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Take the Plunge: 4 Reasons To Try a Milk Bath

Adding a little milk to your bath can leave your skin smooth, silky and refreshed

Person in towel standing in bathroom, with milk pticher on edge of bathtub

Milk carries a reputation as a nutritional powerhouse. It “does a body good,” right? But that notion is tied to drinking milk. As it turns out, though, some use dairy a little differently to help their bodies.

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People have looked to milk baths since ancient times to try to boost the health and appearance of their skin. (Fun fact: It’s said that Egyptian queen and noted beauty Cleopatra bathed in goat milk.)

So, what makes milk such a skin care sensation? And what kind of results might you see? Dermatologist Alok Vij, MD, has your answers.

Milk bath benefits

To understand the popularity of milk baths, let’s start with this fact: The average American spends more than $1,000 a year on skin care and beauty products, notes Dr. Vij. That’s a significant chunk of change.

These consumers also seem to be increasingly sensitive to ultra-processed products. There’s a desire to go more natural. “So, why not look to the OG of beauty, Cleopatra and milk baths?” he asks.

Scientifically, there’s not a lot of research endorsing milk baths for skin care. But there are common sense explanations for why they support skin health, not to mention gobs of anecdotal evidence.

Here’s how a dip in milky water might be able to help you.

Skin exfoliation

Milk naturally includes lactic acid, a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that can exfoliate skin. Cosmetic products containing AHAs such as lactic acid are often marketed as “skin peelers” for this reason.

“The lactic acid in milk can get rid of dead skin cells that accumulate on top of your skin to give it a rough texture,” says Dr. Vij. “As a result, it can leave your skin feeling soft, smooth and silky all over.”

Skin moisturizing

The outer layer of your skin includes proteins that hold onto oil and water. In the case of a milk bath, your skin also absorbs milk fats. “As those fats seep in, they provide your skin with a little more hydration,” Dr. Vij explains.

That moisturizing effect may help ease sunburn, as well as symptoms of chronic inflammatory diseases such as:

Anti-inflammatory action

Milk is well-known as a great source of calcium. It’s also high in zinc and vitamin D (which gets added during processing). All three of those nutrients can reduce inflammation in your skin, says Dr. Vij.

That anti-inflammatory power also may help ease symptoms of the skin conditions mentioned.

Relief from itchiness

A milk bath’s soothing effects and anti-inflammatory abilities could offer relief from itchiness brought on by exposure to poison ivy or other rash-inducing plants. (Plus, it’s a good idea to wash the toxic oil off.)

One note of caution, though: “Even though milk baths may have anti-inflammatory properties, it should not be viewed as a substitute for prescription medications in dealing with poison ivy or anything similar,” says Dr. Vij.

How to make (and take) a milk bath

For starters, there’s no need to empty the milk section at the grocery store. You’re only going to need a little bit of milk for a milk bath. (“It’s not like you become an Oreo getting dunked in tub milk,” illustrates Dr. Vij.)

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So, fill up your tub with warm water and add a cup or two of milk, just enough to get the water cloudy. If you want to add other ingredients — perhaps colloidal oatmeal (for its anti-inflammatory properties), Epsom salts or scents like rose petals or lavender — now is the time.

Then, slip into the milk bath and enjoy! Dr. Vij recommends staying in the mixture no longer than 15 or 20 minutes. You can even soap up if you want.

Afterward, it’s best to rinse off. Even though there’s not much milk in the bath, it’s enough to leave a residue on your skin. “You could end up with some cheese curds in skin folds, which won’t make you smell the best,” he adds.

Does it matter what milk you use?

When it comes to what milk to put in your milk bath, you’ve got options.

  • Cow’s milk. Whole milk is your best choice, as it has the highest percentage of milk fat for maximum moisturizing. That 2% option isn’t going to do as much for you. Ditto for skim.
  • Goat’s milk. Higher concentrations of lactic acid in goat’s milk will increase skin exfoliation. (Cleopatra clearly knew what she was doing.)
  • Non-dairy alternatives. Baths made with almond milk or coconut milk can also make your skin feel smoother, says Dr. Vij. But they’re not any more beneficial than cow’s milk.
  • Breast milk. If you’re lactating and are overproducing, there’s no harm in using some of the extra breast milk in your child’s bath. Breast milk is high in fat content and is loaded with vitamin D, so it can be a good moisturizer.
  • Powdered milk. This shelf-stable alternative is just as effective as “wet” milk, according to Dr. Vij.

Are there any risks to taking a milk bath?

Skin irritation is always a possibility, though milk is typically gentle.

Someone with a severe cow’s milk allergy should avoid using it in the tub. The same advice applies to nut-based alternative milk if you have a nut allergy. “In either case, it’s best to pick a safer option,” advises Dr. Vij.

And of course, don’t drink anything you’ve been soaking in.

Final thoughts?

There’s little downside to trying a luxurious milk bath to improve your skin. Should you expect miracles? Probably not, says Dr. Vij — but there’s no harm in giving it a shot to see if it makes a difference.

Just remember to rinse off afterward to keep from spoiling.

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