Hydrotherapy -- the use of water for soothing pain and treating disease -- is one of the oldest forms of medical treatment. "There is a lost appreciation for 'taking to the waters,' a ritual that's so much a part of ancient cultures because it brought health to the body and mind," says Yael Alkaley, founder of the Red Flower body care line. "All bath house traditions -- from the Finnish sauna to the Japanese onsen and Moroccan hammam -- have three things in common: A form of exfoliation to remove dead skin and increase circulation; heating and cooling of the body to stimulate the lymphatic system; and deep, intense perspiration to detoxify and rebuilt the immune system."
To create the perfect bathing experience, Jean Kolb of Kohler advises designing a dip that addresses the five senses. Close the bathroom door and dim the lights or light a candle. Play soothing music -- or do the opposite and opt for the sound of silence to still the mind. "A bath can be so simple. Close the door, shut out the world, and find solace in plain water," says Shirley Pieratt, president of Lady Primrose bath products.
A hot bath causes profuse sweating, allowing the body to rid itself of toxins. By removing dead skin cells, pores sweat more effectively. But, a word of caution: A bath above 100 degrees will dehydrate the body and can be dangerous for pregnant women or those with high blood pressure or heart and kidney problems.
Add aromatic essential oils to scent the water and air and transform a regular bath into a rejuvenating ritual. Create your own blends (below) by mixing a few drops into still water. The scent will rise with the steam. Ideal for those with dry skin, oils can leave the body very slick. Be careful when getting out of the tub.
To Relax: rose, lavender, ylang-ylang, vanilla
To Invigorate: grapefruit, rosemary, lemon
To Calm: chamomile, sage lavender, neroli
After soaking, use a loofah for exfoliation. Then wrap yourself in a large, plush towel and apply an ultra-rich lotion to rehydrate and replenish skin.
It's a good idea to drink a glass of water after your bath to rehydrate. Consider following it up with a cup of chamomile tea.