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Bathing Beauty

Regular whole-body bathing is a necessity for successful skin and hair care, but as with most laudable things in life, you can overindulge. We're not talking about the pruny wrinkles you get on your fingers and other sensitive spots when you linger too long in your bath; those are caused by excessive skin hydration (if there is such a thing), and of course they're temporary. Water itself isn't particularly dangerous to the skin; your skin itself tends to be airtight, so you can't really get waterlogged. The real culprit is the you use -- or, more specifically, the detergents in it.

Detergents are large molecules whose most important characteristic is their ability to get oil and water to mix. Oddly enough, they make water molecules wetter than normal, so they're less likely to stick to each other and more likely to attach to oils and grime. The detergent molecules themselves are also more likely to stick to oils. See the connection here? Obviously soap is much better at getting you clean than plain water, and it's absolutely necessary for removing dirt, old makeup, excess oils, and dead cells from your skin. On the other hand, overuse of some soaps, especially the commercial kinds made from petrochemicals, can be harsh on your skin, throwing off its natural balance of moisture and protection. The result can be dryer skin than normal. The same thing's true with your hair: excess shampooing or harsh shampoos can strip away too many essential hair oils, leaving your tresses dry and lifeless no matter what hair conditioner you use.

Whether you prefer brief, vigorous showers or long, luxurious soaks in a tub, all it takes is a little forethought to conserve your skin. Rather than use harsh commercial brands of soap, bathe with soaps specially formulated to be kind to your skin; a little research will turn up dozens, mostly produced by beauty products manufacturers. Alternately, consider using natural soaps and shampoos, which are usually made from vegetable oils and floral products. These soaps generally smell good enough to eat, and some of them contain bits of ground-up flower or oatmeal to help you gently scrub away the grunge. It wouldn't hurt to use a loofah too, at least occasionally, to strip away old skin cells and give your skin that freshly scrubbed glow.

Bubble baths are a great way to relax and unwind, as many of us well know, but even here you need to be aware of what you're doing. You'll find a wide variety of bath oils, bath beads, and bath salts on the market, all of which are formulated to smell marvelous and enhance your bubble bath experience (which, of course, should always be accompanied by a locked bathroom door, candlelight, and quiet music). Alas, while some bubble bath formulas contain oils to help balance your skin, all bubble baths contain more than their share of soap -- as anyone who's unwisely put a tiny bit into a whirlpool bath can attest. (Imagine a six-foot tall, bathtub-shaped tower of foam). Given the soap content, the overuse of any bubble bath mixture can cause the same problems as any other soap, particularly when it comes to drying the skin. Some women and young girls develop rashes after using bubble bath, possibly due to the perfuming agents, and urinary tract infections are not unheard of. These occur because the soap in the mixture is undiscriminating: in addition to removing dirt and grease, it can strip certain delicate mucous membranes of the protection they require.

Basically, bubble baths are great, but take it easy with them. Because some ingredients can cause drying, choose a product that includes a moisturizer -- Vitamin E and aloe vera work particularly well. Your reaction can also depend on your skin type: if you've got dry skin, you can still take that tension-draining bubble bath, but warm water's better for you than hot water. The same is true if you're pregnant.

Unsurprisingly, you can also find all-natural bubble bath mixtures to sooth any potential problems. These mixtures lack the harsh detergents and other chemicals found in most bubble baths (particularly the ever popular sodium laureate sulfate and DEA), and are often specially formulated for delicate skin. This being the case, you're unlikely to experience any irritation from natural bubble bath mixtures -- but you may not get as clean as you would with the commercial brands, either. This is because natural mixtures often use the same mixtures available in most natural soaps, generally with the addition of herbal extracts like chamomile. Often they're also doped with pleasant-smelling scents for aromatherapy purposes. Because of their lack or near-lack of detergents, you'll probably have to help them along in the foaming department by vigorously attacking the water in the tub. So if someone a
good reason (no matter how fun it is). 

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