Bathing your shabby and inglorious self immediately after a sopping wet training session is universally considered good jiu-jitsu etiquette, and while a good shower gets the job done fast, we all know it’s that bathtub where the real healing happens. Who wouldn’t want to return to an improvised womb after being squished, mauled, and choked by human giants and/or evil squid people? And with a few cheap tweaks, restorative baths infused with additions like baking soda, minerals, and botanicals can soothe skin irritated by gis, neutralize infectious bacteria and fungi left on the skin by your filthy matrat brethren, and assist in the muscle recovery process.
Step One: Sodium Bicarbonate, aka Baking Soda
That cheap box of powder that’s been keeping your fridge from stinking of leftover Chipotle for the last two years is actually filled with a centuries-old remedy for inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and diaper rash—one that doctors and clinicians are still recommending, by the way.
Baking soda is an alkalizing salt commonly used in cooking and cleaning, and its power as a natural disinfectant has made it a practical addition to toothpastes and deodorants. A proven murderer of gross microbes like streptococcus mutans, candida, and some kinds of mold, it’s an obvious fit for people who recreationally roll around in each other’s sweat and saliva…like, you know, grapplers. It’s gentle, nontoxic, won’t strip your skin, and is one of the cheapest investments in self-care you can make (especially when compared to the cost of seeing a dermatologist after you’ve contracted crotch rot).
How To: Draw yourself a steaming hot bath and stir in one half cup of baking soda. If you’re someone with extra natural stank, or who trains with The Stinky Guy and smells like him afterwards, you can throw a teaspoon of powder in your hand, add a few drops of water, and gently scrub the paste into your pits and most heavily, um, perfumed areas to bring your body back to a neutral aroma.
Step Two: Magnesium Sulfate, aka Epsom Salts or Magnesium Flakes
Magnesium is a mineral essential to sustaining life, assisting in hundreds of bodily processes including immune function, restorative sleep, cardiac regulation, and muscle contraction.
To be fair, there’s some debate about exactly how medicinal magnesium is when absorbed through the skin. Naturopathic and traditional medicine has prescribed salt baths to relieve everything from psoriasis to menstrual cramps to epilepsy for several hundred years. The Romans and Samurai were super into it, and Mayo Clinic lists a good soak as a reliable remedy for bruising and sprains.
However, there aren’t a whole lot of modern clinical studies proving that magnesium sulfate absorbs effectively through the skin during bathing. Some researchers question whether magnesium can effectively transport enough of itself through the layers of dead and living skin and cutaneous fat we carry to make a difference in our bloodstream, and recommend oral supplementation instead. (Heads up: Oral magnesium supplements can have a laxative effect, so do some research on dose before you start throwing back caps.)
Others point to research which shows magnesium salt baths showing marked improved in skin hydration and inflammation levels after bathing for at least 20-30 minutes in magnesium flake solution.
The #RealTalk on magnesium is that modern science hasn’t actually cared enough about salt baths to make a declaration one way or another—the few studies done have been small in scale and somewhat unfocused, and the pharmaceutical industry isn’t exactly motivated to write checks to determine whether a cheap mineral salt works better than their $16 muscle rub at bringing down swelling in consumers’ joints.
Suffice to say that Epsom salts may help with magnesium absorption, might lower systemic inflammation, and definitely will not hurt you.
How To: Add 1-2 cups to your bath water. Can be combined with the baking soda.
Step Three: Essential Oils
This step is especially worth incorporating if you’re prone to bacterial or fungal infections like staph, herpes, or ringworm.
Essential oils, which are crazypowerful (scientific term) concentrated plant extracts distilled from the flowers and leaves of plants, are used therapeutically in the treatment of various conditions. Oils of particular use to grapplers include mandarin oil, a healing agent that helps with scars and acne; myrrh, which is antiseptic/antibacterial and assists with athlete’s foot and ringworm; eucalyptus, indicated for use in dermatitis, herpes infections, athlete’s foot, and blisters; jasmine, which soothes inflammation, exacerbated psoriasis, and dry skin patches; lavender, known for leveling bacterial infections, ringworm, and oral infections; and tea tree, used famously in acne, blisters, cuts, fungal infections, shingles, and wound care.
As an added bonus essential oils have an aromatherapy effect, which used to sound like hippie nonsense until organizations like Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic—two of the top hospitals in the world—started integrating aromatherapy onto the floors of its hospitals and treatment facilities to alleviate patients’ anxiety, nausea, and headaches. Research has proven that plant extracts inhaled through the nose quickly reach the limbic system, the network of nerves that regulate human emotions and stress hormones like cortisol.
Rose, lavender, ylang-ylang, bergamont, jasmine, and chamomile are all especially good for alleviating stress and symptoms of depression. If you’re looking to perk back up after an early-morning roll session, eucalyptus, peppermint, camphor, key lime, and mandarin rank on the “energizing” scent list.
How To: To effectively add essential oils to your bath start with a tablespoon or two of extra virgin coconut or olive oil in a cup or shot class as a “carrier oil”—essential oils can be abrasive to the skin or even cause burns if you just dump them right on your epidermis, so for safety you’ll want to mix them with a skin-friendly buddy first—and then add in 3-4 drops of your chosen EO right from the bottle. You can use more than one oil together in combination. Stir together like a wizard in a Hogwarts potions class, then add the whole mix to your tub full of baking soda and magnesium. Oils can also be used sans the salts.
Plan to soak for a minimum of 20-40 minutes at least twice a week. Your body, and that mat rash you keep ripping the scabs off of by accident, will thank you.