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Tub therapy: why a long soak in the bath can wash away the blues

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 19/11/2018 Suzanne Duckett

I don’t need any convincing that taking a hot bath is the ultimate, most accessible and affordable mood booster. But in case you do, a recent study in Germany has found that a hot bath can not only lift your spirits but also alleviate depression.

I’ve been using tub therapy for as long as I can remember. The ritual is addictive: the sound and sight of the tap gushing with hot, steamy water; the smell of essential oils; flickering candles; the “do not disturb” physical and symbolic effect of that closed bathroom door and the feeling of stepping in and submerging into what feels like liquid love.

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But there are medical and physiological benefits, too. A new study at the University of Freiburg tested 45 people with moderate to severe depression and found that a 105F (40C) bath, twice a week for 30 minutes, followed by wrapping in blankets with hot water bottles for a further 20 minutes, reaped more benefit than two bouts of moderate exercise (running, dancing or swimming for 40-45 minutes), improving symptoms of depression from severe to moderate, or moderate to mild. Moreover, 13 out of 23 people dropped out of the exercise group but only two out of 22 refused to complete the hot bath treatments.

The causes of depression are complicated, of course, and incredibly individual (and this study is small), but experts believe that a disrupted circadian rhythm could be a common factor – in people with depression, the body may not be regulating its temperature properly. In the study, immersion in hot bathwater raised participants’ body temperature by about 3.5F (2C) and experts suggest this works to restore the body’s natural temperature rhythm over the course of a day.

I’m not suggesting that people with depression should throw away their anti-depressants or forgo seeing their GP or specialist, but it’s incredibly comforting to know that there is also a natural, fast-acting, safe and easily accessible method that could help ease suffering.

A Japanese woman rests blissfully in an onsen (Japanese natural hotspring) nestled in the mountains of Gunma prefecture. © 2009 Russell Morales A Japanese woman rests blissfully in an onsen (Japanese natural hotspring) nestled in the mountains of Gunma prefecture. You don’t need to be an wealthy spa junkie to reap the benefits. There are no fancy gadgets, kit or courses to buy; there is no extortionate membership to pay for or huge time commitment. And there are few pleasures to rival the innate idleness and the exquisite stillness of a hot bath. While the wellness world bombards us with the latest treatments and gimmicks, healing and revitalising baths have stood the test of time.

Which is exactly why I wrote Bathe, a book that explores the many types of bathing from around the world and how the act of bathing helps us switch off from the hyperactivity of modern life and makes us feel happier. Bathing is democratic, innate wellness, on tap.

Bathe by Suzanne Duckett (Lagom, £16.99) is out now; visit lovetobathe.co.uk for more of Suzanne’s recommendations

Preparation is key

Have your accoutrements at the ready. Reading material, candle, towel and pyjamas. For me there’s usually a book involved, a paperback with a towel nearby to dry wet page-turning fingers and grab the mug or wine glass.

Other times, when feeling fraught I just lie there staring at my toes pressed up against the end of the bath, occasionally glancing at the dancing candle to give my chattering mind something to follow and focus on. Choose your bath additive carefully – salts, muds or oils – according to mood and need.

Salts

Purple bath salts with wooden scoop and bottle of essential oil Purple bath salts with wooden scoop and bottle of essential oil

Beneficial bathing salts calm the nervous system and boost our bodies from the inside out. In their natural form, they can contain many minerals, including magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium. During a bath, warm water opens pores, allowing these nutrients to be absorbed and drawing out pollution, impurities, toxins and dirt. 

  • If money is no object, it has to be a bottle of Ilapothecary Magnesium & Amethyst Deep Relax Bath Soak. A staying-in Friday or Saturday night treat, (£55 for 400ml, ilapothecary.com)
  • Westlab Reviving Epsom Salts (£14.99 for a 5kg bag, westlabsalts.co.uk) is also great for mid-week budget bathers; I always add essential oils.

Mud

Attractive young woman standing in the bathroom Attractive young woman standing in the bathroom In ancient times, muds were considered a cure for almost any ailment and, along with clays and peats, are rich in magnesium, potassium and sodium. Their gentle pulling action also shrinks pores, exfoliates and detoxifies (one reason why mud is also popular for masks). 

  • Hungarymud (£20, victoriahealth.com) stimulates blood flow, flushes out toxins and draws in minerals. It can be sprinkled into the bath and also mixed with water and worn as a brightening, tightening face and body mask.
  • Immunocologie Vital Clay, (£110 for 100ml, www.cultbeauty.co.uk) contains raw French green clay, which is a bit softer than the dry to fit mud masks but still deeply cleanses and refine pores. Plus, it's brimming with minerals and antioxidants and has a special system that mimics the skin’s own metabolic process to protect and heal the skin from environmental aggressors. It's so good you'll look like you've had a facial.

Oils

Small bottles of essential oil © kazmulka Small bottles of essential oil

A bath offers essential oils a double route into the body – via steam inhalation and skin absorption – but always use pure essential oils. Benefits include immunity support, treating respiratory issues and soothing inflammation to promoting relaxation and inducing sleep.

Types of oil 

Grapefruit oil has a fresh and zesty smell that will awaken your senses and draw out impurities, leaving you feeling physically lighter. Orange essential oil is also a wonderful mood lifter.

Juniper is known for its antiseptic and soothing properties, marjoram oil helps to relieve muscle cramps and tension, while arnica reduces pain and inflammation.

Lavender is the scent of choice for sleep. Look out for French high-altitude lavender oil because it contains higher natural linalyl acetate (ester) levels, so its properties are enhanced. Cedarwood is also known for its comforting, grounding and warm scent. This oil supports the healthy function of the pineal gland, which releases melotonin, the body’s natural sleep hormone.

It’s hard to find a more romantic oil than rose. It is calming, reduces anxiety and is traditionally used as an aphrodisiac because it is said to stir desire and enhance self-esteem and confidence. Men might like to use clary sage oil instead because it has a balmy and earthy scent but is also both deeply relaxing and a powerful aphrodisiac.

Woman legs in bath foam. Top view. Enjoying and relaxation in spa hotel Woman legs in bath foam. Top view. Enjoying and relaxation in spa hotel How to use

  • Add five drops of pure essential oil to a run bath (don’t add oils to running water as they are volatile and will vanish into the steam) and soak for 20 minutes. 
  • Zesty essential oils, such as grapefruit, will awaken your senses; add 8-10 drops of almond oil, run a warm bath and a 10- to 15-minute soak will feel like you’ve pressed reset.
  • Get the temperature right: water should be 36-38 C and room temperature 25-30C. If necessary, heat the room beforehand so there isn’t an excessive temperature difference when you get out.
  • I love Tisserand pure essential oils from tisserand.com, absolute-aromas.com and ukdoterra.com – they all need some bath time blending and carrier oils/ingredients.
  • My favourite pre-blended oils are from Aromatherapy Associates. Deep Relax (£59, aromatherapyassociates.com) is my version of Valium.
  • Bathe for 15-20 minutes to let the ingredients do their magic and then slather the priciest body oil you can afford on to damp skin. I like Dry Oil Huile Prodigieuse Multi-Purpose Dry Oil (£18, uk.nuxe.com)

Gallery: Small-Batch Beauty Brands That Will Help Save The Planet (& Your Skin) [Refinery29]

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