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People say that the softening and skin-whitening benefits of milk baths have been enjoyed by centuries-old civilizations, ancient Romans and Egyptians being one of them. The tradition seemed to live on and became embraced later in the United States as well – washing the face with raw milk was very popular in the 1800s.
Bathing in milk may sound like going a bit too far, but don't discard the idea just yet. Milk is filled with proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fats our skin loves because of their nourishing and soothing properties.
So, if you're in search of a natural remedy for dry and irritated skin – or if you just want to feel like Cleopatra for at least a little while – you've come to the right place. We're about to share all the benefits of milk baths for the skin, as well as an easy-to-follow milk bath recipe for a spa-worthy experience.
What Is a Milk Bath?
As the name itself suggests, a milk bath is a bath that contains milk. It can be made completely of milk or, the more modern version, warm water mixed with either liquid or powdered milk.
Besides milk and water, other ingredients are usually added to milk baths, such as colloidal oatmeal, salts, flowers, herbs, essential oils, and honey. You can enjoy a soothing milk bath in a spa combined with a massage or any other treatment they might offer, or you can DIY it at home (perfect for cold winter nights when you're reluctant to leave your warm nest).
However, if you're doing a milk bath at home, you'll have to give your tub a good scrub afterward. And make sure not to leave any milk residue, as it can mold quickly.
Milk baths are gentle and suitable for any skin type, making them safe for anybody. However, if you're allergic to milk, you should skip milk baths. Also, unless you're using breast milk, we wouldn't recommend it for your youngsters either, as their skin is still very vulnerable and you never know how it will react to the exfoliating properties of, say, cow or goat milk.
What Are the Benefits of Milk Baths?
Milk contains a bunch of skin-loving ingredients that nourish and soften skin, such as:
- Proteins, like casein and beta-lactoglobulin, one of the major whey proteins;
- Minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, zinc, and phosphorus;
- Vitamins like folate, vitamin C, and a wide range of B vitamins;
- Fats, including mostly saturated fatty acids.
Even though there's no scientific research that proves the skin benefits of milk baths, word of mouth is that a long soak in a warm milk bath may benefit you in these ways:
- Gentle exfoliation: Milk is loaded with lactic acid, especially buttermilk and sour milk. Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that lightly exfoliates the skin. Alongside glycolic and mandelic acid, lactic acid is often a part of skincare products used for exfoliation. As a result, bathing in a milk bath will exfoliate the surface layer of the skin, removing the dry, dead skin cells and leaving the skin brighter and smoother;
- Softening and hydration: Due to the high amount of proteins, vitamins, and fatty acids in milk, bathing in it will make your skin feel softer, hydrated, and nourished. Milk also coats your skin, making it silky to the touch right after the soak;
- Soothing inflammation: Another perk of vitamins and proteins-rich milk bath is calming milder inflammations, such as rash and sunburn. Plus, as it creates a silky film on the skin, it provides additional moisturizing benefits, relieving irritated skin and damaged skin barrier.
Besides the potential benefits that a milk bath may offer your skin, soaking in a warm milk bath sprinkled with a variety of essential oils and herbs can also relax your body and mind.
What Type of Milk Is Best for Milk Baths?
If you want to DIY a milk bath at home but don't know what type of milk to choose – no worries! Here's a quick run-through of the most common kinds of milk used in baths:
- Cow's milk: Maybe the most apparent option, as almost every household has it. Choose whole milk as it has the best moisturizing and softening properties;
- Buttermilk: If you're doing a milk bath because of its exfoliating benefits, go for buttermilk, as it has loads of lactic acid;
- Plant-based milk: If you're vegan but don't want to miss out on the luxurious feel of a milk bath, you can add coconut milk, oat milk, soy milk, or almond milk to your bath. These won't have the same effect, but they can still feel nice and can give your skin a soft feel thanks to the fats they contain;
- Goat's milk: Due to the thicker and creamier consistency than cow's milk, goat's milk will give your bath a richer feel. Besides, it was Cleopatra's favorite choice after all;
- Breast milk: If you're nursing, the best way to use up the extra breast milk is to add it to your or your baby's bath;
- Dried, powdered milk: If you're a fan of foamy baths, go for your favorite type of milk in a powdered form. These will also have a longer shelf life and leave your tub less messy.
How to Make a Milk Bath at Home
Making your own milk bath at home is quick and easy – all you need is a bathtub, 1 cup of milk of your choice, and half an hour of peace and quiet. Of course, for the extra skincare benefits, you can always add other ingredients to your bath, like essential oils, salts, and carrier oils.
To make the most out of your calming bath time, we suggest lighting a few relaxing aromatherapy candles. Some options that never fail are chamomile, lavender, or jasmine candles, or pick any other scent that will soothe your senses.
So, here's our favorite recipe for a DIY milk bath:
DIY Soothing Milk Bath Recipe
In this recipe, we're mixing both raw cow's milk as well as powdered milk. Adding powdered milk to your milk bath will make it foamier. However, you can opt for using one or the other, in which case, we'd suggest doubling its quantity (so use 2 cups of whole cow's milk or two cups of powdered milk of your choice instead of one cup each).
- 1 cup whole cow's milk
- 1 cup powdered milk (powdered goat's milk, cow's milk, or buttermilk)
- 1/2 cup Epsom salt
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- 3 tablespoons sweet almond oil
- 10-15 drops sandalwood essential oil (*optional)
- In a large bowl, combine the whole milk, powdered milk, Epsom salt, and baking soda. Stir until well combined.
- Add the sweet almond oil and the essential oil, if using, and stir until evenly distributed.
- Fill your bathtub with warm water, then add the milk bath mixture. Stir the water to evenly distribute the ingredients.
- Soak in the bath for at least 20 minutes, allowing the milk to nourish and moisturize your skin.
- Rinse off with lukewarm water, then pat dry with a towel but leave your skin a bit damp.
- Follow up with a nourishing moisturizer or body lotion to lock all that hydration in.
You can also add other ingredients to the milk bath, such as honey, colloidal oatmeal, or dried herbs (like dried rose petals, dried chamomile, or dried peppermint leaves), to further nourish and soothe your skin. Experiment with different combinations to find your perfect milk bath recipe!
Note: Avoid mixing in essential oils, salts, and honey if you're making a milk bath for your baby. For the sensitive baby's skin, it would be best to keep the bath simple – only blend breast milk and colloidal oatmeal with warm water.
After a milk bath, you'll feel relaxed and refreshed, with softer, more moisturized skin. The milk in the bath can help to soothe and nourish the skin, while the warm water can help to relax any tension you might feel in your muscles.
The addition of essential oils or other ingredients can also provide additional benefits, such as reducing inflammation or relieving stress. Overall, a milk bath can be a relaxing and pampering experience that leaves you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
How long should you sit in a milk bath?
You should sit in a warm milk bath for about 20 minutes. However, there are no hard and fast rules, and you can soak in the bath as long as it feels pleasant, but try not to do it for longer than 30 minutes.
How often should you take milk baths?
Milk contains lactic acid, which gently exfoliates the skin. Therefore, don't overdo it with milk baths, and take them once or twice a week. If you take milk baths more often than that, you might risk skin irritation.
Do you need to rinse after a milk bath?
The milk in your milk bath will coat your skin, so you should always rinse after taking it and make sure to wash off any milk residue. If you don't, any milk leftovers may irritate your skin and leave a foul odor.
What happens if you bathe in milk?
Milk baths have nourishing, softening, and skin-brightening effects on the skin. After the bath, your skin will feel smoother and hydrated, and you'll generally feel more relaxed.
Do milk baths lighten skin?
The lactic acid in milk has exfoliating properties, which means that bathing in milk can have skin-lightening effects after a while. If you're taking milk baths to achieve this benefit specifically, we'd suggest using milk that contains load of lactic acid, like buttermilk or sour milk.