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.
I’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
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
It 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.
I’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
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.)
These 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:
Peppermint and rosemary
Lemon and peppermint
Lemon and rosemary
Basil and lime
Scents and scent combinations I’m planning to try:
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)