More power than a shower: These bathers report better moods, skin and even smiles

A small study points out just how good a soak makes some of us feel.

A small study points out just how good a soak makes some of us feel.

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

We here at CBC Life are pretty into our daily cleaning rituals. We've followed Sophia Loren into the bathtub, showed you how to DIY your bubbles and scrubs and found the latest gadgets to upgrade your shower. We've long-extolled the health benefits of showers (especially cold ones) as a way to rev your metabolism, improve your mood and keep your skin at it's best. The world seems on board too — the global showering average is once a day. It's easy to see a shower as the more practically beneficial option and the bath as more of a luxury — but that might not always be the case. According to a new study, the bath may have better benefits for both your body and mind.

The study was conducted in Japan and involved 38 healthy participants (26 women and 12 men, with an average age of 45.7). Half of the participants were asked to engage in immersion bathing in warm water (around 40 C) 10 minutes per day for 2 weeks followed by 2 weeks of showering instead of bathing. The other half of participants were asked to perform the same experiment but in reverse order — 2 weeks of showering followed by 2 weeks of bathing. After every shower or bath, each participant rated their general health, skin, fatigue, pain, stress and smile on a one hundred-point scale. Following each 2-week stint, the participants completed a standard health survey, rating their physical functioning, limitations, pain, energy, social functioning, mental health and emotional issues, as well as a standardized mood test, surveying their levels of tension/anxiety, depression/dejection, anger/hostility, confusion, fatigue and vigor.

The results sided in bathing's favour. In both groups, there was a greater self-reported increase in skin condition and smile during the 2-week bathing period compared to the showering period, along with a greater decrease in fatigue, stress and pain. Bathers also reported better social functioning and mental health, along with less tension/anxiety, depression/dejection and anger/hostility. Researchers believe these findings may be the result of some unique effects of bathing, buoyancy, water viscosity, hydrostatic pressure but, most significantly, hyperthermic action. Hyperthermic action is caused by the water warming the blood in veins closest to the skin, increasing bodily temperature. To offset this, the body will start vasodilating and perspiring, boosting the metabolism and eliminating metabolic waste. It is this process researchers point to as a significant contributor to the overall benefits of bathing.

While the results are promising, the study comes with a few caveats, as the researchers mention, namely the small sample size, the reliance on participants self-reporting and the prominence of bathing in Japanese culture. Another major consideration is that, when showering, the participants did notice the same benefits, just not as much as they did when bathing. So, for you shower-only people, taking a shower  still seems to offer many of the same benefits, albeit to a lesser degree.

Another major consideration in this cleansing debate is the environmental factor. Baths have long been seen as the more wasteful, but even that isn't always the case. The U.S. Geological survey estimates that a normal bathtub holds about 136 litres, but a water-saving shower head uses 7.5 litres every 2 minutes, meaning an 18-minute shower could run you just as much water as your average bath. But providing you take a low-flow shower in a timely manner, you'd use a lot less water than via a bath, though there are plenty of ways to save extra water no matter how you clean.

So who is the ultimate winner in these water wars? It's a draw, for now. Certainly, as the study showed, baths are way more than just a relaxing soak, they can have tangible benefits for your body and mind. However, in the interest of time and the environment, showers have their own upside, as well as packing a wellness punch, so perhaps the best routine is a combination of both! Tubbers, rejoice, just don't throw the shower out with the bath water.