Immersion therapy: the secrets of a perfect bath
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The bathroom has always held an extra-special place in my heart. It is my haven, one of the most important spaces in my home. I have an armchair in mine where my husband comes and chats to me while I bathe at the end of a day. Books line the window shelves, and on the wall above the bath hang pigeonhole shelves; once used for letters at a boarding school, they now host a collection of soaps collected over the years – not to use, but just for the beauty of their packaging.
To me, the bathroom is safe. You can lock the door, shut the world out. I was once told you can’t cry in a bath; believe me, you can. In fact, to define bathing as simply a method of relaxation is to sell it woefully short: it’s a place where the mind can run free. As a child, I would spend hours telling myself elaborate stories while concocting “potions” from the bottles nestled in the recessed shelves of my parents’ bathroom.
Philosopher and author Alain de Botton believes that the bath is the perfect place to allow the brain to flourish. “The pleasure of the bath is primarily intellectual,” he says. “Baths are ideal places to think. Their ability to ease us towards productive ideas is probably greater than that of the places we formally assign to such work: the office, the library or the laboratory. The reason is that our bigger thoughts generally don’t come when commanded. They tend to emerge when we’re not quite looking. The warm water lulls the nervous habits of the mind. We’re off the hook. We’re perfectly free not to think at all and – by the perverse logic of the brain – this actually makes thinking easier.”
Much of the wisdom that today’s dedicated bathers follow comes from Korea, Japan, Morocco, Turkey and the Netherlands – cultures whose bathing habits have, along with the Romans, for centuries promoted the benefits of communal bathing in mineral-rich water. What could be better for body and soul than a good sweat in a Turkish bath followed by exfoliation and the exhilaration of a cold plunge in a pool or – better yet – a lake? Brits love a bath, none more so than the actor and writer Rupert Everett. “I still charge mine with the same liberal dose of Badedas and Fenjal together that I did as a teenager,” he says, “although now that I’m older I even find walking the dog exhausting, so I add Epsom salts and magnesium for my aching bones.”
Everett is in favour of an early bath. “I live in a house that is attached to my mother’s, and often we run into each other at the end of the day and have a little chat. The way we end it after about five minutes is by one of us briskly saying, ‘I think I’ll have my bath now.’ She has hers in a very British three inches of water – rationing levels – while mine is filled up to the top and boiling hot.” He likes to spend a good 20 minutes in his bath, reading or chatting to his boyfriend, then saves the last 10 seconds for “actually washing, when it’s arm, other arm, chest, willy, bottom, and out!”
Like Everett, I like to use the bath for chatting. Unlike Everett, I could never be so loyal to a product. In fact, the bath products and preparations are half the appeal for me. Along with an ancient Roberts radio, my tub is lined with bottles and jars filled with bubble baths, milks, oils and salts: a larder that caters to all my cleansing appetites. When I’m feeling most indulgent, I turn to the elegant sophistication of Huile de Savon Berkane Orange Blossom, a scented liquid soap by L’Officine Universelle Buly that comes in swellegant glass bottles with handwritten calligraphy on the labels. Victoire de Taillac-Touhami – who along with her husband, Ramdane Touhami, has infused Buly 1803 with the chicest of east-west sensibilities – has childhood memories of watching her mother read a book in the bath before going out to dinner. Her habits have rubbed off. “The bath is my answer to everything,” she tells me. “When I’m sad, I take a bath. When I’m happy I take a bath. Although I need no excuse to get in a bath, I now appreciate them more than ever. I take a hot bath – as hot as I can stand – and use the Savon Superfin soap to clean and a Japanese bath salt, Yunohana Powder, both by Buly 1803.”
Most days, my emotional thermometer sets the tone for what goes in the water. Often I want the familiar, foaming constant of Ren’s Moroccan Rose Otto Bath Oil – I add it to a half-filled bath so as not to bash the bubbles too much. Other times, I need a wham of energy that only Revive Shower Oil by Aromatherapy Associates’ brilliant oil-to-milk formula can bring. Its “bloom” (the beauty world’s word for the way scent fills the bathroom) is so potent, it’s like having a personal trainer shouting motivational quotes in your ear. When anxiety gets the better of me, I turn to the soothing properties found in the oils with names such as Unwinder or Pick Me Up, created by aromatherapist Dee Stanford (available through Jo Hansford, London), whose intense infusions help to calm and restore my frazzled head.
I am a huge believer in bath salts also. For years I’ve used Ahava’s products, which are made from Dead Sea minerals and boast magnesium, calcium and potassium. And I find that a generous measure of Susanne Kaufmann’s St John’s Wort Bath powder makes a milky concoction that leaves my skin feeling really soft.
Recently, in the spirit of “clean” beauty, I’ve accumulated a collection of lovely dark-brown glass bottles to join the Aesop ones that have long sat beside the bath. New, exciting products that don’t contain parabens or plastic microbeads; my current favourites are Bonum Pellis’s Neroli & Mandarin Hydrating Body Wash and the fresh botanical scents of Lemongrass & Juniper Body Wash by Kankan, a vegan and unisex brand whose glass bottles have refills that come in aluminium cans.
Is there anything that I don’t have in my bathroom? Well, yes, actually, and I’m on the hunt for it. Actress Gillian Anderson – who likes to “shake off the day” by taking a “scaldingly hot bath” every night – has a pillow attached to the back of her tub. “The pillow is as much about my little legs reaching the end of the bath as anything else,” she says. Bless her, she’s a tiny little thing. I have no such issues, but I simply can’t think of anything nicer. In the pursuit of the perfect bath, one more addition to the arrangement will only be a tiny drop more.