About halfway through my search for truth and meaning in life, I decided to make some bath bombs.
It was part of this phase I was going through, or maybe have gone through my entire life, when you realize no one does anything right so you'll just have to do it yourself. Most of the time this backfires on me, which is why now I pay my sister to do my taxes.
But seriously, why are you paying a Burger King's ransom on ping pong balls of Epsom salts, baking soda, and essential oils like some kind of fool? Wake up, people! And smell the patchouli!
Here’s all you need to know, and then some things you don’t need to know, about how to DIY the shit out of your bathtime.
Thanks to Lush and the rise of the middle class, the world has as many flavors of bath bombs as they do breakfast cereal. Some are just as edible! But the OG versions—that fizz and sizzle like the adult version of science fair volcanos (but in your tub! I’d probably be working at NASA right now* if science teachers had redirected this concept to bathtime), have baking soda, cornstarch, citric acid, Epson salts, and essential oils. Pretty chill to make, as it turns out.
The simplest recipe I could find is:
8 oz. of baking soda
4 oz. of citric acid (for fizz—and I happened to have some from making hummus)
4 oz. of corn starch
4 oz. of Epsom salts
¾ tsp. of water
2 tsp. essential oil (I used a willy-nilly combo of sandalwood, cedarwood, vetiver, and bergamot)
1 tsp base oil like jojoba/almond
Mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl, the liquids in another. Then combine them—best to do this with your hands because you can’t tell how wet it is by looking at it. It’s a grainy/soft/unusual texture. Some people add dyes, dried flowers or herbs, glitter, pipe cleaners, belly button lint, and actual Cheerios to garnish theirs, but I’m not churning these out for my Etsy factory, so no. Then you name your bath bomb something like “mermaid kisses," “postpartum healing,” or “unicorn farts.” All of those are very real. Mine was called “don't quit your day job.”
At this point, if you happen to own bath bomb molds, wow, that’s cool. But I’m not about to buy another thing I don’t need, so I shoved the mix into cupcake cups and let them sit overnight to set. I said this was going to be DIY. Some were too crumbly (I added too much water), so I used those as bath salts—still fizzed!
When plopped in the water, they made the bath cloudy and the perfume dispersed nicely. But if you’re using to bathing with straight-up oils, you miss that feeling of oil sticking to your skin and making it silky. And I realized it’s too much work to make the bombs for what you get out of it, which is nine seconds of sizzling amusement. If they fizzed the entire bath, I’d reconsider, but then again I’d probably have skin melting off my bones like Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The Deal with Essential Oils
You’ve seen them on display at Whole Foods—there are hundreds of options. Where to start? The best way to pick them out is to go with your gut: Do you like woodsy, hippie scents? Get patchouli, sandalwood, cedarwood, bergamot, and vetiver. More of a citrus fiend? Get grapefruit, sweet orange, lemongrass, and maybe some black pepper or vetiver to tone those down a bit. Want those musky sexy music video scents? Vanilla, neroli, amber, musk, rose. Etcetera.
Strategy 2: Look at the notes on your favorite perfume or expensive dream bath stuff online and get those to (attempt to) recreate it.
(One note: Avoid peppermint! Minty oils, like eucalyptus and peppermint, have been known to burn my butt when they linger on the surface of the bath water. Highly unpleasant.)
Before I started this story, I used to sprinkle oils into the bath like a bored cocktail waitress. Then I learned it’s both safer for your skin (butt) AND you get supremely moisturized if you dilute the essential oil in jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, or hell, even vegetable oil—then dump in bath.
Some other general oil things I’ll add here are that clary sage really stinks; citrus oils are potent AF so a single drop goes a looooong way; and once you mix four drops of jasmine absolut into cheap Trader Joe’s Citrus Body Wash, you can never take it back. Hope you like jasmine.
Bath Oil Recipes I’m Digging Right Now
There are tons of recipes online you can play around with, I’d direct you to the extensive options from Aura Cacia, but most of them yield a big batch, and I want a new bath every time—again, I’m not selling them on Etsy alongside needlepoint throw pillows that say things like “wake up and smell the patchouli.” So my general single bath formula, based on advice from the folks at Aura Cacia, is three to five drops of essential oil per quarter-sized squirt of base oil. Sometimes I did six to eight drops with twice as much oil to use as body oil or to mix in with unscented lotion. Don’t worry about exact measurements here, the water of the tub dilutes it so much, it often smells much better and totally different than when you’ve first mixed them in oil. The easiest way to dive in is to mix just 2 scents at once, then start adding in more.
Using pure oils is downright luxurious, and never smells artificial, cheap, or candylike. The jojoba or whatever oil you used as a base will cling to your skin in the bath and the perfume will linger once you’re out. You’ll get addicted. But a word of warning: The more oils you combine at once...well, things can get very stinky, very fast.
If you want to smell like a billionaire lumberjack:
3 drops of both patchouli and Atlas cedarwood
My post-gym power bath:
3-4 parts patchouli, 1 drop grapefruit
Personal favorite: If you want to smell like you walked into Aveda and rolled around in the stockroom a bit (woodsy, expensive spa):
Equal parts Atlas cedarwood, vetiver, and bergamot
A sad but pretty damn close attempt to recreate Aesop’s Geranium Leaf Body Cleanser:
3 drops geranium, 2 bergamot, 1 sweet orange
My dude’s favorite, which I’d call “the camping department at Bergdorf’s”:
3 drops each of sandalwood and atlas cedarwood, plus 2 drops vetiver
For bedtime vibes and an attempt to recreate Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax, the holy grail of bath oils:
4 drops sandalwood, 1 drop Roman chamomile (can really have a bitter edge, don’t overdo it), 3 drops vetiver (and go ahead add lavender if you like it, I don’t)
For a Tom Ford Neroli Portofino wannabe minus the essence of sex:
4 drops neroli (which smells like the green stem of a flower more so than the petals, very nice), 3 cedarwood, 1 lemon
A creamy option for those who just can’t shake their addiction to vanilla anything:
4 drops cedarwood, 1-2 drops vanilla (beware: too much vanilla can smell like a clearance rack candle)
Happy vibes for sad people:
4 drops ylang ylang, 1 drop sweet orange
And there a million more I want to try! Even the sides of the bottles have recommendations for meditation (ha) or “women’s clarity” which crack me up as much as they intrigue.
Guys, I’m telling you, the more you play with essential oils, the more you’ll realize you’re never going to pay for expensive bath products again. But please pay your taxes.
*Are you kidding me, no. Plus they have almost no funds anymore.
Photographed by the author.