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Why you should include essential oils in your bath

Turn your bathtub into a good-for-you aromatherapy session.

14 July 2011
by Julia Hunter

Since the time of Roman bath houses, the benefits of spending time soaking in hot water have been enjoyed. Apart from the obvious advantage of getting clean, bathing is a way of relaxing as well as relieving the symptoms of certain health conditions like colds and flu.

Dr Joanne Gilbert, chiropractor, therapeutic aromatherapist and vicechairperson of the Aromatherapy Society of South Africa (ASoSA), says that to get the most out of your bath, try adding essential oils, which will be absorbed both through your skin and through inhalation. To turn your bath into a real therapy session it's vital to take the time to relax and soak up the benefits of your added oils. "Soak in the oil-infused water for at least 10 minutes," says Cape Town-based wellness facilitator and aromatherapist, Bella Ellis.

Don't towel off all the oil, simply massage any excess into your skin once you're out the bath. To get started, identify your health or beauty gripe (such as insomnia or dry skin) and then blend your aromatherapy antidote accordingly. "There's an endless number of combinations you can try," says Ellis. "Every blend should have a top, middle and base note for a fullness of fragrance."

When you're shopping for your essential oils, you'll need to invest in a carrier oil, such as grape seed or sweet almond oil to use in your mix. Once you've got your blend right, run your bath water first, and only then add your oils, recommends Dr Gilbert. "Essential oils evaporate fast, so if you add them too early, by the time you get in you may have missed out on many of the therapeutic properties."

How much to use

  • Blends: If you're combining your oils, Ellis uses the following recipe: two drops of essential oil per teaspoon of carrier oil. "For each one of the blends I've suggested, use three teaspoons of carrier oil (sweet almond oil is very moisturising and soothing for your skin) with two drops of each of the essential oils," says Ellis.
  • Single oils: Dr Gilbert recommends you use no more than five or six drops if you're using oils on their own.

Your essential oils guide

For insomnia

To help you sleep, Ellis recommends a blend of chamomile, mandarin and sandalwood. Dr Gilbert also suggests you try lavender, neroli or bergamot, as these oils encourage relaxation. Her best sleep-inducing tip is to make sure your bath water is warm but not too hot, as this can be stimulating rather than relaxing.

For aching muscles

Try Ellis's soothing cocktail to ease any pain in your muscles after a work-out: rosemary, chamomile and ylang-ylang.

For PMS

Ellis suggests a blend designed to help stabilise your hormones: clary sage, jasmine and grapefruit (which is great for easing water retention).

For detoxing

Dr Gilbert recommends oils such as fennel and grapefruit to detox and uplift you, lavender for balancing, and ginger to increase circulation and help with any muscle aches or nausea. "Adding your
oils to sea salt or Epsom salts will also help with detoxification," says Dr Gilbert.

For colds and flu

Try eucalyptus, ravensara or niaouli, says Dr Gilbert. "These oils are decongestants, and so they'll open up your air passages and help to give you the boost you need."

For dry, itchy skin

"Go for lavender and Roman chamomile or German chamomile," says Dr Gilbert. "They're antipruritic which means they'll help ease itchiness. I'd also suggest applying a nourishing cream or oil after your bath (look for something with avocado, grape seed or olive oil in it)."

For stress

Dr Gilbert's favourite relaxation blend is bergamot, neroli and lavender. Or try Ellis's stress-buster recipe: a blend of bergamot and lavender with ylang-ylang instead of neroli.