In most south Indian homes, a luxurious ‘oil bath’ is mandatory on Diwali day. However, we take this ritual of ‘oil bath’ very causally without realizing its significance on our health, well-being and beauty. Diwali eve coincides with the onset of winter and hence a thorough body massage with coconut oil followed by a long luxurious bath rejuvenates the skin and acts as a barrier against dry, moisture depleting winter air for several weeks.
In some communities, an oil bath for the bride on the eve of the wedding, is not only a part of bridal beauty-care but is ritualistic too. Then there is this ritualistic post-natal bath that a woman is given few days after childbirth for about 1½ months. Before this bath she is subjected to a meticulous body massage with special herbal oils by a trained maid. This hot oil bath helps to alleviate the muscle strain of labor and childbirth, is good for cellulite reduction and works wonders on stretch marks. It is also believed that oil massage helps the uterus to shrink to its original size and encourage the flow of breast milk.
While we are in our teens and the early twenties, sebum, which is secreted by the sebaceous oil glands, lies as a protective film over the skin helping to delay moisture loss. But as the skin ages, the activity of sebaceous glands decreases; they secrete less sebum and aren’t able to prevent the rapid moisture loss from the skin. That’s why as years pass by, the skin gets drier and flakier. Hence, oil bath is an excellent beauty and health routine for the aging body. Coconut oil is the best; it is natural, effective and inexpensive.
Even Sushruta, the ancient physician who lived in 6th century B.C, advocated the use of oil for a bath. His words:
“It is immediately absorbed, subtle, spreading, viscous and fluid. It is conducive to the nutrition of the skin and the softness of the muscles. It is beneficial to the eyes, promotes luster, strength and vitality.”
Modern beauty science also agrees with the fact that a combination of water and oil keeps the skin smooth, soft and health-looking. The application of oil, followed by a bath does have a beneficial effect as it nourishes and protects both the body and hair. A massage, following this oil application, improves circulation of blood, relieves muscle stiffness and tiredness, muscular spasms and tension and encourages sound sleep by relaxing the muscles.
For those who are too busy to enjoy an oil bath, putting a few drops of oil in a mug and splashing it all over the body, after the bath, and then patting dry with a towel, gives almost the same result, for it immediately spreads a thin layer of oil evenly on the whole body. Read Aromatic oils in the bath and also learn how to make a rich bath oil at home.
Beauty and health magazines create such hype over the benefits of ‘steam’ or ‘sauna’ baths offered at expensive spas but hardly stress upon the benefits of an ordinary oil-bath which can be had in the privacy and comforts of one’s home. Water and oils as tools for health and beauty were given great importance by our ancestors and it follows that we too should do the same. The secret behind the smooth dusky complexion and luxurious black tresses of the Keralites lies simply in their love for oils and baths.