Soaking in your own filth for 15, 30, 45 minutes at a time. Running the dirt-ridden water through your hair over and over. You dump in another handful of Epsom salt and turn on the jets. “This is relaxation,” you tell yourself as you splash the sudsy liquid onto your face. But soap and water aren’t the only substances coating your skin.
Baths have been a part of wellness for centuries, as ancient Greeks grew the popularity of taking baths for many ailments including skin conditions and muscular pains. The Romans continued the practice of bathing and further developed the use of spas and warm baths as treatments. While baths were a popular community activity for the Romans, we have progressively eliminated the practice of daily community bathing. Although, only recently have we stopped reusing a single bath of water for a full family. In the early 1900s, most Americans had a systematic bathing order in which family members bathed from the same tub: father, mother, and then the children. Since the development of germ theory and more accessible plumbing, reusing bathwater between people has largely diminished.
Although Americans have improved their bathing hygiene, many people still don’t realize how disgusting their bathtubs are. What seems to be a calming and cleansing experience is more like sitting in a bowl filled with urine, dead skin cells, dirt, and bacteria. The average person sheds 7,500 skin cells every 15 minutes. Take that number and add on the extra cells sloughed off by your exfoliant, and you have a considerable mass of dead skin floating in your bathtub, surrounding your body during what is supposed to be a hygienic practice.
Unlike bathtubs, showers offer a less contaminated cleansing experience. In addition to decreasing exposure to dirt and dead skin cells, showers are less damaging to the skin. Baths can be helpful for people with skin conditions like eczema because being in a bath allows for the topical application of different soothing treatments. However, baths also tend to remove natural oils from the skin, leaving it more prone to irritation and in need of a strong moisturizer. Adding products like bubbles or salts can also have adverse effects on the rest of the body. Bubble baths are responsible for many urinary tract infections in both children and adults. Bath bombs, scrubs, and soaps can alter the pH of your body, making it susceptible to infections.
Aside from the contaminated bath water itself, bath tools are ideal environments for growing fungi and bacteria, which can be particularly dangerous if children’s toys are left in the tub. By continuing the practice of making bathtime a leisurely entertainment experience, people have introduced more objects that can harbor living contaminants. This bacterial growth doesn’t have to be as obvious as a visible mold to present a problem. Biofilms can exist as transparent slime, or even as a layer inside of children’s bath toys. The types and amount of bacteria on a bath toy’s surface vary, but in one study, 80% of bath toys with biofilm had potentially pathogenic bacteria, including E.coli, that could make a child sick. While gluing openings on bath toys may prevent black mold from growing inside of them, their surfaces are still susceptible to the fungi and bacteria-ridden biofilm. If kids have to take a bath, it is important to regularly wash their toys.
Children’s bath toys aren’t the only bath objects harboring unwelcome guests. Sponges, loofahs, and washcloths can be magnets for bacteria whether you are in a bath or a shower. Assuming you bathe every day, your six-month-old loofah is harboring about 180 days worth of skin cells, dirt, and bacteria. Not to mention, as a loofah exfoliates your skin in a warm environment, it opens the pores in your skin and transfers remnants of bacteria from one body part to the next, day after day. Since these tools are used in a moist environment, they never fully dry and are often left without much light exposure, which creates favorable conditions for bacteria to multiply. Dip these bacteria-ridden tools in the contaminated bath water filling your unwashed tub, and you are sitting in quite the bacterial concoction.
Before modern plumbing, taking a bath was the most feasible option for self-cleansing. We come from a long history of using baths as a place of wellness and healing, and while we have deviated from the social aspect of bathing, the practice itself is a tradition that seems hard to lose for many. However, it’s 2020, and sitting in our own filth sounds rather primitive. If taking a bath is a luxury that you can’t abandon, at least shower before and after your bath and ditch the over-used loofah. But really, please don’t take a bath.