Back in 2012, I read an interview with Oprah Winfrey in which she enthused about her love of baths. “Bath gels, bubbles, crystals, salts, lavender milks,” she said, “I love creating bathing experiences.” At the time I was a university student with a not so sybaritic walk-in shower and I remember thinking, “My next apartment, more than anything, needs to have a tub.”
Delightfully, it did, and in the intervening years it seems I’m not the only one who has embraced the habit of soaking regularly. Baths have become a trend more glamorous than the sum of their parts and account for a considerable slice of the $5.6-trillion global wellness industry.
According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, bathtub sales are rising, growing to a projected $14.2-billion by the end of this year from $12.6-billion in 2017. The association reports renovators have been cooling off on once-popular spacious showers in favour of freestanding tubs, a development Frankie Castro, creative director of Toronto design firm Square Footage, has noticed as well.
Over the past few years, Castro says clients are increasingly showing her pictures from social media to illustrate the kinds of baths they wish they were having. “People will describe the experience they want to have in the tub. They tell me they’ll read in the tub, they’ll want to have a glass of wine, a place to put candles or Epsom salts,” she said.
And Castro’s clients have plenty of inspiration to draw from: Social-media platforms are overflowing with pictures of gorgeous tubs. Pinterest Canada has seen a 58-per-cent increase in searches for “luxury baths” within the last year and, on Instagram, images of appealing baths have come to represent the essence of self care.
Baths fit naturally at the intersection of two widely recognized truths about the contemporary moment: that it’s plagued by widespread burnout and anxiety, and that we must show ourselves routine tenderness to survive. Add the impulse to share everything good about life with an audience via social media and you have the modern aspirational bath, the archetypical way to indulge in self-care, both an experience and a symbol of rejuvenation.
This rise of the aspirational bath has not only influenced bathroom design but has fuelled increasing sales of bathing accoutrements that both feel good to use and look appealing on the ’gram.
“We’ve seen an incredible increase in this space of artistic expression through your bath,” said Brandi Halls, North American director of brand communications for Lush, a company known for its playful bath products. Halls believes consumers’ passions for both social media and self-care contributed to the 71-per-cent jump in sales of Lush’s signature bath bombs between 2015 and 2017 and the birth of #bathart, a 452,000-strong Instagram hashtag used to accompany mesmerizing videos of dissolving technicolor bombs.
The convergence of wellness and aesthetics also underscores the work of Brooklyn-based “bathfluencer” Deborah Hanekamp, who prescribes her clients beautiful “ritual baths” filled with particular combinations of botanicals, salts and pieces of crystal to promote spiritual wellness.
“I think some tools for self care can seem inaccessible for some people,” Hanekamp said, “whereas a bath is something we can create for ourselves and have this amazing healing experience at home.”
Hanekamp, who has written a forthcoming book of ritual-bath recipes, rightly observes baths can be a self-care indulgence with a low barrier to entry, unlike booking an expensive spa treatment or suffering through a fancy juice cleanse. Yet, plenty of companies have dipped into the hot bath market by releasing pricey potions, such as Montreal brand Nannette de Gaspé’s $325 Bain Noir soak or Goop’s $48 “emotional detox” bath salts.
Outside the home, finding accommodations with exceptional bathtubs has also become a priority for travellers. Without providing specifics, reservations site Bookings.com revealed to business magazine Fast Company last year that it was seeing “a significant increase” in the number of users filtering hotel rooms by their tubs.
Vancouver’s Josée Gordon, a bath enthusiast who crafts and sells her own bath salts for her fragrance and skin-care line Reassembly Botanical, is one such traveller. “I once went to Salt Spring Island and stayed at this cute hippie house with a clawfoot bathtub outside on the patio facing the forest,” she said. “And it was the middle of winter with cold rain falling but I was in this hot, hot, water and I could have cried I was so happy.”
Given that soaks are an easy palliative for daily stressors and customizable to any mood or budget, the bath bubble will likely continue to grow as more people rediscover the simple pleasures of the tub. Why not ease in and enjoy it?