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My expectations of bubble baths — more than any other part of my life — have been egregiously heightened by Hollywood. These expectations are so lofty that I avoided taking baths for years, out of a fear that they would fall short of what I wanted. And what do I want? I want to be Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, with Prince playing in her headphones and bubbles piled up to her ears. I want to be Tony Montana in Scarface in a bathtub the size of a squash court, filled to the brim with a low, thick layer of suds. I want it all, and I want it in the form of a billowing sea of tiny soap balloons.
Like any determined American, I acquired many products in pursuit of my Hollywood dream. I tested lathers and bath bombs and drops and drips. I tested one that included a wooden honey dripper to distribute the foam around the tap. I stared with a halfhearted intensity that I hadn’t employed since tenth-grade chemistry experiments: here a liquid becomes a gas, just as we expected. Noted. Hypothesis confirmed. Eureka.
Every product was tested against my Hollywood standards — so, mainly, density of foam. Hollywood created its lush bathscapes for reasons of propriety (the pursuit of a PG-13 rating) and I require the same level of coverage. I demand that nothing be seen below the thick wall of bubbles: Not a bent knee, not glimpse of porcelain, not a single thing.
The other two elements I appraise are bubble quality and bubble longevity. As in sparkling water, each brand has a bubble that is slightly different, but also the same in any practical way, and getting too hung up on this detail is pointless. It’s a pointlessness that, I would argue, is soothing for its complete lack of stakes. I prefer a smaller bubble, for what it’s worth.
Then bubble longevity. This is the cruelest element of a bath to consider. Ideally, nothing would encourage you to leave a tub before you were ready or your fingers pruned. The change in water (cooling) and bubbles (deflating) as the bath continues reminds you of time’s passage and therefore of death. In I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith has a good note on confronting these matters:
I believe it is customary to get one’s washing over first in baths and bask afterwards; personally, I bask first. I have discovered that the first few minutes are the best and not to be wasted — my brain always seethes with ideas and life suddenly looks much better than it did … So I bask first, wash second and then read as long as the hot water holds out. The last stage of a bath, when the water is cooling and there is nothing to look forward to, can be pretty disillusioning.
A handy tip for a good bubble bath, I have decided, is to use at least half the bottle. The bottle size doesn’t matter; it’s just important to use at least half, and submerge yourself properly, and, for a moment, forget the never-satisfied human condition, which will continually demand a bubble bath that never cools down and never fizzles out.
Lush Brightside Bubble Bar
Maggie Lange: Using Lush’s Brightside Bubble Bar (which turns bath water bright orange) was like bathing inside a rabid explosive tangerine: foamy, citrusy, and a little frightening. The bubbles, bless their tiny hearts, were totally clear and very useful at hiding the Tang-colored bath liquid.
Aveeno Lavender Stress Relief
Kathleen Hou: Your wallet will derive stress relief from this bubble bath, which is the best value option. At under $10, it creates a nice, dishwash-y level of bubbles that has a pleasing, clean laundry and sunshine scent. The only drawback is that you need half the bottle to create a bubble bath for anyone larger than a small child.
Origins Ginger Float
Kathleen Hou: If you really, really love ginger ale — and not just when you have an upset stomach — this bubble bath is for you. This bath felt like stepping into a ginger-ale float from an old-timey soda fountain. It’s not for everyone.
Deep Steep Lavender Chamomile Bubble Bath
Maggie Lange: Deep Steep bubble bath, in lavender and chamomile, was nothing to write home about, but acceptably pleasant. The bubbles-per-ounce amount was not wonderful (lots of goo required), but they seemed to linger for longer than usual. I hoped it would feel like submerging into a beautiful porcelain cup of herbal tea, which was not the case (the smell was much sweeter, less vegetal than predicted).
Library of Flowers Wildflower Fern
Kathleen Hou: This bath produced the most Oprah-like bathing experience. It comes in a Costco-size bulk cannister, so your chances of finding Oprah-like enlightenment via foam are very good. The bubble-to-goo ratio is also excellent as you need just a slim pour of goo to create bubbles that obscure your whole body. The only drawback are the scents, which are a little quirky and smell a bit like homemade tranquility candles made by your high school art teacher.
Laura Mercier Fresh Fig Honey Bath
Maggie Lange: Laura Mercier’s fresh fig honey bath has a warm, soft fragrance perfect for a delicate bath experience. It’s most notable for arriving with a wooden honey drizzler that one dips into the goop and holds under the tap. It makes one feel very involved in the bubble creation. This makes a good soak feel earned.
Fresh Rice Sake Bath
Kathleen Hou: This bubble bath smells like the breath of an alcoholic aunt in James and the Giant Peach (in a good way). There’s a faint, fresh peach smell to the bath with a slight hint of alcohol. Surprisingly, this creates a lovely bath that isn’t too sweet, with a light, non-fluffy layer of bubbles.
Jo Malone Lime Basil Hand and Body Wash
Kathleen Hou: This is the Dame Helen Mirren of bubble baths. The scent is distinguished, like a garden that Kate Middleton might tend. The level of bubbles, while not quite bountiful, is ideal for those who worry unrelaxingly during baths about scrubbing their tub. This produces a dignified level of bubbles that won’t coat your tub in soap scum.