The Vitabath Tub Is Always Greener

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Vitabath entered my life the way religion or milk preferences sometimes enter a child’s: imperceptibly and always dictated by surrounding adults. I was older than a child—16 to be exact—and the adults in this scenario were actually my boyfriend's family and not my own. They were a funny and caring family. And their home was always stocked with Vitabath. The white bottle with green label, unfailingly tucked into a corner of the tub.

The boyfriend and I didn't last, so neither did my relationship with Vitabath. Then, on a recent Friday night, I took a soak in a family friend’s tub. Reaching for the nearest soap I could find, I squeezed some gel into my palm. I sat up, stunned. I know this smell, I thought. I looked down. I know that bottle. I turned it around. I know that name.

“Originally developed in 1957 by European Skincare Specialists,” the Original Spring Green Gelée was initially only available in Europe. In a 2001 The New York Times Magazine article, then beauty editor Mary Tannen proclaimed that giving the gift of Vitabath “would mark you as a sophisticated and worldly, yet caring, person of impeccable taste.”

Highly viscous and intensely green, the gelée smells strongly of leaves but that evaporates as it lathers. When generously glugged into a tub, the water, in Tannen’s words, transforms into “a silken sea.” The result, thanks to vitamins A and E and horse chestnut extract, is always smooth, clean skin.

Though the packaging is apparently no longer as elegant as it once was (a thin gold stripe used to appear around the box) and the formula, for a time, underwent mass market degradation, Vitabath, like the family that indirectly introduced me to it, represents straightforward sophistication. “Every woman needs it,” is an old Vitabath tag line. I, along with their strong but small contingent, am apt to agree. (Why else would they sell a gallon size product for $99 if demand didn’t exist?)

Its longevity is surprising considering its marketed benefits include only cleansing and moisturizing in an increasingly productive and rapidly disposable economy. And while I know it’s not kosher to crib my final line from another a beauty review, here’s one from the Vermont Country Store that encapsulates my thoughts perfectly: “As much as my eleven-year-old self loved Vitabath, the adult me appreciates it even more.”

—Alexis Cheung

Photographed by Tom Newton.