The act of bathing has a fascinating history, one that spans many ancient cultures and civilizations with elaborate rituals ranging from hygiene and religious, to therapeutic, and even social. With our whole world turned upside down due to the coronavirus pandemic, self-care and personal cleanliness have taken on new meaning.
I have long been curious about the history of bathing, and have always believed in the power of washing off yesterday to start the new day fresh, clean, and uncluttered both literally and metaphorically speaking. But, in all of my years of searching for the best products across all beauty and personal care categories I hadn’t ever really connected with a body wash.
That is, until recently when I tried Bathing Culture’s Mind And Body Wash. Something about the intriguing woodsy scent with floral tones immediately drew me in and took my mind back to a simpler time in my life—something I (like most) will welcome wherever I can find it in these overly complicated times.
Launched on Earth Day in 2016, Bathing Culture was founded by childhood friends Spencer Arnold and Tim Hollinger and offers a range of personal care products made from ingredients that are biodegradable, sustainable, and ethically harvested and produced including a body wash, a facial oil and toner, and CBD-based bath salts that are packaged in environmentally-friendly materials.
“Creating a line of products that people needed was important to us. We didn’t want to create products that weren’t necessary in life,” Arnold tells me. “We are inspired by the transformational power of bathing and how it’s fundamental to humans. Bathing is the perfect opportunity to take a breath, get to know ourselves better, and reset. While many of our friends focus on finding a place to put their yoga mat in their homes to do this, we think that bathing is often overlooked for this purpose. Our goal with Bathing Culture is to bring the bathing ritual’s many benefits to light.”
When I ask how the pair got their company off of the ground financially Hollinger tells me, “We raised money by selling ice cream sandwiches and getting our friends to buy a year of soap. We’re still a very bootstrapped little crew. Everyone on the team here has made personal sacrifices for Bathing Culture to come to life.”
Prior to launching Bathing Culture Hollinger had stint at NPR in addition to being part of various start-ups including healthy lunchables, an urban gardening website, and an aquaculture company. Arnold’s passion for the aromatic healing powers of plants began with his mother, who studied natural perfumery and he began his career at eco-fashion brand Rothy’s where he helped develop the company’s environmental practices and was a founding employee of the company’s $1B+ recent valuation.
The duo saw an opportunity to work together and bring their innate love of the outdoors to clean up what they saw as a dirty industry by offering a biodegradable and non-toxic product.
“There’s a lot of gnarly stuff out there,” Hollinger tells me when I ask what types of toxic ingredients are found in body washes specifically. “A few areas where we see challenges are ingredients that are plant-derived but processed into new compounds with petrochemicals. For example, Cocamidopropyl Betaine typically gets a ‘green’ pass but is processed with petrochemicals. Same with radish root.”
When it comes to greenwashing in the body wash category Arnold tells me, “We see all kinds. Lots of brands will throw around ‘natural’ or ‘plant-based’ or design away anything that looks too commercial so that it will have a more homespun vibe. We see a lot of vanity certifications or badges that aren’t backed by a third party. Sometimes these make sense. Tther times they’re red herrings.”
Arnold also points out that the term ‘fragrance’ can be a bit misleading as well. “’Fragrance,’ is a proprietary mix of ingredients that often includes petroleum-based synthetics. “‘Sodium Myreth Sulfate,’ is also floating around in a bunch of stuff that is made with ethylene oxide,” explains Arnold. “It’s best to call up a brand and ask them if they have petroleum-based ingredients in their product makeup. Also, keep an eye on your hand sanitizer right now. Most is made from isopropyl alcohol, which is made from petroleum. Get a plant-based version.”
Packaging is something Bathing Culture wholeheartedly takes seriously from a sustainability standpoint. “Our packaging is designed primarily for refills,” Hollinger tells me. “We’re all about refills, concentrated formulas, and bulk. We spent our savings to buy recycled plastic for our limited collection of bottles. It was really hard. We had to eat a lot of beans and rice to make that work, but we did it.” The brand just launched a refill kit in a bulk size to save their customers money and to save on packaging. It is especially timely now that the pandemic has put the kibosh on the brand’s ‘bathing parties’ where refills were available.
Bathing Culture offers products in glass sourced from the United States, aluminum, and recycled plastic. “We’re offering non-plastic offerings of all our products and working to eliminate all single use plastic across our supply chain,” explains Arnold. “There are a few places that remain challenging, especially when we get raw goods delivered to us and we see an item wrapped in plastic, but we’ve been able to get a lot of folks to change. We’ve removed plastic labels from most of our products and continue to make sure whatever plastic we do use is coming from recycled plastic that would otherwise be heading to a landfill.”
Hollinger adds, “We actually switched the small amount of plastic we use to another type that would be more widely accepted at recycling facilities across the US and not just in major metros. We also offset the carbon footprint of all of our glass shipments, which is really important because finding the ‘best’ packaging can become a game of robbing Peter to pay Paul if you’re not careful. One of our very first employees has an environmental science background. A huge part of her job is to ensure we get sustainability right and continue to make solid progress.”
In addition to the packaging, the brand also prioritizes the quality of the ingredients they use in their formulations. “We look at our whole supply chain, so the ingredients we use are being grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers on land that has been used for responsible agriculture for generations. So you’re only getting the good stuff,” Arnold tells me.
As soon as you lather yourself up, the quality of the product in addition to the curious scent that keeps me (and many others) coming back becomes obvious. In a dirty world where our freedoms to indulge in so many pleasures have been squashed for the time being, Bathing Culture products offer a little of ‘the good stuff’ we all need right now.
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