I’m ambivalent about New Year’s resolutions in the best of times. Finding one to kick off this particular new year feels extra onerous, thanks to the sociopolitical dumpster fire that our modern milieu has become. With issues like climate change, affordable health care, and systemic injustice in the offing, I long for the days when “getting in shape” or “making new friends” felt like a stretch goal.
That’s why my unofficial resolution is to spend more time in the bathtub. When the daily news makes me want to pull the covers up over my head, I choose instead to bravely stand up, cast aside my clothes, and sink into the womb-like warmth of a steaming tub. The darkness of the room combines with the warm, weightless oblivion of the water to fuzz out the burdensome nature of this modern life. I focus on a candle flame or on the sonorous echoes of a calming playlist and feel the care and worry draining from my muscles and joints. By the time the water has gone tepid, I feel pleasantly exhausted, a little light-headed, too drunkenly relaxed to worry or analyze or self-educate anymore.
So imagine my surprise when I learned that the bath might actually be the perfect place to start changing the world. This revolutionary idea comes from Tim Hollinger, co-founder of the San Francisco’s Bathing Culture. What started as a chat about the joys of taking a bath (and a bit of fanning out from me about the brand’s Mind-Body Wash — more on that later) turned into an inspiring pep talk on how turning simple hygiene into a conscious ritual can bring people together and energize them for public service.
“We want to bring people together around the concept of bathing as a community endeavor,” says Hollinger. “Going into this decade, we need everyone. There’s a lot of work to do — environmental and social and political challenges. To address them, we have to be well-rested and come from a really clean foundation.”
“There is a lot of baggage when it comes to men’s comfort level with taking care of themselves. It’s been really important to us to make bath products that aren’t crazy gendered — they’re just tools to get you clean and make you feel better.”
When Hollinger says “clean,” he means more than scrubbing behind the ears. He’s talking about the holistic impact that a product carries with it, from how it affects the body it’s absorbed into, to how the ingredients are harvested and processed, to what happens to the product once it disappears down the drain. “When we think about elevating bathing, we look at the food movement as an example. People today recognize that what they eat really makes a difference. In bathing products, that has been largely ignored. We want to make sure that what we’re using is abundant and responsibly harvested.”
Despite the age-old tradition of bathhouses as places where men bonded, bragged, and brokered big deals, taking a bath is viewed today as an unexceptionally gendered practice — a pastime for pampered housewives with a glass of Chardonnay in hand. But Roman senators, Japanese priests, Russian oligarchs, and other bath takers of past eras would have scoffed at the Calgon lady.
“Somehow it got characterized that cleanliness isn’t a manly thing,” says Hollinger. “There is a lot of baggage when it comes to men’s comfort level with taking care of themselves. It’s been really important to us to make bath products that aren’t crazy gendered — they’re just tools to get you clean and make you feel better.”
“The world is such a stressful place for everyone right now that it doesn’t matter who you are, you need the opportunity to take care of yourself. It’s OK for men to do that, and you’ll be a better person if you do.”
For Hollinger and his cofounder, Spencer Arnold, bathing evolved into a ritual as an extension of their outdoor adventures. When you’re cold and exhausted from a dawn patrol surf session or caked in mud after a 20-mile endurance run through the Marin Headlands, Hollinger says, there’s nothing worse than returning home to a quick, utilitarian shower with harsh products full of synthetic ingredients and chemical fragrance. “Just why?” he laughs. “You can have it so much better. Taking a bath is such an incredible reward, a celebration of what you just accomplished. It’s connecting the joy of getting dirty with the joy of getting clean.”
That joy is only amplified when you share it. That can mean anything from inviting a romantic partner to join you in a long, luxurious soak, to seeking out a natural pool or hot spring with a group of intrepid friends. Or you can get extra creative—Tim and Spencer launched Bathing Culture with a Sand and Sink Summit, where they dug sinks into the beach and invited a motley crew of van lifers, rock climbers, yoga teachers, and other happy, dirty folk to come clean up together. And in just a few days, they’re heading up to the woods for an off-the-grid party complete with a wood-fired hot tub and a mobile sauna.
But it can also be as simple as gifting your favorite bath product to a friend who seems extra stressed out. “The world is such a stressful place for everyone right now that it doesn’t matter who you are, you need the opportunity to take care of yourself. It’s OK for men to do that, and you’ll be a better person if you do.”
Best Bath Products for Men
Bathing Culture Mind and Body Wash
If you’re going to turn up your bath with just one product, this should be it. The perfect blend of science and soul, the Mind and Body Wash is made from natural moisturizers like olive oil, coconut oil, aloe, and shea, and smells like the Pacific forest after a rain. The appeal of this plant- and mineral-infused wash crosses all societal boundaries — its fans include dirtbags, techies, athletes, and a 60-year-old Oakland mechanic named Ron who borrowed his wife’s bottle and now buys it in bulk. (True story.)
Bathing Culture Dipsea Bath Soak
Hollinger’s personal bath time regimen can be yours with this heady mix of magnesium, Himalayan salt, and plant medicine. Even as the trace minerals revive your tired muscles, the petrichor smell will have you dreaming of your next outdoor adventure.
Juniper Ridge Body Oil
Along with working great as a personal fragrance, Juniper Ridge’s body oils make a beautiful addition to the bath. The jojoba-almond-coconut oil base imbues your bath with rich moisture, and the wildcrafted essential oils transport you to the natural paradise of your dreams. We love the Desert Cedar scent for how it calls to mind the dry, sharp air of the High Sierras.
Hellen New York Bath Brew
Therapeutic earth salts mix with organic essential oils, flower petals, and a little woo-woo energy to cleanse your energetic blocks. Every jar of Hellen Bath Brew comes with a 20-minute custom soundscape that coordinates with the brew’s specific healing properties to recharge your chakras. Getting weird in the bath never felt so good.
Ritual of the Samurai Bath Foam
Channel the ancient Japanese practice of Gyōzui with this bath oil’s skin-nourishing bamboo extract and musky scent of sandalwood.
UpWest Just Breathe Bath Bomb
In the time of the ancient Egyptians and for millennia that followed, milk baths were regularly practiced by the wealthy. Sounds weird, but the fat, protein, and lactic acid in milk make skin clean, soft, and supple. The frothy texture of this soothing milk bath includes skin-nourishing vitamins from macadamia and avocado oils and a restorative eucalyptus scent.
The Ultimate Bath Experience
This is the ultra bath experience, according to Hollinger:
The farmer’s market is a pretty clutch way to take your bath to the next level. Right now in California, citrus is going off, and there’s nothing like peeling an orange while you’re in the bath — letting the juice drip all over the place gives this amazing smell as the citrus oils hit the water. In the summer, you can use herbs, fresh strawberries, or a fresh peach is just out-of-control good.
I love a good book of poems while I’m in the bath. I’ll read a couple while I’m soaking — it makes you feel like you’ve accomplished so much, while simply relaxing.
One of the things that’s really changed my bath game is adding a little jojoba oil, magnesium, and CBD into my post-workout bath. That stuff helps so much, especially with the mineral deficiency most of us have. After a really intense workout, like triathlon training, those ingredients really helped my recovery.
I’m a big fan of Fat and the Moon, their shampoo and their after-bath body oil. They’re such good people, based in northern California, and their products are wonderful.
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