Men have sheds. Women have – well, we have bathrooms. (And thank heavens for that.) Yes, the rest of the family are in and out of them, too. (Leaving their towels dripping on the floor.) But when it comes to finding sanctuary in the home, there is nowhere better: lock the door, run the taps, lie back and soak your cares and stresses away. Because while we may all fantasise about a fortnight at Chiva-Som (or some other faraway spa), in reality, a night in with some gorgeous bath and body treats is the closest most of us get to a wellbeing escape.
So we should be thankful, then. Because in the past few years, as a beauty editor I’ve been privileged to see first-hand how the beauty world has been falling over itself to offer us pampering potions for at-home treatments: bath oils, salt scrubs, foot treats, face masks – and more. All designed to offer the blissful benefits of a salon or spa visit – but with the bonus: we can enjoy, then flop into our own beds, afterwards. In a perfect world, we’d prepare for this experience by tumbling dry a vast pile of clean fluffy towels, and preparing a relaxing playlist on our iPhones. But because this isn’t a perfect world, all that’s really required is a lock on the bathroom door (or a chair that can be wedged under the door handle), to maximise our chances of privacy.
Whizz up a juice, unroll your yoga mat for a few smooth moves, beforehand – and retreat…
Start with water therapy. Physiologically, the relaxing effects of soaking in water are simple to understand: warm water displaces weight, making you feel light. As your capillaries dilate from its warmth, your blood pressure drops. What’s more, according to Diane Ackerman, author of A Natural History of the Senses, a soak in the tub is ‘a ritual that is restorative, sensuous, religious or calming.’ So: chuck out that ageing flannel. Pension off that rubber duck. And prepare experience splendour in the bath.
The key to turning a run-of-the-mill bath into an escape lies in what you add to the water. As a connoisseur and devotee of the long, hot bath, I consider myself an expert – and I’m going to share some bath-i-licious discoveries that I rate highly. But meanwhile, did you know that plain water from the tap can invigorate or calm, on its own? You don’t need a thermometer to tell you: if you have to lower yourself in gently, because the water’s too hot, then it’ll ease and relax your mind and muscles if you add just a little more cold, to make it bearable. But if you want to instantly put back the get-up-and-go that got-up-and-went, the water should be no hotter than warm. (Cool is even better, if you can bear it.)
Enter the aroma zone… For mood-shifting, to start your day, nothing beats the aromatherapeutic power of essential oils. Expensive – but worth it (in my opinion) are Aromatherapy Associates Bath and Shower Oils: just a capful really is enough to wind you down (Relax Deep, a fusion of vetiver, chamomile and sandalwood, works like knock-out drops), or rev you up; Revive is available as a get-ready-to-party Evening version, or a Morning option, featuring a jolt of energising pink grapefruit. They’re not cheap) – but they do last for at least 20 baths. Bath oils, incidentally, are the perfect choice if your body skin’s dry: they leave a slight film, helping to trap the skin’s own moisture – which can be stripped away by central heating, air conditioning and even woolly pullovers. (A tip: if you don’t have a bath oil, pour a pint of milk or a handful of freeze-dried milk into running water; the fatty elements settle on the skin’s surface. A dollop of honey will further enhance the moisturising effect.)
Or make some waves. We all know how invigorating a saltwater swim can be. Part of that’s down to the rich cocktail of minerals in seawater and seaweed, including iron, magnesium, calcium, copper and zinc. Those sea elements can actually be absorbed through the skin by osmosis – turbo-charging our feel-good factor. (The detoxing effect of marine ingredients, meanwhile, makes them an ideal part of any cellulite-busting campaign.) In France, thallassotherapy (from the Greek word for sea) is fast becoming one of the most in-demand treatments, with entire resorts (in Brittany or Biarritz) devoted to marine therapies. But you can squeeze many of those benefits into just soak: personally, I like to dump a small mountain of Magnesium Flakes in the bath – which are also jam-packed with minerals – lie back… And don’t ask me what happens next, because I’m generally too zonked (in a good way) to notice.
Scrub up. I’m a scrub-aholic: I use them on knees, upper arms and derrière, to leave skin silky-smooth. I make my own (a fusion of crystalline Maldon Sea Salt, an equal quantity of jojoba oil and a few drops of essential oil), but on my (somewhat crowded) bathroom shelf, there are lots, with a fave being Temple Spa (Sugar can be kinder to skin than salt – especially if a) you keep cats or b) like gardening, as salt can sting like mad if it gets into a cut.) If your skin really needs sloughing – after a holiday, for instance (we can dream…) when dead ‘tanned’ cells cling to the surface – you can apply in a gentle circular motion to skin before you get into the bath. Otherwise, I like to massage scrubs into my skin while I soak, so the oils/salt/scented ingredients can infuse the waters. For faces, customise your won mask with 5 tablespoons of yoghurt, to which you add 1 tablespoon of grated lemon peel and 1 tablespoon of oatmeal, massaged all over the body. (It’s worth remembering that many skin potions can be ‘customised’ with ingredients from your kitchen, such as salt or oats or sugar. Use small quantities, and use up immediately. But have fun experimenting.)
Apply a magic mask. The steam from a bath helps power-up the effects of any face mask. Apply after you’ve been soaking for about five minutes, and your pores will be more receptive to the ingredients. I am consistently blown away by Sarah Chapman’s Miracle Mask, one of the few beauty products which truly delivers on that ‘miracle’ promise, and am on record as saying ‘I looked 12 after I took it off…’ The hyaluronic acid in the formula – which gets ‘trapped’ in the skin by the rubbery mask itself (trust me, this is not something you want to greet the postman in) really is that skin-plumping…
Apply a hair mask. And let its repairing ingredients re-shine and re-gloss. (In a world where there’s too-much-to-do-in-too-little-time, the trend is for conditioners that work super-fast, but if you can leave even your regular conditioner or a mask on for 15 minutes – or better still an hour – or better still, overnight – then you’ll see the enduring difference over the weeks to come. (Ideally, keep up the good work with a weekly deep treatment.) Any of these should make hair silky and gleaming again:
Give yourself a foot massage. Devote a full five minutes to this, using strong strokes to knead away any last lingering tension.
And anoint your body… This is one last ritual that no bather should ignore, whether r body lotions, or ultra-replenishing, double-thick creams). For best results, towel-dry skin, and forget everything you ever read about applying creams while skin’s damp; it’s a beauty myth that you’ll ‘trap’ the moisture, because instead what happens is that the nourishing elements in the moisturiser are spread more thinly. My latest addiction is This Works Deep Sleep Night Oil, an incredibly ‘grounding’, vetiver-and-lavender rich blend which works like knockout drops.
… Before slipping into bed. In a real spa, you’d head off to bed after a light, healthy meal – so if you can manage that, do – and don’t be tempted to switch on the news after your at-home spa experience; violent images can undo all that de-stressing goodness. For a real treat, mist your sheets with This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray (the essential oils echo those in the body oil) – and look forward to the sweetest dreams…