Did you know that a wonderful thing you can do for your skin is to take a bath? If you consider yourself more of a shower person, don’t stop reading.
The baths that are best for your skin probably aren’t what you expect.
Baths can be a great stress reliever. Just make sure you don’t forget to wash your face! And always rinse your face with fresh water. Many people add oils or other products to baths that can irritate the more sensitive facial skin.
However, there’s another kind of bath that can provide additional benefit. We often give Koreans all the attention when it comes to detailed skincare routines. But it’s the Japanese who developed the practice of bathing in onsens.
Onsens are hot springs that fall within a certain temperature range and provide at least one of 19 healing minerals. These minerals can help reduce skin irritation, and some are particularly beneficial to people suffering from eczema or psoriasis. Onsens with sodium bicarbonate have a smoothing effect.
Japanese researchers have even looked at how onsens can help people recovering from certain surgeries or suffering from rheumatism, neuralgia, or hypertension.
Bathing in onsens is a centuries-old tradition in Japan. But its popularity doesn’t seem to be declining. In fact, nearly 128 million people visited an onsen in 2010. That means on average, every person in Japan went more than once. It’s so popular that setting up temporary baths was a top priority after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Where to Find Onsens
If you love to travel, consider visiting Kyushu. This Japanese island contains the most onsens. Or look for a spa near you that provides mineral baths. Some hotels try to recreate the experience by infusing radium ions into water. This helps lower blood pressure and keeps arteries pliable.
Of course, the fact that the baths are relaxing doesn’t hurt either. Stress creates inflammation throughout the body that can show up on the skin. Any time you’re able to schedule regular opportunities to relax, your skin is likely to benefit.
As a side note, you may find that the spas and hotels that provide an onsen-type experience offer seaweed as a snack. Give it a try! A particularly popular seaweed is called wakame. It supplies antioxidants, protein, calcium, iron, potassium, folate, and vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and B2. As you can imagine, it’s great for the skin!
Wakame actually keeps an enzyme from hyaluronidase from attacking hyaluronic acid (HA) in the skin. HA plays a key role in keeping skin moisturized, supple, and smooth. So if you have the opportunity, wakame is definitely worth trying!
If you don’t enjoy hot baths or you don’t have access to this type of experience, there’s another type of bathing you can try. And for this one, you don’t even have to get wet.
Another “Dry” Bath for Your Skin
Forest bathing, another Japanese practice, is becoming increasingly popular. And for good reason. It’s free, easy, and great for your health.
No, forest bathing doesn’t mean you have to take a bath in a forest. It simply means getting close to trees and “bathing” in the experience. It’s completely free, and you don’t need any special equipment. In fact, you’ll have a better experience if you leave your camera, phone, and pedometer at home.
In 1982, Japan’s forestry ministry actually recommend topiary as a form of therapy. This might sound absurd to our Western ears. But they were on to something. In fact, research has found forest bathing to have a number of scientifically proven benefits.
In particular, it can lower heart rate, blood pressure, and production of stress hormones. It also improves immune system function and overall sense of well-being.
In Japan, officials spent eight years and $4 million studying the effects of forest bathing. The results were so compelling that they designated 48 areas as therapy trails. In one of their studies, they actually found that forest bathing significantly increased the activity of human natural killer (NK) cells.
NK cells might sound dangerous. And they are – to viruses and cancer cells. These immune system agents play a key role in keeping us healthy and warding off cancer. The researchers found that NK levels stayed elevated for a month following the participants’ time in the woods.
Some of this immune system power is literally in the air. Trees and many other plants emit essential oils called phytoncide that benefit our immune systems. These oils ward off germs and insects. But inhaling them is good for humans. Phytoncide actually makes our immune systems function more effectively. Taking slow, deep breaths while you’re out in nature can help calm you and get these helpful compounds into your system.
The Power of Trees to Heal
The stress-lowering effects of spending time outdoors may also contribute to better immune system function. And being outside certainly does seem to lower stress. In fact, researchers found some significant effects in 280 young adults.
The researchers measured the participants’ cortisol levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart rate variability. They compared measurements they took when the participants spent the day in the city to measurements taken on a day when the participants had spent 30 minutes in a forest.
The differences were striking. On the forest day, the participants had lower cortisol levels. Their pulse rate and blood pressure dropped. Their parasympathetic nerve activity (“rest and digest”) increased. Sympathetic nerve activity (“fight or flight”) dropped. Overall, the participants were much calmer and felt more rested and less stressed.
In yet another study of 498 healthy adults, researchers found that the participants had much lower hostility and depression scores in the presence of trees compared to in control environments. They also reported increased liveliness. So you don’t need to worry that all this calm time will sap your vitality!
Short sessions in nature seem to be sufficient to provide these benefits. But it’s best to have them regularly. As often as possible, try to spend some time in a park or other natural environment. The Environmental Protection Agency sponsored a study that found that the average American is inside for 93% of the day. And much of that 7% isn’t likely still, calm time. So chances are, we can all benefit from more time in nature.
Forest bathing truly is simple. All you need to do is find time to be outside. Visiting a forest is great but not strictly necessary. While you’re there, just relax. This isn’t a time to accomplish anything. You don’t need to finish a hike or gain some new insight. You can meander slowly if you want to, but covering distance isn’t the goal.
“Bathing” in the soothing surroundings can help you calm an inflammatory response that may be harming your skin. Just make sure you wear sunscreen! UV radiation can filter through even thick forests.
Once you find a spot, try to engage all of your senses. Listen to the birds singing. Smell the fresh air. Feel the wind on your skin. You can even find a trained forest therapist to guide you if you like. But having a guide isn’t necessary to begin reaping the benefits of nature.
One of the key benefits of both onsen and forest bathing is that these activities lower stress. So if you really don’t find either form appealing, look for other ways to minimize stress. You might prefer to “bathe” in the sunshine at the beach (again—wear sunscreen!) or curl up with a book.
If you don’t have access to a mineral bath, focus on forest bathing instead. Even if you don’t live near a forest, just spending time outside is a great start.