BATHS

Bathing is as old as civilisation and archaeological remains show that as soon as people began to live together in towns they built baths, which were often communal, and became a focus of social life - at least for the more leisured. References to aromatic baths are found in the early records of many civilisations. Hippocrates wrote that 'a perfumed bath and a scented massage every day is the way to good health' indicating that the medicinal and the pleasurable aspects of bathing overlapped to a great extent, then as now.

The earliest and simplest method of perfuming a bath was to tie a bundle of aromatic herbs or sweet-smelling flowers in a cloth and place this in the water. Liquid extracts from the plants, made by boiling or steeping, are another way of adding the scent and medicinal properties of a plant to bath water, but essential oils offer an extremely easy and effective way of adding the properties of healing plants to the therapeutic power of water itself.

Aromatic baths are one of the most important forms of treatment in aromatherapy, and are very versatile in application. A bath with essential oils can be relaxing or sedative, stimulating, tonic, aphrodisiac, warming or cooling. It can give relief from muscular pain and skin conditions and act as a treatment or preventive measure for many physical conditions, depending simply on the choice of oils added to the bath. However, it is in reducing stress that aromatic baths are perhaps most valuable in twentieth-century society. The incidence of stress-related illness makes such a simple technique for self-help a welcome one, and one of the important aspects of aromatic baths is the fact that they can be taken at home, at will, either between visits to a therapist or {to a certain extent) taking the place of other treatment, though it is wise to consult a trained aromatherapist about the most suitable oils to use. Baths can be combined with almost any other form of treatment, whether 'orthodox' or otherwise, except homoeopathy, as some strong scents can antidote homoeopathic remedies. If you are taking such a remedy, consult your homoeopath to find out whether the essential oils you would like to use in baths are likely to interfere with your treatment. For any given property, there will usually be a choice of several oils and some are less likely to act as an antidote than others.

The method of preparing an aromatic bath is very simple: fill the bath first with comfortably hot water, and just before getting into the bath, sprinkle about 6 drops of essential oil onto the water and stir it around with your hand to disperse the oil. Do not prepare the bath in advance, as you would then lose much of the value of the highly-volatile oils. You may prefer to add the essential oil to a carrier oil, or some other dilutant, such as milk or vodka, before adding it to the water, especially if you have a sensitive skin. Dilution in this way is essential if you are making a bath for a baby or young child.

The small amount of essential oil in relation to the amount of water in an average bath may surprise you, but this is quite enough. The oil spreads out to form a very thin film on the surface of the water, and some of this will adhere to your skin as you get into the bath. The heat of the water aids absorption of the oil through the skin, and some of the oil will also be released as an aromatic vapour and breathed in. Fifteen to twenty minutes in the bath is enough time to allow the oils to take effect.

The choice of oils will depend on the effect you hope to produce. The descriptions of individual oils on this website will help you to choose a suitable oil or combination, but some of the most valuable and frequently used are:

Lavender, to relax, ease muscular tension and promote sound sleep.
Camomile, also to help with sleep and to soothe allergic skin conditions.
Marjoram to counteract chilling and ease muscular pain.
Rosemary to stimulate, especially in morning baths.
Bergamot for its cheering, uplifting effect and for its antiseptic and deodorant properties.

Almost any essential oil can be used for bathing, with a few exceptions, and you may, of course, choose an oil simply because you enjoy the perfume. The relaxation produced by a perfumed bath is as beneficial now as in Hippocrates' time, and you need not wait to be in pain or ill before allowing yourself this pleasure. In choosing oils simply for the enjoyment of their perfume, though, it is wise to check their major properties, so that you can avoid using a stimulating oil at night or a powerfully sedative one in the morning, for example.

CAUTIONS

1. Never use essential oils in their pure state in baths for babies or young children, but dilute them before adding to the bath water in a bland oil such as almond, or in two or three tablespoons of full-fat milk. Essential oils are so highly concentrated that there is a risk of them irritating the delicate stomach lining if swallowed undiluted, and as babies often suck their thumbs or put their fingers in their mouths, it is vital to ensure there is no risk of them picking up undiluted oil from the surface of the bath on their hands. Undiluted oil can also damage the cornea of the eye, and babies often rub their fingers in their eyes, too. A single drop of essential oil, suitably diluted, is enough to put in a baby-bath, and two or three drops can be used for a toddler who is being bathed in a full-sized bath.

2. Some essential oils can irritate the skin, so should not be used in baths. People with sensitive skins may experience irritation from oils that are not classed as such, and should always dilute the oils before putting them in a bath.

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