegars:

  • Lavender traditional, simple and delicate
  • Lemon Sensation lemon verbena, lemon thyme, powdered lemon peel, powdered orange peel
  • Mint Zip peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, bruised cloves
  • Spicy Herbs sage, rosemary, fennel seeds, star anise
  • Forest Dreams pine needles, white oak bark, hyssop, cedar, lemon gum, peppermint
  • Deodorant lovage, witch-hazel bark, sage, white willow bark
  • Itch Soother calendula, chamomile, mallow and comfrey roots
  • Sleepy Time valerian root, hop flowers, lime flowers, passion flowers, chamomile flowers

Fill a screw-topped jar loosely with chopped leaves or flowers of your choice, using the list above as a guide. Pour vinegar to cover. Leave for one week, shaking twice daily (this is important to release the properties of the plant to the vinegar). At the end of the week, strain and, if not strong enough, repeat the process using fresh herbs. Strain through a sieve and then through coffee filter paper. Bottle. Add 20 drops of essential oil to each cup of finished vinegar if desired. To use, add ½ to 1 cup vinegar to the bath water.

Bathtime Bubble Jelly

  • 1½ cups (375ml) boiling water
  • 1 packet (10g) gelatine
  • ½ cup (125ml) liquid Castile soap or good-quality detergent
  • 1 tbsp glycerine
  • 15 drops essential oil

If you are making this for a child (not suitable for littlies under two years of age) its fun to set a small plastic toy (dolphin, fish, et cetera) in the jelly.

Pour the boiling water into a mixing bowl and gently sprinkle with the gelatine powder. Stir until the gelatine is completely dissolved. Very slowly stir the liquid soap into the gelatine mixture. Add a drop of food colouring if desired and 10 drops of essential oil. The mixture must always be stirred slowly so that it doesn’t foam. Pour into a clear jar. Refrigerate until set. To use, scoop ¼ to ½ cup of jelly into your hand and hold under warm running water.

Citrus Grove Moisturising Bath Oil

  • ½ cup vodka
  • 50 drops lemon oil
  • 30 drops orange oil
  • 10 drops clove oil
  • ¼ cup lanolin
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  • 1½ cups grapeseed oil

This bath oil is dispersible and keeps well without refrigeration. To make, mix the vodka with the lemon, orange and clove oil and leave for half an hour to dissolve. In a small pan, heat together the lanolin, honey and oil until blended (don’t overheat). Allow to cool until the pan feels hand-heat on the outside. Slowly add the vodka/essential oil mix while stirring constantly. Bottle. To use, add ¼ cup to the bath as the water is running.

Bath Cream

  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp glycerine
  • ½ cup skimmed dried milk powder
  • 20 drops lavender oil
  • 20 drops orange oil
  • 10 drops lemon oil
  • 2 cups water

This cream needs refrigeration and should be used within two weeks. It will leave your skin soft and moisturised. Don’t add it to very hot water or it will set and go stringy. This cream disperses in the water and doesn’t leave a greasy ring around the bath. To make, beat together the egg, olive oil, glycerine and milk powder. Add the essential oils, beating continuously. Add the water, a little at a time. Store in the refrigerator. To use, add ¼ to ½ cup to the bath as the water is running.

Desert Island Dream Bath Salts

  • ½ cup cornflour
  • ½ cup citric acid
  • 1 cup bicarbonate of soda
  • 40 drops coconut oil

To make, mix the cornflour, citric acid and bicarbonate of soda together. Drip the coconut essence onto the mix, stirring constantly. To use, sprinkle ½ cup into the bath after it has been filled. This mixture will froth and bubble when added to water. (Note that the coconut oil should be the type used for flavouring chocolates not the coconut fixed oil that has no scent.)

The Soother Milk Bath (makes 1 bath)

  • ¼ cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup powdered milk
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 10 drops lavender oil

This milk bath is especially good for dry, itchy skin. Make it fresh each time. Tie the oatmeal in some soft cloth and add it to the bath while it’s running. Mix the milk and oils together and pour into the bath water. Squeeze the bag until the milky water runs out and use the bag as a washcloth.

Bath Bomb

Base mixture:

  • 1½ cups bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ cup citric acid

Perfume/colour mixture:

  • 30 drops essential oil
  • 2 tsp sweet almond oil
  • 10-12 drops food colouring

To make, sift the base mixture ingredients together. Mix the perfume/colour mixture together and add to the base mixture. Mix really well with your hands and press very firmly into eight greased eggcups. Allow to set for 24 hours. To use, drop two bombs into the bath after filling. You can use colouring and perfume of your choice (for example, orange colouring with orange essential oil or yellow colouring with lemon essential oil, and so on). Plastic eggcups are inexpensive and work really well as moulds. Don’t use ceramic or glass eggcups.

After-bath Deodorant Powder

  • 6 tbsp cornflour
  • 6 tbsp ground arrowroot or unperfumed talcum powder
  • 20 drops lavender oil
  • 20 drops myrrh oil
  • 10 drops patchouli oil
  • 5 drops lemon oil

To make, sieve the dry ingredients together. Mix the essential oils together and add a drop at a time to the powder mixture, stirring constantly to prevent the powder going lumpy. Store in an airtight container.

Nerys Purchon is the author of The Handbook of Aromatherapy (Hodder Headline 1999), The Handbook of Natural Healing (Allen & Unwin 1998) and Bodycraft (Hodder & Stoughton 1993).

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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