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Baths And Bathing

Source: 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

Next: Care Of The Nails

Previous: Clothing

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