When it comes to beauty fads, I tend to practice a “wait and see” philosophy, mostly because I don’t have the time, money, nor patience to invest in every new gimmick or trend. But when a skincare expert strongly suggested I try bathing in whole milk for softer, moisturized skin, I was at a loss of reasons not to.
Milk baths, though not commonly practiced, aren’t exactly a new thing—Cleopatra was known to bathe in vessels filled to the brim with donkey milk—nor do they require much time or expense. I’m already an avid bath-taker, and the cost of a gallon of milk to add to my bath water is meager compared to my monthly epson salt purchase.
Aside from smelling faintly like a newborn baby, my 15-minute soak left my skin feeling smooth and soft, and while I did follow-up with a light layer of body oil, my skin seemed to hold onto that moisture longer than usual. Still skeptical, I wondered if this might all just be a placebo effect, but it turns out, Cleopatra was onto something.
Whether it’s donkey milk, cow milk, or even goat milk, the common key ingredient is lactic acid, which is both an alpha hydroxyl acid and a humectant. “As an alpha hydroxyl acid, lactic acid will exfoliate [the skin],” explains Dr. Kenneth Mark, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Clinical Assistant Professor at NYU. And exfoliation has several major benefits, he adds: “Unclogging pores, evening out the skin’s texture, helping to fade blotchy pigment. When it’s done consistently, exfoliation even sends signals to the dermis to increase collagen production.”
What’s more, as a humectant, lactic acid actually absorbs and retains moisture in the skin. “The chemical composition of humectants help them bind water and even attract moisture from the surrounding environment,” says Dr. Mark. This not only makes lactic acid a double-hit wonder, it’s also a gentle ingredient for sensitive skin.
Depending on one’s bath tub size and the amount of milk used, an actual milk bath might be too dilute, Dr. Mark warns. Instead, he recommends over-the-counter lotions and creams by AmLactin. One notable deterrent to milk baths and many lactic acid-rich products however is that they aren’t necessarily vegan, which is something to keep in mind when researching options. As for me, I’ve incorporated milk baths into my skincare regimen with one or two a month. I’m no Queen of the Nile, but I do feel rather majestic afterwards.