If you've never coated your body in mud, dried off in the sun, then gone swimming in a water hole to remove the mud, you haven't experienced one of life's many free sensual pleasures. But mudbaths are more than just good dirty fun; they are also a great way to get great skin, naturally.
While some people say that only a certain type of mud is good for skin, I've found that as long as you are using mud from a clean source (see details for finding those in the wild, below), all types can benefit your skin. I've bathed in volcanic-soil based muds on the Big Island of Hawaii, clay-based muds in the mountains of Vermont, and practically black mud from wetlands of New York's Hudson Valley. In each case, I came away with soft, moisturized and glowing skin. So depending where you live, your best mud source may be as close as your nearest watering hole or lakefront.
How to find good mud near you:
While there are some locations that specialize in mudbaths as part of all-natural spa treatments (see below), you can usually find good clean mud in your own area if you know where to look.
Stream beds, wetlands, lakesides, and other freshwater sources can all be good places to hunt for mud. Bring a spade and a small bucket (it doesn't take much mud to cover your body, so you only need about a quart to cover your body and face). You will have to wade into the water, so wear shorts or a skirt that can be hiked up if you want to stay dry.
Consider your source; if your body of water is downstream from a farm, urban area, or factory of some kind, the mud is likely tainted with toxins, herbicides or pesticides. Putting this mud on your skin could give you a nice dose of whatever is in the mud (remember, you skin is your body's largest organ, and absorbs all kinds of compounds into your body), so avoid those types of locations. Ensure, to the best of your ability, that your mud source is clean.
Be mindful: the environments where mud is found are also home to myriad plants, insects and animals, and your first aim should always be for minimal impact. Choose your digging spot carefully, being sure not to dig up plants, or remove large rocks (many important insect species lay eggs underneath stream rocks). Work around them. Also don't make a huge mess while you are digging; go down into the mud at the bottom of a stream/waterhole/lake, not sideways just scraping the mud off the surface level — mud will be better deeper down and you will cause less damage by making one small vertical hole. Depending on the area, you may want to discard the top layer of mud and only use the deeper mud, which won't have anything growing in it (and no insect larvae burrowed in it).
Look for areas where mud is easily accessible (between water grasses at a lake edge can be a good spot, or where a stream bed has slowed). Look around at the whole of a stream — some areas will have larger rocks or stones deposited, another area will be where all the sand lands, while another will be good and muddy. Use your eyes and look for the slowest-moving water. Water holes often have areas further away from the swimming area where good mud has collected, so be ready to walk around the water source. Oftentimes people expect there to be good mud at a watering hole, but it is usually some distance away from a waterfall or moving water.
To apply mud:
It's pretty simple; once you have dug a small amount of mud, find a comfortable spot, preferably in the sunshine, to slather it on. If you have a friend to get your back, that's always ideal. Do you body first, and slather on a good layer, but don't 'goop' it on, rub it only gently the way you would a moisturizer. Rinse your hands off (or wipe them on a towel) and do your face last.
Be careful not to get any in your eyes by avoiding the forehead area (if you are sweating, it can cause mud-sweat to run into your eyes). If you do put some on your forehead, do an extra-thin layer.
Then, simply dry off in the sunshine. Wait at least 10 minutes and then jump into your swimming hole, stream, or lake, or stand in the wetland, and either scrub it off or just swim around.
Voila! A DIY mudbath! Your skin will feel soft and supple from all the natural moisturizers; I personally don't take a soap-and-water shower for at least a few hours afterwards (I try to wait until the next day) so I can enjoy the skin-softening benefits for as long as possible (soaps are pretty drying to the skin). And don't forget to take pictures to post to Instagram of your muddy adventures!
Where to go for an official mudbath:
If you don't have good mud near you, or you're suspicious of what's upstream (or you don't feel confident that you can find mud on your own), there are spas galore that offer the treatment, at various prices. California seems to lead the pack in the number and variety of spas that offer local mud treatments in the United States. Calistoga is especially well-known for its volcanic ash mud, available at Calistoga Spa, Golden Haven, and Indian Springs. There's also Glen Ivy Hot Springs in Corona, California, and for an all-natural mudbath experience in the California desert, run by the Bureau of Land Management (just a small entry fee) there's Tecopa Hot Springs. Outside the U.S., Hells Gate Rorotua in New Zealand,is managed by the indigenous Maori people and is part of a geothermal reserve (so like the California options above, there are natural hot waters to bathe in post-mud). Hveragerdi Geothermal Park in Iceland also offers mudbaths in addition to geothermal spring baths. Terme de Vulcano in Sicily, Italy is famous for its natural (sulfurous) mud baths right next to the sea.
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