Baths And Bathing

Sources: A Handbook Of Health

Bathing as a Means of Cleanliness. It has been said that one of the

reasons why man lost his hairy coat was that he might be able to wash

himself better and keep cleaner. However this may be, he has to wash a

great deal oftener than other animals, most of whom get along very well

with currying, licking, and other forms of dry washes, and an occasional

swim in a river or lake.

You can readily see how necessary for us washing is, when you remember

the quarts of watery perspiration, which are poured out upon our skins

every day, and the oily and other waste matters, some of them poisons,

which the perspiration leaves upon our skins. Especially is some means

of washing necessary when the free evaporation of perspiration and the

free breathing of the skin has been interfered with by clothing which is

water-tight or too thick.

Bathing as a Tonic. But bathing is of much greater value than simply

as a means of cleansing. Splashing the body with water is the most

valuable means that we have of toning up and hardening the skin, and

protecting us against the effects of cold. The huge and wonderfully

elaborate network of blood vessels that lies in and just under our skins

all over our bodies is, from the point of view of circulation, second

only in importance to our hearts, and from the point of view of taking

cold, and of resisting the attack of disease, one of the most important

structures in our entire body. If, by means of daily baths, you keep

this mesh of blood vessels in your skin toned up, vigorous, and elastic,

and full of red blood, it will do more to keep you in perfect health and

vigor than almost any other one thing, except an abundance of food, and

plenty of fresh air and exercise. A healthy skin is the best

undergarment ever invented.

Right and Wrong Bathing. The best form of bath is either the tub or

the shower bath; and the cooler the water, provided that you warm up to

it quickly and pleasantly, the greater the tonic effect, the more

exhilaration and pleasure you will get out of it, and the more it will

harden your skin against cold. But it should never under any

circumstances be any cooler than you can readily and pleasantly react,

or warm up to, during the bath and afterward. The habit of plunging into

a great tub of ice-cold water all winter long, except for people of

vigorous constitutions and active habits, may often do quite as much

harm as good. Have your bath water just cool enough to give you a

slight, pleasant shock, as you plunge into it, or turn it on, so that

you will enjoy the glow and sense of exhilaration that follows; and you

will get all the good there is out of the cold bath, and none of the

harm. By beginning with moderately cool water you will find that you

come to enjoy it cooler and cooler. If a bath-room is not at hand, a

large wash-bowl of cool, or cold, water into which you can dip your

hands and splash well over the upper half of your body every morning,

and once or twice a week all over your body, will keep your skin clean

and vigorous. If you cannot warm up properly after a cool bath, there is

something wrong about your habits of life; and you had better change

them, and keep changing them, until you find you can enjoy it. For some

delicate children, a quick plunge into, or splash with, very hot water

in the morning will give somewhat the same tonic effect as stronger ones

can get from cold water.

Warm baths are best taken at night, just before going to bed, though

the danger of catching cold after them on account of their opening up

the pores of the skin, has been very greatly exaggerated. They have,

however, a relaxing effect upon the skin, and take out an undue amount

of the natural oil which nature provides for its oiling and softening,

so that, except for special reasons, it is best not to take them oftener

than once, or twice, a week.

Soaps and Scrubbing Brushes. As part of the perspiration deposited

upon our skins is in the form of a delicate oil, and as this oil may

become mixed with dirt, or dust, and form a mixture not readily soluble

in water, it is at times advisable to add to the water something that

will dissolve oil. The commonest thing used for this purpose is soap,

which is a combination of an alkali--most commonly soda, though

occasionally potash (lye) is used in the soft soaps--with a fat or an

oil. The combination of the two, which we call soap, has been invented

for two reasons; one, that it makes a convenient, solid form in which

the alkali, needed to dissolve the body oil, can be used in such

strength as not to burn or injure the skin; the other, that the fat in

the soap will, to some extent, take the place of the natural oil, or

fat, which it washes off.

Necessary as soap is, it should be used very moderately. You should

never lather and scrub your skin as if it were a kitchen floor, for the

reason that, with the dirt, the alkali also washes and dissolves out a

considerable amount of the natural oil of the skin, and leaves it harsh

and dry. On this account, it is best not to use soap upon the covered

portions of the body, and in the full bath, oftener than once or twice a

week; and upon the face, oftener than once or twice a day. But the hands

may be washed with soap more frequently.

It is also best to avoid the too frequent use of hot water, even upon

the hands and face, for the same reason; it takes out too much of the

natural oil of the skin, along with the dirt. Unless the dirt be of some

infectious, or offensive, character, it is often best to content

yourself with washing off just the big dirt, and wait for the bubbling

up of the perspiration through your skin to bring the deeper dirt up to

the surface, and wash that off later, in the course of two or three


Soaps to be Avoided. Soaps that lather too quickly and easily should

always be avoided, for this shows that they contain an excessive amount

of soda or other alkali. It is also best to avoid, or at least be very

wary of, any soaps which are dark-colored or heavily perfumed, as these

disguises may indicate the presence of decaying, offensive fats, and

even of grease extracted from garbage. This is what strong perfumes in

soaps are chiefly used for. Beware of all such, and especially of tar

soaps, for the black color and the strong odor of tar can cover up any

amount of bad quality.

Medicated soaps (soaps containing medicines) are also best let alone.

They are only fit to be used on the advice of a doctor. Most of them are

out and out humbugs, and make up for their richness in drugs by their

poorness in good, pure fat and alkali. Moreover, what may suit one

particular diseased condition of the skin is quite as likely to be

injurious as helpful to another. Any drug which has the power of curing

disease is almost certain to be irritating to a healthy skin; and

nothing can be put into a soap beyond pure, sweet fat, or oil, and good

soda, which will make it any better, or more wholesome, for a healthy

skin. If your skin be red, or itchy, or scaly, or out of condition in

any way, go to a doctor and get the appropriate treatment for that

particular disease, instead of smearing on the surface of your body some

drug of which you know nothing, in the hope of its being the proper

thing for the little patch of diseased skin.

Avoid Using Skin Brushes. Scrubbing brushes and skin brushes of all

sorts should be used even more sparingly than soap or hot water, for the

same reason. Nature did not coat us over with either boards or rubber,

but with delicate, velvety, sensitive, living skin worth ten times as

much as any sort of leather, bark, rubber, or cloth, for resisting cold,

heat, and injuries. It is most important for the health of the skin that

we keep that velvety coating unscratched and unbroken. The use of

brushes and bristles of all sorts, therefore, should be chiefly

restricted to the hair and the finger nails, as for every ounce of dirt

that they take out of the skin, they do a pound of damage to it. They

scrub off the delicate epidermis, as well as the natural oil in it, and

leave it dry and irritated and ready to crack open. Then more dirt gets

into the cracks just formed, and more scrubbing with bristles and hot

water and soap is indulged in to get it out. This opens the cracks still

further, and the next layer of dirt is worked in still deeper. Wash

frequently with cold or cool water, occasionally with hot water, and

sparingly with soap; and limit the use of brushes to the nails and the