How to Throw Yourself the Perfect Winter Bath

How to Throw Yourself the Perfect Winter Bath
Photo: Allison Kahler.

Let’s face it. The real world can be stressful, distracting, overwhelming and worst of all, bad for your skin. We owe it to ourselves to find tiny moments of peace and solace away from post-work boss emails and eye contact with strangers—and for me, that place is the bathtub.

I knew 2018 was going to be a bath year when the manager of the apartment I was moving into told me hot water was free in our building. Free hot water? I couldn’t manhandle him out of my new apartment fast enough—it was bath time.

And honestly, these days, it’s never not bath time. My loved ones can certainly attest to my commitment to baths; the combination of this free hot water thing and my primarily work-from-home schedule has created a perfect storm, one that’s allowed me to experiment, endlessly, in my quest to craft the best bath of all time.

Now that I’ve spent literal months playing with different best bath approaches—and now that we’re entering the chilliest, toe-freezingest, skin-dryingest season of the year—I figure I’d compile all my insights (and the insights from other bath-lovers like me) into a guide to crafting the perfect winter bath. Ahead, a step-by-step formula to doing so, because you deserve to have your very own dream bath, too.

Step 1: Setting Your Bath Intentions

People use baths for different things: decompressing, soothing sore muscles, gearing up for a beauty regimen, escaping the dreary weather or just having some splishy-splashy fun. Once you decide what your bath is gonna be about, you can curate it accordingly.

Maybe you’re gonna want to bring an exfoliator in the mix, or leave your skin alone if you’re about to do some ambitious face and skin masks. Maybe a nice salt bath would accentuate the healing properties of the warm water.

The more you reflect on what you want to get out of your bath, the more your bath will be able to totally kick ass.

Step 2: Picking Your Bath Activities

Sure, sitting in a personal-sized pool of warm water is already plenty entertaining, but some people want a little more out of their bath. I’m a big fan of reading, while others enjoy playing music (SoundBot water-resistant speaker, $25 at Amazon) or watching a little ‘flix (which is how cool people say Netflix—keep up).

Think about what you’re going to be getting up to in there, and maybe plan ahead for the accessories you’d want. We are talking about the ideal bath here, after all.

Julia B. says she’s partial to the TV-and-bath combo. But how does one enjoy the latest Oscar hopefuls without risking certain electrocution? “I balance my laptop on a small stand on a towel,” she says. “It is a low rent amazing bathroom hookup.”

Julia hopes one day to have a bathtub that accommodates a laptop tray (wooden bath caddy, $128 at Anthropologie), but until then her MacGyver-like bath ingenuity is to be praised and emulated.

Step 3: Considering Your Beverage Options

It might seem counter-intuitive to consume liquid while you’re also in liquid, but there’s nothing to fear—the right beverage pairing for your bath can not only increase the self-care element but also provide vital hydration during your solo spa sesh. Especially now that some of your favorite retailers are practically inviting you to get your drank while bathing, thanks to wall attachments that will literally hold your drinks for you (Sipski shower wine glass holder, $18 at Urban Outfitters; Sudski shower beer holder, $15 at Urban Outfitters).

My preference is always an ice cold cider—particularly Marionberry for the winter months, to combat and contrast the warm bath vapors. You might also consider a nice glass of wine (if safety allows) or even just a glass of fruit-infused ice water to keep the spa vibes rolling.

Stephen H. say he’s partial to a hot cup of tea with his bathtime. How does he avoid overheating? “I leave my bathroom door open to let the heat and humidity out,” he says. “If that’s not an option, I usually try and use a quiet-ish fan.” Genius.

Step 4: Carefully Curating Your Candle Selection

Sometimes nothing is as good at establishing a calm energy than a good candle (Fir and Firewood jar candle, $12 at Anthropologie). Whether you’re going with a scented candle for aromatherapy, or small votives for light or aesthetic, candles can take any bath from casual to seriously luxe.

Stephen says he always uses one big lavender candle—plus some smaller votives for aesthetic effect. “Lavender specifically chills me out,” he says, so it’s an absolute must-have each time he takes a bath.

Step 5: Assessing Your Lighting Situation

My current bathroom is interesting, as it has two different light fixtures—one fluorescent and one incandescent—both of which are absolutely harsh and terrible. At my previous residence, my overhead light would regularly stop working, which my landlord called “a water-safety feature” and refused to fix.

If you’re like me, you may have to do a bit of rearranging to get ideal bath lighting. If you’re lucky enough to have a daylight bath time slot, or if you enjoy bathing by candlelight, this could be as simple as turning out your light. But if you’re a reader (like me) who finds the concept of being overpowered by horrible blue light unbearable (also me), consider bringing a softer light element into the mix.

I specifically recommend soft, warm table lights (cube table lamp, $26 at Overstock)—or dreamy string lights (Bulb Firefly table lamp, $20 at Urban Outfitters). Just make sure your lighting arrangement is created with water in mind (waterproof candle lights, $32 at Amazon)—or kept far, far away from your tub).

Step 6: Picking Your Bath Texture

Romantic comedies from the ’90s and aughts might have you thinking baths only come in one texture: bubble. Whether this was a sign of the tragic dearth of bath options available at the time or just a gross oversight on Hollywood’s part, this is absolutely unrepresentative of the variety of lotions and potions available for your bath needs in this day and age.

Feeling sore or under the weather? An epsom salt bath might be just the thing (Mullein and Sparrow bath salts, $44 at Anthropologie). Looking for something to sooth or restore your skin? Try a milk bath (Spa of the World milk and honey bath, $14.70 at The Body Shop). And I’m not even going into the bath bomb craze (Bath Bouquet floral-scented soap petals, $14 at Urban Outfitters)—a pervasive phenomenon I could wax poetic about for hours.

The point? Know your options. They’re not solely restricted to bubbles.

That said, bubbles are absolutely a viable option. And Maggie G., bougie bath aficionado, recommends TokyoMilk bubble bath (TokyoMilk Bon Bon bubbling bath, $22 at Dermstore)—both because it comes in a massive bottle, and because you always come out smelling like you bathed in flowers. “It makes me feel like Marie Antoinette (during the good times),” she says.

Step 7: Prepping Your Towels for Ultimate Luxury

The drying-off stage of the bath is a late but crucial one. This is that pivotal point of reintroduction into the cold, horrible, non-bath world that awaits you once you open your bathroom door. The key to a smooth transition? Finding a towel that’s up to the task.

I’d recommend a truly gigantic, 70-inch wide “bath sheet” from Utopia (Utopia Towels luxury bath sheet, $15 at Amazon), but that’s just me. If you’re also particular about making this a spa day for your hair as well, snag-free towels designed to prevent frizz and breakage might be right up your bath time alley (Aquis luxe hair towel, $30 at Sephora).

If you’re not willing to sacrifice precious bathroom real estate to a bath robe (I get it), you can always sub in space-efficient luxury with a pair of comfy slippers (Teddy Bear faux fur slippers, $23 at Pottery Barn)—as cold tile on bare toes is perhaps the rudest awakening of all.

Step 8: Finishing With a Solid Post-Bath Regimen

Your pores are never going to be as open and ready to accept TLC as they are post-bath. So take a little time to make sure they get that good stuff, especially in the winter months where pretty much every element of the environment is trying to actively suck hydration out of your skin.

Maybe you want to keep the spa train rolling with a trendy-as-ever face mask. I’ve had incredible luck perusing the Target beauty section; their offerings are diverse—and you can snag a luxe treatment for just $2 a pop. I personally swear by the tea tree and witch hazel mud mask (Que Bella Purifying Mask, $2 at Target)—it draws impurities out like actual magic.

Maggie recommends Mario Badescu’s rose mist for whenever your skin feels tired or slept-on (Mario Badescu rosewater facial spray, $7 at Urban Outfitters): “A couple of sprays refreshed my skin—plus, it smells like literal roses.”

And don’t gorget your hands, arms or feet, either. Lock in some post-bath moisture with L’Occitane’s literally award-winning hand cream (L’Occitane shea butter hand cream, $12 at Amazon). (Other options will work, too, but this is the only thing that’s managed to make a dent in my eternally scaly winter hands.)

Your Perfect Bath Shopping List:

I know we’ve sprinkled recommendations throughout, but I wanted to give you a one-stop shoppable list. Because again, you deserve to experience the dreamiest, most wonderful, absolute best bath of all time—and that kind of simple luxury shouldn’t be hard to come by.