Often pictured as delicate and sensuous, milk baths evoke an idea of luxury as old as Cleopatra. The beauty benefits of these "white baths" nourish the skin and hair thanks to the therapeutic qualities of lactic acid, vitamins, and proteins in milk. Although a lack of comprehensive research into milk baths leaves some questions unanswered, a recent resurgence of popularity warrants a closer look at the potential benefits of this ancient practice.
Prominent historical figures from Cleopatra to Poppea to Napoleon were allegedly huge proponents of the milk bath. A symbol of life, luxury, and abundance, bathing in pure milk was a practice reserved for the elite. Today, nearly everyone has access to milk and a bathtub. Yet, the lack of clinical trials undermines their efficacy and leaves people to rely on anecdotal evidence.
From milk jelly facial cleansers to oat milk lotions, a stroll through most cosmetic stores today reveals a trend towards milk-inclusive products. This is because milk contains various enzymes, proteins, and acids that contribute to healthy hair and skin. Lactic acid, in particular, is recognized by medical professionals as a natural inhibitor to skin allergies and a bane to wrinkles and sun-damage.
Nero's wife, Poppea, was rumored to use donkey milk for her baths, which scientists now esteem as an infant's best alternative to breast milk for its protein-rich and hypoallergenic qualities.
For the most part, yes. As with any bath, avoid sitting in the water for more than 20 minutes to minimize the possibility of irritation. This is especially important for women. A milk bath can help improve minor skin conditions and boost hydration, but people with psoriasis or eczema should check with a doctor first. If someone has a milk allergy, there are several non-dairy alternatives that are just as good— if not better. Regardless, though, do not drink the bathwater!
For people with eczema or psoriasis, sensitivity to irritants is a factor in choosing the appropriate milk bath. After consulting with a doctor, consider formulating your own milk bath rather than purchasing something pre-made. Sometimes even products marked as "natural" or "allergen-free" are not suitable for these types of skin issues. Consider adding oats or using oat milk, instead; it's trusted for its anti-inflammatory abilities.
Various types of milk contain vitamins A and D, fats, and proteins that have a soothing effect on sunburns and rashes. Lactic acid also works as an exfoliant that gently sloughs off dead skin. Oats are also a great option, as clinical trials demonstrate their ability to protect the skin from UV rays and soothe itching and irritation. For a milk bath to be most effective in treating a sunburn, the water should be cool or lukewarm, not hot. This helps prevent further drying.
Warm baths are well-established as an effective relaxation practice for people of all ages. A 2018 study comparing shower bathers to immersion bathers provides evidence that the latter experience significantly lower fatigue, stress, and pain. In addition, immersion bathers report better skin and an increased perception of overall health.
Incorporating milk into a bath routine responsibly can have lasting dermatological benefits. In the 2018 comparative study of regular bathers, participants soaked for 10 minutes each day over a two-week period. It is unnecessary to take a milk bath that often. If using milk with lactic acid, it is wise to space out baths to no more than once per week to avoid over-exfoliation.
This twist on a traditional milk bath offers the excitement of a foaming bath bomb without the potentially harmful ingredients of store-bought options, such as sodium laureth sulfate. Add these to a warm tub:
For people who avoid animal byproducts and those with dairy allergies, this vegan alternative offers a parallel experience without sacrificing hydration. The cocoa butter in this recipe contains healthy fats, locks in moisture, and strengthens skin elasticity. Add these to your tub:
The soothing benefits of a milk bath are compounded by adding a favorite essential oil. Add these to a warm tub for an aromatic boost:
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