It was only in due time that this would happen. It seems like when it comes to '90s and '00s-era nostalgia, just about anything is free game, no matter how nonsensical and cringey the concept may have been to the groups of people fortunate enough (or unfortunate, depending) to have experienced said concept in real time. See also: skinny brows, low-rise jeans, frosted makeup, and crimped hair, to name a few debatable trends making a comeback.
We didn't quite expect that bath beads would make their triumphant return in 2022, but here we are, with brands like Fur, Dior, and Glossier reimagining the retro staple.
Often referred to as the OG bath bomb (or forbidden candy), bath beads released the fragrant bath oils housed within the sculpted gelatin exterior when placed in warm water. Although the highly-fragranced options of the Spice Girls era may have presented their own sets of issues, their revamped 2022 counterparts boast better ingredients and a vegan formula, posing the obvious question—are they safer to use?
To find out once and for all, we spoke to Dr. Ava Shamban, board-certified dermatologist and founder of the AVA MD and SKINFIVE medical spas, as well as OBGYN and Chief Medical Officer of VSPOT Dr. Monica Grover. Keep reading to find out how the newer versions are different, the issues with the '90s-era bath beads, and whether or not the new school of bath beads are safe.
Where You've Seen Them
Aside from the swan-shaped ceramic dish in your aunt's bathroom, you've likely seen bath beads stocked at a wide variety of '90s-era retailers, nestled among other bubble bath staples (honorable mention to pink champagne bath salts).
Not unlike the universe, the scent options you'd find with versions of yesteryear were always expanding—for every subtle gardenia or vanilla orchid launched by Sarah Michaels, you'd find wild strawberry options in the shape of hearts, metallic dolphin-shaped beads, or pina colada-fragranced versions absolutely packed with glitter.
"The 90’s era bath beads were highly-fragranced," says Dr. Grover. "As a consumer, it was almost impossible to verify the quality and type of ingredients brands used in formulating the bath beads." According to Dr. Shamban, the questionable ingredients, high fragrance concentrations, and overuse of plastic in the older versions presented a wide range of issues. "The old, sparkly bath beads often featured ingredients like fragrances, dyes, plastics, and talc, or blends of oils that were not necessarily good for skin or the environment," she says. "In some cases, they were a dermal disaster."
In addition, Dr. Grover states that the bath beads were also disruptive to the vaginal pH. "For intimate areas, oils can disturb the pH as the skin absorbs much more readily than other body parts," she says. "Formulas that are heavily-scented can irritate the vulvar skin, especially if you are prone to irritation." Eventually, bath beads fell out of focus and were quickly replaced by bath bombs, which almost seemed to be made for social media with their ability to fizz up and transform your tub into a rainbow of colors on contact with the water.
Imagine our surprise when we found out that BathBeadTok was officially a thing—because of course it is. Set to the latest trending audio, videos of bath beads being created in the current day were suddenly all over our FYP, bringing back the vivid memories of attempting to squeeze the metallic pearls open with our bare hands. Almost simultaneously, luxury and mass brands alike began launching their own revamped versions, rebranded as bath pearls, bath drops, and bath caviar, to name a few variations on the theme.
We weren't fooled. They were very clearly bath beads in the way a boneless wing is but a chicken finger, but the 2022 class of bath beads were definitely different in terms of formula.
"The newer versions being introduced have a safer mix of ingredients, with many of them created from a vegan blend, natural oils, as well as natural colors and fragrances," says Dr. Grover. "Some have also included CBD for a more relaxing experience." Talk about a glow up.
On top of that, Dr. Shamban notes that the new school options are more environmentally-friendly than their predecessors. "While it varies by brand and product, the revival of these bath beads are, in most cases, contained in 100% biodegradable shells," she says.
Are They Safe?
Generally speaking, Dr. Grover notes that the new versions are safe to use, but should be done so in moderation. "When choosing bath beads, look for brands that are clean, vegan and do not use synthetic fragrances," she advises. "Follow the usage guidelines, and only these beads to soak, never as targeted soap or washing agents, especially for vulvar skin."
Dr. Shamban notes that bath beads should be used for 15 to 20 minutes in a tepid to warm bath, and to always check the ingredient list before buying them. "Avoid bath beads that use colored dyes, and rinse thoroughly to remove residue and eliminate the chance of irritation," she says. "If you experience redness, skin irritation, or itching, discontinue use of the bath beads."
Both Dr. Grover and Dr. Shamban recommend DIY-ing your own deconstructed version if your skin is particularly sensitive, using a blend of epsom salt and essential oils as you see fit. While perhaps not as thrilling as watching the bath bead dissolve in warm water, it's a safer option if you feel wary or experience irritation.
Unrelated to skin and vaginal health, but because bath beads are filled with oils, avoid throwing more than advised into the water, as overdoing it could make your tub extremely slippery. "You should always be cautious getting in and out of the tub when using oil-based textures," Dr. Grover says. "Using more oil beads at once can increase your chances of slipping and falling." The goal is to create a soothing experience, not coat your entire tub in a film, so tread carefully and be sure to rinse out your tub afterwards to minimize risk with your next shower or bath.