Self-care is still having a moment—and adding essential oils to your Sunday night soak has become the adult version of a bubble bath. It’s not hard to understand why: The scents, from lavender to eucalyptus, can be soothing and ultimately make you feel like you’re at the spa.
But you shouldn’t just swirl in a few drops of your favorite oil and hop right in. Just like choosing your scent-of-the-day takes careful thought, the same time should be spent on how you go about adding potent oils to your bath. This will ensure you have the best shot at soaking up all the benefits (and avoiding skin irritation).
Ahead, Ginger Ravencroft, aromatherapy expert and owner of Ravenscroft Escentials, shares her top tips for using essential oils when soaking in the tub, from choosing the right scent to perfectly blending it into the bath.
Mix, then drip.
Never just shake a few drops of oil into the tub straight from the bottle. Oil and water don’t mix (think about how hard it is to get a greasy pan clean!), so the oil droplets can separate and gravitate to your skin, leaving you open to irritation and even a burning sensation.
Instead, mix your essential oil with a carrier oil first. Carrier oils are gentler on the skin, and some of the most popular are coconut, olive, sunflower, and Ravencroft’s go-to—jojoba. “Jojoba oil is a wonderful carrier oil for using with essential oils, whether we’re putting it directly on the body or dripping it into the tub. It’s very similar to the natural sebum in our skin, so it penetrates the skin quickly and doesn’t leave a greasy film,” Ravencroft says.
Use this formula: Mix up to 25 drops of essential oil per 15 mL of carrier oil, depending on the strength of the scent, says Ravencroft. Or, you can find oil blends that are already carrier-combined and often created specifically for a certain benefit. (Ravencroft points to her own relaxation blend, Good Nite.) Give the bathwater a nice swirl to help the oil circulate and stir up the aroma before climbing in.
Add the oils while you run your water.
“This helps disperse the oils and prompts them to give off their scent so the whole bathroom smells nice,” says Ravencroft. You can also add a few drops of your blended oil (essential oil + carrier) to Epsom salt or Himalayan sea salt, then pour that into a filled tub and stir them around. “This makes for a very balanced bath that’s ready to go,” Ravenscroft says.
Try applying the oil blend to your skin.
If you don’t want to waste any of the oil or want a more intense aromatherapy experience, try soaking in naked bathwater and putting the oils right on you. “This not only allows you to inhale the scents deeper, it helps you conserve some of these precious oils because they go into your skin instead of being left behind,” says Ravencroft. “It can be a really delicious experience.”
The day before your self-care session, test a patch of your preferred oil blend on the skin (say, a dime-sized spot on the inside of your arm) to see if a reaction develops first. If you don’t see any signs of irritation, you’re free to dab a couple drops behind your ears, on your chest, or under your nostrils at bathtime. You can also apply a few drops to your favorite washcloth or scrub mitt and gently rub it all over your body.
Clean up the tub when you’re done.
Your tub can become a pretty slippery surface when the bathwater drains and the oils remain. One way to help cut back on the slickness is to avoid using carrier oils that really stick, like almond or grapeseed oil, Ravencroft says. A simple scrub with sea salt or baking soda followed with a thorough rinse is a simple degreasing trick.
Be careful with certain oils.
Most essential oils are perfectly fine to soak in, but one category to be mindful of is citrus scents. “Citrus oils make the skin highly photosensitive, so you should stay out of the sun for 72 hours after use,” says Ravencroft. Getting sun exposure after applying citrus oils topically—even with sunscreen—can put you at risk for bad burns and even dark spots.
How to pick the perfect essential oil for your bath
No matter the vibe you’re going for—stress-relieving, mood-boosting, muscle-soothing—there’s an essential oil to support it.
These oils will help you relax and reset:
These mind-clearing scents will lift your mood:
Target tired, achy muscles with these soothing scents:
These refreshing scents will help you breathe a little easier:
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