Everybody enjoys taking a nice hot bath or shower, especially when the weather is cold outside. Many houses around the world today enjoy private bathrooms with hot running water but, there was a time when bathing was quite different to the blissful experience we enjoy today. So, where did the idea of bathing start and what was it like ‘back in the day’? Well, humans have been bathing for thousands of years and it is most likely that we started out using what was available to us – the ocean, rivers and lakes. It wasn’t until the industrious Romans began settling larger cities that small basins and bathing houses were introduced. The Romans enjoyed bathing so much that they built large aqueducts, which were designed to bring water to public bathhouses, where people met to socialise, gossip, do business, and even eat. Cleanliness and beauty were also an important part of these meet-and-greets.
In the ancient world, not everybody had private baths in their homes. So, most people frequented public bathhouses because it was the only place available to clean away the days toil. Greeks used baths to tone their bodies with cold water and they were the first to invent the shower with lead pipes making water available above the head, for rapid cleaning. Archeologists found cylinders that contained a mixture of fats and ashes, which may be the first soap recipe people ever used. Ashes, sand, clay, pumice, and oils were used for cleaning and removing dirt from the skin and were some of the first beauty products people ever used.
"The Romans enjoyed bathing so much that they built large aqueducts, which were designed to bring water to public bathhouses, where people met to socialise, gossip, do business, and even eat."
The Romans turned the ritual of cleaning through bathing into what we might experience in a day spa today. Their bathhouses were very complex for those times, some of them having various chambers that would induce sweating by gradually increasing the rooms temperature. First you would begin in an “apodyterium”, a room where people could store their clothes before entering the baths. Then the bather would enter the cold room or “frigidarium”, where there were tanks with cold water. Next was the warm room or “tepidarium”, where the temperature slightly increased. And, finally, the hot room or “caldarium”, where the temperature was similar to today’s sauna, with the help of a brazier located underneath a hollow floor. The same room had basins with cold water, where a person could add steam.
The ancient Egyptians were known for their preoccupation with body cleanliness, beauty, and aesthetics. When bathing, the Egyptians used a kind of soap that contained clay or ash, which was also scented. They also mixed oils, which could be of vegetable or animal origins, with alkaline salts, again for the creation of soap, which was used for cleaning but also for treating skin illnesses. It is also known that the Egyptians used various unguents to protect the skin against the sun, oils to keep it hydrated, and perfume for giving the skin a pleasant scent.
"Ashes, sand, clay, pumice, and oils were used for cleaning and removing dirt from the skin and were some of the first beauty products people ever used."
These rituals, developed around 400AD created the bathing experience we know and love today. The theory behind the aqueduct has allowed us to have water piped directly to our homes so we can enjoy our own private bathing experience. From the ancient soaps and oils of old, a beauty industry worth billions of dollars has developed, as we enjoy all kinds of tinctures and tonics and continue the traditions handed to us from hundreds of years ago.