Given that chemistry is the branch of science that examines different elements and how these change in various circumstances, we can see how it is key to the alchemy of bathing, which draws together different substances to create a restorative effect.
Historically, salt has been held in high esteem in relation to healing and bathing. The Peng-Tzao-Kan-Mu, a Chinese pharmacology book written in 2700 BC, lists 40 different types of salt, as well as how they might best be used. Ancient Greek and Roman doctors also held strong beliefs about the healing properties of salts, especially for skin conditions and aches. And, of course, mineral baths and spas became popular and even fashionable in Europe in the 18th century, sparking renewed interest in balneology: the study of bathing.
Anyone who has ever swum in the sea will be able to testify to how revitalising salt water is – but why? Thanks to the presence of minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium and bromide, salt water has the ability to detoxify and purify, as well as to relax the muscles and restore balance in the body’s many systems and organs. That said, different salts have different qualities – for example, Dead Sea Salt contains higher than average levels of zinc, calcium, iodine and potassium – all of which can be used to ameliorate skin conditions – while Epsom Salt is rich in magnesium sulphate, making it useful for the treatment of aches, pains and spasms. Himalayan salt, as well as looking pretty with its pinkish hue, is packed with 84 different minerals, including potassium, magnesium and iron; as such, it is celebrated for its ability to alleviate various skin conditions, including psoriasis and acne, and to reduce discomfort from muscle and joint pain, and insect bites.
Clay is a substance that’s been celebrated for its health and beauty benefits for centuries. Although different types of clays have their own, unique properties, they’re generally celebrated for the fact that they possess a high mineral content, and can be used as a mask on the hair and skin to draw out impurities. Some examples of popular clays – and their properties – are Black ‘Aussie’ Clay, which is high in iron; and Fuller’s Earth Clay, which can be used to tighten the skin and absorb excess oils. Kaolin clay does not extract impurities, but is useful for sensitive skin and can stimulate circulation, while Rhassoul clay is highly absorbent, and therefore useful for oily hair and complexions, as well as being high in calcium, sodium and magnesium.
Oils are also chemicals playing an important role in skin and hair care, because they are full of antioxidants and vitamins – particularly vitamins A, D, E and K. Oils are well known to help with moisturising the skin but, contrary to common belief, they are actually beneficial to facial care as well, depending on the type of oil used. For instance, Hazelnut oil is good for oily skins, while sesame oil is better suited for dry skins.
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