They’re colorful, fizzy, fragrant and can transform an ordinary bath into a tranquil spa or a frothy work of art. Made in a range of shapes from swirling balls to cute animals, bath bombs are hard-packed mixtures of fragrances, dyes and other substances that effervesce when dropped in water. They are wildly popular among both adults and kids, and social media is filled with photos of “bath bomb art” shared by users.
However, bath bombs may not be completely safe. Ingredients in bath bombs may irritate sensitive skin, causing redness, itching or rash, and the irritation may persist long after you drain the tub. In addition, bath bombs may affect a woman’s vaginal pH balance. The resulting changes in normal bacteria levels can cause irritation or even infections.
Most bath bombs contain a combination of baking soda and citric acid, which neutralize each other when mixed with water. However, they usually contain other ingredients that may be irritating or potentially harmful.
“Even ‘natural’ ingredients can cause problems if you’re sensitive to them,” says Vivian Tran, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Mission Valley. “For example, some essential oils may cause itchy skin or a rash, and ingredients such as sea salts may be drying to skin. Fragrances can trigger respiratory allergies in some people.”
Here are the most common culprits:
Bath bombs come in a seemingly endless range of fragrances, from exotic flowers or peppermint for adults to bubble gum or cotton candy for kids. Manufacturers may use essential oils for fragrance or add artificial fragrances. Either can irritate sensitive skin. What’s more, companies aren’t required to list the chemicals they use to add fragrance to products, so you may not know what chemicals you’re soaking in.
Natural and artificial dyes add color to bath bombs. Some people are very sensitive to the chemicals used in dyes. Plus, even if you usually don’t have skin issues, the skin around your genitals may be more susceptible to irritation.
Talc may be associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer if the talc particles travel to the ovaries. Play it safe and avoid bath bombs with talc.
A glittery bath is beautiful, but glitter can be abrasive to skin. Microbeads may contain plastic, which won’t irritate skin but is not good for the environment. Be mindful of what you’re washing down the drain.
Unless your skin is extremely sensitive you probably don’t have to give up bath bombs altogether, but use them cautiously. Here are a few tips for safer use:
- Check the ingredients list and stick to bombs made with substances you recognize. Avoid talc, artificial ingredients and anything you suspect might irritate your skin.
- Take your bath bomb for a test drive. “Before you use a bath bomb you’ve never used before, rub it against the crook of your elbow and wait 48 hours,” says Dr. Tran. “If redness or irritation develops, don’t use it.”
- Limit your time in the bath to 15 minutes. The longer you’re exposed to potential allergens, the more likely they are to affect you.
- Rinse off well in the shower after you use bath bombs to remove any potentially irritating residue from your skin.
- Don’t use bath bombs every day. Enjoy them a few times a week at most. Explore other ways to create a soothing bath environment, such as using fragrant candles and your favorite relaxing music.
- If you notice any skin or respiratory irritation, stop using bath bombs. Determine what is causing your reaction before you try them again.
- Consider making your own bath bombs using ingredients you know and trust. There are many recipes available online.