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Beauty & the Bath

With frantic five-minute shower stints the norm for most of us these days, it's easy to forget that elaborate bathing rituals have been an important and integral part of beauty, health and serenity for millennia. So even if you're used to a wash-and-go routine, "it's relatively easy to get back to basics by turning your bath into a healing oasis or a pleasurable spa," says Helga Hefner, an aesthetician and training director specializing in skin and body for Aveda in Minneapolis. "All you need is a minimum of 15 minutes and a little know-how." Depending on what your body -- and soul -- needs, pick one of these five customized bath and shower routines. Then get wet!

Your goal: Get revved
Need a sure-fire wake-up call for body and soul? Use invigorating, stimulating scents and essential oils like rosemary, peppermint and citrus, suggests Dawn Gallagher, author of Naturally Beautiful (Universe, 1999). But don't add pure essential oils to running water: They'll just evaporate, minimizing their benefits. Instead, pour them into an already-full tub, or mix them into your body cleanser or scrub if you're showering. Then finish off with a quick cold-water rinse.

Other energy enhancers include DKNY Energizing Shower Gel ($25; 800-986-DKNY), Philosophy The Seven Day Juice Fast bath and shower gels ($45; 800-263-9243) or Neutrogena Rainbath Awakening Shower & Bath Gel ($11.55; at drugstores nationwide).

Your goal: Relax and de-stress
It's well known that a warm, soothing bath is the best antidote for stress. But what's less known is that you can enhance the already-soothing effects of warm water by using bath products with calming essences like sandalwood, lavender, vanilla or chamomile. You can also opt for a tranquil Victorian-era indulgence that's as much a treat for the eyes and psyche as it is for the nose: Bruise or tear rose petals to release their essence, and climb into the tub with them, Gallagher suggests.

Other relaxation-promoting options include AromaFloria Herbal Therapy Stress Less Ocean Mineral Bath Salts ($17; aromafloria.com; 800-424-0034), Shiseido Relaxing Bath Tablets ($26; shiseido.com) or We Live Like This Vanilla Bath and Shower Gel ($25; 800-400-0692).

Your goal: Seal in moisture
Water is one of the best moisturizers around, and relaxing in tepid-to-warm water for 10-20 minutes provides great hydration. You can also add a few drops of baby oil (or any oil) to the bath to help seal in that moisture. Or, try adding powdered milk to the tub -- a skin-softening trick that dates back to Cleopatra's days. (Milk contains lactic acid, which helps slough off dead skin cells.) After bathing or showering, pat down with a towel but leave skin slightly damp, then apply a moisturizer like Neutrogena Soothing Relief ($8; 800-421-6857) to seal in the moisture.

"Also avoid very hot water, and stay away from deodorant soaps, both of which can be irritating and drying (particularly if you have dry skin)," says Miami dermatologist Fredric Brandt, M.D. To help hydrate your skin, try Biotherm Aquathermale Replenishing Bath Minerals ($22.50; biotherm.com), Olay Daily Renewal Body Wash ($4.50; 800-652-9261), Dove Nutrium Skin Nourishing Bar ($3; at drugstores nationwide) or Archipelago Botanicals Oat Salt Milk Bath ($19; 800-399-4994).

Your goal: Polish your skin
One of the most pleasurable experiences you can have in a bath is a do-it-yourself exfoliation treatment that feels great and leaves skin polished and silky. Start with an exfoliating wash or scrub, which can double as a cleanser. Or apply your regular cleanser with a loofah, body brush, exfoliating mitts or even a rough-textured washcloth in the shower (all available from Pendergrass, pendergrassinc.com). Follow any exfoliation technique with a moisturizer (like Suave Skin Therapy, $3, 800-782-8301) to protect vulnerable new skin and to avoid dryness and flakiness, Brandt says. To get your skin silky smooth, opt for Bath & Body Works Rejuvenating Body Glow ($12; 800-395-1001), Fresh SugarBath cubes ($24; 800-373-7420) or The Good Home Co. Powdered Sugar Foaming Bath ($24; 800-723-2889).

Your goal: Soothe your muscles
"Whether you're suffering from post-workout aches or PMS cramps, warm water is by its very nature a healing force for sore muscles, relaxing them and increasing circulation to the surface of the skin," Hefner says. Essential oils like eucalyptus and menthol (and products that contain them) can enhance this muscle-easing effect because they provide an immediate sensation of warmth, Hefner adds. Primrose oil is another bath option because some experts believe it may help enhance circulation temporarily throughout the body.

You can also add Epsom salts to your bath water. The reason? Epsom salts are magnesium sulfates, minerals that are easily absorbed through the skin and that can reduce swelling and help relax muscles and tendons, says Jane Guiltinan, a naturopathic physician and dean of clinical affairs at Bastyr University Natural Health Clinic in Seattle.

To soothe sore muscles, try Murad Muscle Relief Aromatherapy Oil ($12.50; 800-365-MURAD), Get Fresh Wild Yam & Primrose Oil Mineral Bath Treatment ($20; indulge.com) or Davies Gate GardenMade Bath & Shower Gel and Bath Salts ($13-$24; 888-398-9010).

Quick Bathing Fixes: 7 Bathing Dilemmas -- Solved
Here are some quick solutions for bathing bummers:

Out of soap? Double up your shampoo as a body cleanser -- or just use an exfoliating scrub (try Essentiel Elements Fleur d'Amour Uplifting Sea Salt Scrub, $26; essentielelements.com).

Out of shampoo? Massage your scalp with the tips of your fingers, rinse your hair with apple cider vinegar and then finish with cold water (to de-grease your hair and give it shine).

Out of conditioner? After shampooing, massage 3-4 tablespoons of mayonnaise, avocado or yogurt into your hair and leave on for 10-15 minutes. Then rinse out.

Need deep conditioning? Apply your regular conditioner, then put a shower cap on your head and let the conditioner soak in under the warm spray. (Steam helps products to penetrate more deeply.)

No time for an essential-oil-infused bath? Mix a drop or two of eucalyptus or lavender essential oils (try blends by Starfish Oils, $9; 888-699-8171) with your body cleanser and rub all over your body.

Out of shaving cream? Use your hair conditioner.

Shaving leaves stubble? Soak in a bath or shower for five minutes before you shave the next time (to give hair follicles a chance to soften up).

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