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DIY Bath Scrubs

Okay, this has nothing to do with anything. But I’ve been having a somewhat rough time lately, and this is a cheap, easy pleasure that fairly reliably makes me happy, so I’m blogging about it.

Samode_Palace_bathroomI’ve been taking baths instead of showers lately: they turn a quotidian daily chore into a luxurious pleasure, and if I’m smart about when I take the time to fill the tub, they don’t take any more time. I’ve been enjoying bath scrubs in my baths: they’re an inexpensive way to make this luxurious pleasure even more luxurious and pleasurable. Plus it’s a pleasure that lasts beyond the actual bath itself: the scrubs make my skin all soft, and the scent lingers in my skin for a while afterwards.

But I wasn’t always able to find the exact bath scrub aroma that I wanted. In particular, I was distressed by my inability to find a cardamom bath scrub. So I did an online search, on the principle that Rule 34 often applies to things other than the usual (i.e., if you can imagine it, someone is probably selling it on the Internet). And I discovered that bath scrubs are ridiculously easy to make. They’re much, much cheaper to make at home than they are to buy in the store. And when you make them yourself, you can make them in pretty much any scent or scent combination you want.

By the way, this can be a fun activity to do with kids. When our niece and nephew visited us recently, we made a bunch of small batches together: they had a blast picking out the scent combinations they wanted, and it made bath-time seem like a silly, goofy game. (Messy, of course — we mixed them on the kitchen floor for easy clean-up.)

So here’s the deal.

THE BASIC RECIPE

Salt
Oil
Stuff that smells good

Mix salt and oil in a two-to-one ratio, two salt to one oil (by volume, not weight — i.e., a half cup of salt to a quarter cup of oil). Add stuff that smells good. Use in bath or shower: get yourself wet, rub the stuff gently on your body, rinse.

I told you it was easy.

THE FINER POINTS

Salt

Sea saltIt took me a little time to find the exact kind of salt I like, and I’m still tinkering and experimenting. The first sea salt I tried was way too coarse, it was like scrubbing myself with oily gravel. Kosher salt was okay, but a little too scratchy. I finally settled on a fairly fine-grained sea salt with a somewhat flaky texture that I like (Field Day Natural Meditteranean Sea Salt, Fine).

However, in my tinkering, I also discovered that in a pinch, regular old table salt works fine. It’s not quite as nice as the flaky sea salt, but it’s totally fine. I now use it when I’m experimenting with a new scent or scent combination: if it doesn’t work, I don’t feel as bad about the boring table salt going to waste. (FYI, if you do use table salt, you may need to add a skosh more oil, since it’s finer than sea salt and sucks up more oil.)

According to the Internet, some recipes for bath scrubs call for sugar instead of salt. This seems gross to me. I do not want to sit in a tub full of sugar water. Your mileage may vary, however: some people obviously enjoy this. Coffee is another alternative: again, I personally don’t want to sit in a tub full of warmish, dilute coffee, but if that seems neat to you, go for it.

I use a two-to-one ratio, by volume, of salt to oil: a half cup of salt to a quarter cup of oil. You can tinker with these proportions to fit your preference.

Oil

almondsI’ve been using almond oil. It’s pretty cheap, especially since you can buy it in bulk at Rainbow Grocery; it has a very light, almost non-existent scent; and it has a long history of use as a skin oil (lots of professional massage people use it). I’ve also read that you can use baby oil, or pretty much any inexpensive, low-scent oil you feel good about smearing on your body and soaking in.

Stuff That Smells Good

RosemaryFor my first batch of homemade bath scrub, I used fresh peppermint and fresh rosemary. It smelled amazing. Except that a few days later, it smelled slightly rancid, and I wound up pitching it.

Since then, I’ve been using essential oils rather than fresh ingredients. Most of them are pretty cheap (although, ironically, cardamom is on the expensive side — maybe that’s why I couldn’t find a commercial cardamom bath scrub). Plus they make it easy to mix the exact scent and/or scent combination you want, in the exact strength you want. For each cup or so of scrub, you want just a few drops of essential oils: they are very freaking strong. (I got some small glass droppers for this operation, since not all the essential oils have droppers, and for the ones that do have them, they tend to be somewhat crappy.)

There are almost certainly some fresh scent ingredients that won’t go rancid from sitting in salty oil. Citrus zest, for instance, would probably be fine. But the essential oils work well, and they’re super easy. Also, it makes me feel a bit like a mad scientist to be titrating drops of intense liquids into my weird potions. I have yet to cackle maniacally when I do this, but it may come to that.

Be aware: Companies that sell essential oils tend to be bastions of woo. I spent some time searching for an essential oil source that didn’t try to sell me a stinking pile of aromatherapy bullshit about how blood orange was an aphrodisiac and rosemary enhanced mental clarity and other such nonsense. I failed. If anyone knows of one, please let me know. (I do think that pleasant sensory experiences such as pleasant smells probably help reduce stress in a general way, and of course people have pleasant or unpleasant memories and associations connected with particular smells — but other than that, aromatherapy seems to be total unsubstantiated quackery.)

Use

Bathtub_at_Ananda_spaThese are commonly called “bath scrubs,” but you can use them in the bath or the shower. In the shower, I get myself wet, rub the bath scrub gently on my skin, rinse it off, then wash lightly with soap.

In the bath, I get in the bath; rub the bath scrub gently on my skin; luxuriantly soak in the salty, lightly oiled, lightly scented water, pretending that I’m Cleopatra or a Roman empress or something; then wash lightly with soap before I drain the tub.

The salt and oil and water would probably get me reasonably clean — if memory serves, this was one of the ways people used to get clean before the invention of soap. But I’ve absorbed my culture’s notions of what constitutes “clean enough,” and it bloody well involves soap. Also, if I don’t wash with soap, there’s too much lingering oil on my skin, and it feels sticky rather than soft and pleasant. I usually just do a light soapy rinse, though, since part of the point is to have a little of the oil left on my skin, for the softness and the scent.

Scents and scent combinations I’ve enjoyed so far:
Cardamom
Peppermint and rosemary
Lemon and peppermint
Lemon and rosemary
Basil and lime

Scents and scent combinations I’m planning to try:
Cedarwood
Chai (cinnamon, clove, ginger, and cardamom)
Peppermint, rosemary, and lemon
Cardamom and tangerine
Bay and lime
Peppermint and tea tree
Fennel and orange
Fennel and mint

If you’ve ever made bath scrubs, and have suggestions for recipes that you like; or if you’ve never done this, but you still have suggestions for recipes that you think would be cool; or if you try this on my suggestion, and want to share your experiences and ideas — speak up in the comments!

(Samode Palace bathroom image by Dr. Blofeld, via Wikimedia Commons
Sea salt image by pinpin, via Wikimedia Commons
Rosemary image by Loadmaster, a.k.a. David R. Tribble, via Wikimedia Commons)

Comments

  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    this sounds awesome. I love bath scrubs, but am turned off by the cost. I would probably use olive oil instead of almond, but to each her own.

  2. kathleenmcnamara says

    You can also use sugar in place of salt. I like the texture regular granulated sugar gives. I’ve done this with walnut oil, which was quite nice.

  3. carlie says

    One note of caution for everyone – the bathtub will be wicked slippery after you’re done, from the oil. You have to make sure it’s all gone before the next person steps unsuspectingly into the shower. Easiest/cheapest way is to also take in a box of baking soda to the bathroom, and after the tub is drained, sprinkle a good amount of the baking soda all over the tub, let it sit and soak up the oil while you dry off, then wipe it all out (don’t rinse it down the drain or you’ll redistribute the oil).

  4. qwints says

    I’ve found a few local sellers of bath stuff at the farmer’s market who only allude to all the aromatherapy woo rather than making any claims, but I’ve never seen any who don’t at least reference the claims.

    Lemon and rosemary is one of my favorites too. I also really like eucalyptus and spearmint.

  5. says

    I love using essential oils to make sugar scrubs and body washes and lotion bars. Alas, I’ve also failed to find a company that sells them without the woo. If they existed, I would patronize them exclusively! The best I can do is to try to pick bottles that just talk about verifiable things, even if I know the company’s website is full of crap.

  6. says

    If you’re planning to use cinnamon essential oil, a patch test would be a good idea. It can be irritating to the skin, though I’ve never had a problem with it myself.

  7. says

    I’ve been making this stuff for years, using a 1:1 ration of regular salt (sodium chloride) and Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate.) Almond oil is good, and olive oil works fine, too (use a variety that is NOT virgin or extra virgin, as those have a stronger olive fragrance and are more expensive.) If you want to splurge, you can mix the oil with some vitamin E or jojoba before adding it to the salt. I’ve always used the soap first, to clean away dirt and oil, then use the scrub after, to exfoliate and replace the oil stripped away by the soap. A gentle warm shower after that to rinse off. I usually do this once a week rather than every day.

    If you make different fragrances (for yourself or as gifts), add a drop or two of ordinary food coloring so you can tell them apart. Just a drop, though: you want to dye the salt, not the bather.

  8. says

    Salt
    Oil
    Stuff that smells good

    I’m cracking a huge grin after reading this. It poked a happy amusement nerve somewhere. And it’s awesome to find those simple and relaxing things in life, especially when you can DIY just the way you like and save money.

    I’m am totally an anti-bath person, but i can vicariously enjoy the bathing pleasures of others. Good for you. You gotta find these things in life.

  9. says

    Sounds brilliant, I love a hot bath with salts in will give it a go… Although one word of caution as I got caught out by my evil sister who put orange oil in a custom bath oils selection she made for me. Felt like a billion little needles sticking in my skin and I understand this is not an uncommon reaction. Try out any oils on a bit of your arm first, diluted to the same degree of course :)

  10. says

    Make your own soap, too!!! It’s unbelievably easy, really, and the difference between the stuff that’s made of the cheapest possible ingredients and what you can make for your own temple is unbelievable. Really, seriously, radically crazily better!! And best of all, you get to play with scents. Last winter I got into soap-making as a spin-off because I made a few perfumes for a friend, which resulted in me constructing a “smellodeon” – basically a large box full of all kinds of essential oils, which could be scent-combined and tested until your head spins on its stalk from the amazing smells. So I had to use up some of the scents, thus: soap! And I made my own “fight club” mold (scent I use: cardamom, cinammon, and a hint of hickory wood smoke)

    Some introductory notes on soap-making are here: http://ranum.com/fun/projects/soap/index.html
    including a link-farm.

  11. says

    Scent combinations to die for:
    – (3/5) Lemongrass + (1/5) lemon verbena + (1/5) ginger
    – (3/5) lemon verbena + (1/5) frankincense + (1/5) black pepper or coriander
    – (1/2) ginger + (1/2) clove
    – (3/5) lavender + (1/5) lemon verbena + (1/5) clove

  12. says

    @Gregory #7
    a drop or two of ordinary food coloring

    They make colorings that are specially designed for soap; it’s less staining than food coloring and, um, washes off with soap. Cheaper, too. I get mine on ebay but the same sellers are on amazon and elsewhere.

  13. johnthedrunkard says

    Just like sitting in sugar water, is there a way to avoid sitting in brine? Simply, doesn’t the impending dissolution of the salt enforce some unwanted hurry?

  14. Al Dente says

    I have yet to cackle maniacally when I do this, but it may come to that.

    By not cackling you’re denying yourself a pleasure. Cackling is almost de rigueur when making bath salts.

  15. analog2000 says

    I use sugar rather than salt because if you have any scrapes or cuts the salt burns terribly! It is also impossible to use salt after shaving (at least for me).

  16. Greta Christina says

    Just like sitting in sugar water, is there a way to avoid sitting in brine? Simply, doesn’t the impending dissolution of the salt enforce some unwanted hurry?

    johnthedrunkard @ #13: I don’t mind bathing in salty water. It’s like sea water, only not even that salty. But again, to each their own: sugar or coffee does seem to work for some folks.

    By not cackling you’re denying yourself a pleasure. Cackling is almost de rigueur when making bath salts.

    Al Dente @ #16: Fair point. I’ll try it, and see how it goes.

    I’m am totally an anti-bath person, but i can vicariously enjoy the bathing pleasures of others.

    F [i’m not here, i’m gone] @ #8: You can totally use these in the shower as well as the bath if you like.

    If you make different fragrances (for yourself or as gifts), add a drop or two of ordinary food coloring so you can tell them apart.

    Gregory in Seattle @ #7: I’ve mostly just been labeling the jars with masking tape. But that sounds cool anyway.

    And thanks to all for the many awesome ideas! This is going to be even more fun now. And I might just try soap next!

  17. belcat says

    Just a note that a lot of the commercial bath scrubs have little tiny plastic beads in them – more plastic pollution for the environment. More reason to make your own!

  18. DysgraphicProgrammer says

    Perfumers Apprentice seems to be high in science content and low on woo. It might be a little more chemistry than you are looking for. The Flavor Apprentice side of the company has some of the more food-like flavors as well.

  19. phere says

    These sound lovely. Sadly I just moved away from a decent bathtub. I loved taking baths. Well…before having a kid I enjoyed lounging in the bath (was that real? or a figment of my imagination?). Here’s a way to pamper your face while you pamper your body: While your bath is filling, gently apply about a handful of honey all over your dry face. Don’t be shy. And don’t use expensive honey – I just use the cheap Wal-Mart crap (I know..I’m horrible – I probably contribute to the bee disappearances). Even applying it on your eyelids is fine (it won’t burn or sting if it gets in your eyes). The longer you let the honey sit on your skin, the better it will feel afterward. Get on with your Cleopatra self and enjoy your bath soak – when you are ready to wash your face, take some baking soda, a few drops of warm water (or a small drop of your favorite regular facial cleanser), a bit more honey and make into a paste. Gently exfoliate your entire face and neck. You can also throw out any expensive facial exfoliators at this point…you won’t need them. Baking soda is the gentlest, cheapest, and most effective exfoliant I have ever tried. Once you are done exfoliating, rinse your face and apply another masque of plain honey…you can just let this sit on for a minute or so before rinsing with luke warm water..it helps finish the skin. After this treatment, your face will be warm, velvety soft, moisturized but not oily, the pores will be almost childlike and your skin will feel…grateful. I don’t know another word to explain how wonderful your face is after! (This treatment can also be applied down there….it’s like a vagina facial lol.) It’s such a simple way to luxuriously pamper yourself!

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