At this time of year, many of us are eager for an escape from winter’s barrage of cold days. The good news is you don’t have to travel far for a warm and restorative experience: Whisk yourself off to your bathroom and get in the tub. “I consider a bath a meditation,” says Greg Macdonald, who finds that the aquatic activity offers the stillness and reflection of a yoga session. The founder and CEO of Bathorium, an Ottawa-based line of clean-beauty bathing products, takes to the water five nights a week. As a young boy growing up in a bustling multi-generational household with three brothers, Macdonald discovered that the bath was the only place he could find refuge. “Even as a 12-year-old kid, I loved the bath, and at that age I wasn’t necessarily interested in what was in it—it was more that I loved the ritual behind it,” he says. The mindful wellness act also resonates with Sarah Laroche, founder and CEO of SELV Rituel, a vegan body-and-bath wellness brand offering handmade products from Montreal. “A bath gives you time to slow down, relax, recharge and take care of your body and mind,” she says.

With a little fine tuning, a bath can transcend mere cleansing to become so much more. During the pandemic—a time when she was struggling with sleep, confined to her small apartment and in the throes of a tough breakup—Samantha Jane, a Toronto beauty-content creator and co-host of the Pretty Blunt podcast, developed a nightly bath ritual that’s now a weekly routine. “I treat my bath like my couch, so whatever I’d be doing on the couch in the evenings is what I do in the bath,” she says. That can include taking phone calls, scrolling TikTok or watching Netflix. “I think what stopped me from getting in the bath before was that I felt it had to be about checking out and sitting in silence,” she says. “But I realized I don’t need to do that. It doesn’t have to be the most classy and enlightening experience of all time to be relaxing.” Embracing every facet of self-care, Jane also notes that waterproof sex toys shouldn’t be overlooked. “It’s really been about getting more comfortable figuring out what a bath looks like for me,” she says. 

Set the scene

Whatever your bath-time plan, the first step to elevating your experience is to create a soothing ambience. Turn off overhead lighting and light some candles to set the mood. “That scene from Friends when Chandler and Monica get engaged? That’s my bathroom on any given evening,” says Macdonald. “I light it up because it creates an atmosphere and helps me slow down.” You’ll also want to clear your space—in every sense. “I have a cat litter box in my bathroom, so that gets taken out,” says Jane. “And the cats get locked out too—no one’s coming in.” Laroche’s essentials also include playing music, burning incense and filling the space with crystals. Lastly, be prepared to stay hydrated by having ice water on hand to sip as you soak so you can replenish lost fluids. “The key to being able to stay in a hot bath is drinking tons of cold water,” says Jane, who keeps all her necessities within reach. “Investing in a bathtub tray that can prop up an iPad and has a drink slot has been a game-changer.” 

Pass the salt

The big secret to a first-class bath is using multiple ingredients to transform tap water into a skin-soothing concoction. “You want the water to feel like silk,” says Macdonald. He was inspired to start his line—which is now also featured on bath menus at Shangri-La hotels in Toronto and Vancouver—after a backpacking trip through Europe in 2014. A stop in Positano, Italy, led to an “aha” moment courtesy of a beautiful claw-footed tub and a knowledgeable nona who drew him a bath. “It was the most decadent, creamy and amazing-smelling bath I’ve ever been in,” he says, recalling the mixture she made up with bath salts, oils and shavings of cocoa butter that melted under the hot running water.

At home, it’s easy to customize your bath by blending salts, oils and bubble baths that deliver different benefits. For a bougie boost, Macdonald recommends incorporating a dose of lactic acid by pouring in half to one litre of light cream or homogenized goat or cow milk. “It creates this dreamy Cleopatra experience, and lactic acid is a natural exfoliant, which is great for dry, irritated skin,” he says. “It also helps disperse the salts and essential oils throughout the bath.”

Next, try an ancient remedy by adding one to two cups of Dead Sea or Epsom salts. “Our Dead Sea salt pool is rich in minerals such as magnesium, calcium, iodine and potassium, and this helps replenish the body’s nutrients,” says Laura Polley, president and CEO of Body Blitz Spa, a Toronto spot focused on the healing power of water-circuit therapy. “It also helps ease dry, flaky skin and eczema.” Epsom salts also have anti-inflammatory properties, which is helpful when you’re feeling sore or achy. The magnesium content helps regulate enzymes and relieves muscle and joint discomfort. “Our Epsom-salt pool deeply relaxes the body, releases stress and tension and can help offset fatigue, resulting in improved sleep,” says Polley. “It’s also a natural exfoliant and can leave skin feeling soft and hydrated.” Once salt is added, you can move on to oils (which will help protect the skin’s barrier) and foaming products to further enrich the water. “[Bath salts] kill bubbles, so it’s best to add them in before layering other products; otherwise, you’ll end up with a flat bath,” says Macdonald.

Nature knows best

Scent-wise, a herbal-forward profile is guaranteed to be soothing. Jane favours calming lavender and eucalyptus, Macdonald is a fan of sage and coriander seed and Laroche has a soft spot for the balsam-fir oil that’s harvested from her family’s land and used in her oil blends. “It gives me the ultimate sense of relaxation,” she says. “The smell reminds me of childhood— those sweet, innocent wide-eyed moments.” Lean into a scent that takes you to your own happy place. 

Water world

Take inspiration from some bath traditions from across the globe. 

An onsen, which means “hot spring” in Japanese, is a bath fed by a naturally occurring hot spring that is rich in mineral content. Enjoyment of these dates back to AD 700, and thousands can be found across the volcanic island country. 

The sauna (pronounced “sow-na”)—a building or room traditionally constructed with logs and heated by a wood-burning oven topped with stones—has long provided a warm place to sweat out those frosty Finnish winters. 

Known as “hammams” and historically built for public use, ancient Turkish baths go hand in hand with a ritual that involves resting on a heated marble slab, being doused with buckets of water and exfoliating skin using a kese, or woven washcloth. 

The turquoise waters of the world-renowned Blue Lagoon spa are enriched with silica, algae and minerals, and the geothermal destination is also home to a restorative mud that visitors can slather themselves in. 

The life aquatic

Aquala Bath Caddy, Umbra

Price: $60


Kip Vibrator, Dame

Price: $130


Northern Sage Recovery Crush, Bathorium

Price: $30