Take a Healing Bath

3 min read

By Megan Kaplan

A shower might be at the root of your regular routine, but a bath comes with health benefits. Bathing, in fact, can be used to combat all kinds of symptoms. There’s even a term for the practice: balneotherapy, aka the treatment of disease through bathing.

“Although very few of the claims for healing baths are backed by rigorous scientific studies, the anecdotal evidence for their efficacy is abundant,” says Minneapolis-based dermatologist Bailey Lee, MD. Perhaps the most well-known studies have focused on the therapeutic effects of the Dead Sea in Israel, where a combination of high water salinity and UVA radiation from the sun has proven effective in treating skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and vitiligo.

A trip to the Dead Sea might not be in your budget, but that doesn’t mean you can’t turn your own bathtub into a mini-spa. According to Lee, the ideal temperature of a healing bath is warm, not overly hot. Soak up to the neck for 10 to 15 minutes max, and make sure you don't get any of the water in your eyes. After drying off, apply a moisturizer with minimal fragrance or additives.

That said, here are three healing baths to try:

Colloidal oatmeal -- oats pulverized into a very fine powder -- has been administered for centuries to cleanse, protect and soothe dry, irritated skin. “It’s been shown to decrease inflammation when applied topically,” notes Lee. Add a packet of colloidal oatmeal (such as Aveeno) to the running water, then soak as per the above instructions to give your skin a layer of protection that moisturizes and softens. Tempted to add scented oils or salts to the tub? Try to restrain yourself. "Oatmeal is used for dry, itchy skin, which is often sensitive and irritated by extra oils and perfumes," says Lee. "It's best to keep it simple and stick with straight-up oatmeal."

Joie Power, Ph.D., director of The Aromatherapy School in Fairview, North Carolina, agrees, adding, "be sure that you use colloidal oatmeal specifically. Oatmeal off the grocery-store shelf -- the kind you eat -- won't do."

It may sound extreme, but bleach is commonly recommended for treating eczema. “Bleach baths decrease the load of certain bacterial strains that wreak havoc on the skin of patients with atopic dermatitis,” says Lee. The bleach is thought to kill the bacteria on the skin, reducing itching, redness and scaling, according to the Mayo Clinic's Lawrence E. Gibson, MD. For best results, pour a half cup of bleach into a full bath one or two times weekly during an eczema flare-up. (But check with your doctor first.)

“Lavender oil is often used in a bath for post-episiotomy healing, anal fissures and hemorrhoids,” says Lee. Beyond its skin-healing powers, lavender also has also anti-anxiety effects and decreases premenstrual emotional symptoms. “There is much research now showing that essential oils can affect alertness, arousal and mood through stimulation of the olfactory nerve,” says Power. “Aromatherapists may recommend an essential-oil bath to aid sleep, promote relaxation, manage stress and lift the mood.” Mix the lavender oil with an emulsifier before adding it to the bathwater. Power recommends blending four to six drops of oil into a tablespoon of whole milk, cream or honey, then adding it to your bath.