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While on a recent search for natural hangover remedies (damn you, wine), I came across something that was more than a little surprising: Mustard baths are a thing. A big thing. People—all the way back to the ancient Romans—have been soaking their bodies in mustard and touting its detoxifying benefits. Proponents claim the magical seed alleviates stress, insomnia, muscle soreness, and sinus pressure. In other words, there are a lot of healing benefits for something we once considered a mere condiment.
Models have sworn by it; droves of people on Amazon have raved about it—and so I set out to give the mustard bath a whirl. Why not? I'm a (sometimes) stressed insomniac with a penchant for a healthy amount of wine on the weekends. I am the prime candidate. I ordered a jar of the holy grail of mustard bath products—Dr. Singha's Mustard Bath, $9—and got ready to detox.
Read on to learn how my first mustard bath shocked my senses and majorly, uh, detoxed my system.
What Is a Mustard Bath?
The mustard bath is an Ayurvedic bath salt formulated with, unsurprisingly, organic mustard powder, in addition to a range of therapeutic salts and essential oils. The idea is that a heaping scoop of the stuff in a tub full of hot water—followed by a 15- to 20-minute soak—can do everything from boost immunity to de-stress. It touts a pretty impressive fan base in the wellness community, with fans turning to the product for both its detoxifying abilities as well as its more mentally healing properties.
Anna Searles, who founded the company with Dr. Singha in the 1990s after learning under the doctor for years, describes a mustard bath thusly: "The pores become open from the hot water, so you get absorption at the skin level; you're breathing in eucalyptus, so your body is being energized. But it also allows for uninterrupted time alone to reevaluate and connect with yourself." In short, it's incredibly coddling for both body and mind.
Potential Benefits of a Mustard Bath
As Searles explains, Singha taught his practitioners that the four stages of digestion were: ingestion, digestion, assimilation, and elimination, with the final step being the most important. "The skin is the largest organ of elimination in your body," says Searles. "If you have a good sweat—via exercise, going to the sauna—you activate skin function." The mustard bath promises to help spur that process, reducing acid waste in the body that builds up due to poor diet and exercise habits along with the daily wear and tear of life.
Rich in selenium, mustard is a powerful ingredient, known for its anti-inflammatory benefits. "Mustard seed in itself has an extraordinary strength," says Searles. "It’s a tiny seed with a huge energy." While the mustard is meant to help lessen inflammation in the body, sodium bicarbonate is meant to help lessen acidity in the body. A range of essential oils—eucalyptus, wintergreen, rosemary, and thyme—promise to help the body heal from the inside out. The unique blend also happens to be incredibly moisturizing, leaving skin feeling silky and smooth after.
How to Prep for a Mustard Bath
Because so many people raved about the mustard bath's ability to lull you to sleep like a baby (which is a silly metaphor if you think about it—aren't babies known for not sleeping?), I decided to put the claims to the test during a bout of insomnia fueled by wedding planning concerns that always spring up around 11 p.m.
I hadn't slept well for a few days, so I figured this was the perfect time to test the waters, if you will. I grabbed my book (that I'd been trying—unsuccessfully—to read for weeks), lit a candle, and poured a glass of wine (naturally). I poured two scoops of the white-yellow powder into my tub and immediately began sneezing aggressively. “Am I allergic to mustard?” I bemoaned. Probably not. The bath also includes a mix of essential oils—peppermint, wintergreen, and eucalyptus—which can cause a bit of sneezing when you bring them right up to your nostrils (I have learned).
What To Expect During a Mustard Bath
Once I plopped my body into the (very) hot water, the scent quickly dissipated to subtle wafts of minty relaxation. I sipped my wine and realized I might be defeating the purpose by placing toxins in my body as I was supposed to be sweating them out. I turned on my timer (the bath recommends you stay in the tub for 20 minutes), and here is exactly what happened.
10:19 p.m. I wish this thing had bubbles in the mix. Am I a child?
10:22 p.m. I am not sure if it's the heat of my water or my mind playing tricks on me, but my whole body feels tingly.
10:24 p.m. Five minutes in, and I'm sweating. I can't remember if I always sweat in baths. I wonder if I'm sweating wine.
10:27 p.m. Super sweating. Am I allergic to this?
10:28 p.m. Google, “Does Dr. Singha's Mustard Bath make you sweat?”
10:30 p.m. Sweat beads rolling down my forehead.
10:31 p.m. I begin reading Amazon reviews, which advise avoiding breathing in the powder (see sneezing above).
10:32 p.m. I encourage myself by saying there are only eight more minutes to go. This is not my normal sentiment in a bath, but I am feeling seriously spicy.
10:34 p.m. Many reviews mention sweating. I resign to being a bad journalist. Maybe I should research a bit more next time. My cheeks are on fire.
10:37 p.m. Realize I've been on my phone for 15 minutes now. I'm never going to read this book.
10:39 p.m. Found 17 dogs I need to adopt on Instagram.
10:43 p.m. I think I should get out now. I stand woozily. My face and body look like I spent too long in the sauna.
10:50 p.m. Silk (okay, let's be real—satin from Target) pajamas are on. I'm still sweating. I contemplate opening a window to cool down my room, but I watch too much Law and Order: SVU to do such a reckless thing.
10:56 p.m. Watching Instagram stories. I know I'm a bad girl. This fuels my insomnia. But I do notice that my eyes are uncharacteristically heavy and my body feels calm.
11:04 p.m. Admit to myself that you can't sleep when you're watching Insta videos. Put the phone down.
11:08 p.m. Still sweating. I'm on Facebook looking at my old albums. I am a sick person.
11:14 p.m. Still hot. It's my friend's birthday tomorrow, and I realize I have to find the perfect photo to post on Instagram right now. Very urgent.
11:26 p.m. Found it.
11:37 p.m. Filtered it. What is sleep?
7:03 a.m. I wake up and realize something powerful: I slept through the night! Without waking up! I also feel incredibly groggy. My eyelids still feel heavy, but wow.
The Final Takeaway
It's worth mentioning that, to get the true mustard bath experience, the experts recommend taking the bath in the evening and following it up with a cold shower and a scrub. "After a mustard bath, take a cold shower, then use a rough towel to scrub the body," says Searles. "Then rest, and keep warm. Let that energy move and do the work it needs to do."
Even if I didn't follow the instructions to a "T," it worked. I felt sleepy, and I sweated out some sins. What more can you ask for from a bath, right?
Jaiswal SK , Prakash R , Prabhu KS , Tejo Prakash N . Bioaccessible selenium sourced from Se-rich mustard cake facilitates protection from TBHP induced cytotoxicity in melanoma cells. Food Funct. 2018;9(4):1998-2004. doi:10.1039/c7fo01644a