strat investigates

The Bath Bomb — Instagram’s Favorite Bathing Toy — Explained

Photo: Emma Sutcliffe/Getty Images

Among all kinds of other bizarre things in the news lately, John Mayer recorded a song on Instagram Stories … about bath bombs. It’s a joke, sure, but a fairly well-produced one that doesn’t sound that different from Mayer’s other Soft Rock FM songs. And Mayer’s enthusiasm isn’t even that much of an outlier: Suddenly, bath bombs are fizzing in tubs all over Beauty Instagram. Per Google, searches for the term “bath bomb” have risen 123 percent annually since 2015.

Bath bombs were invented in 1989 when British beauty entrepreneur Mo Constantine, inspired by the fizzing action of an Alka-Seltzer tab, started messing around with formulas that could plop into bath water. She and her husband eventually founded Lush, where they stacked bath bombs in crates, like tangerines at a grocery store. Lush makes a ton of other stuff (like some Strat-approved conditioner), but the dissolving baseball-size orbs (typically made of citric acid, baking soda, Epsom salts, and then oils and scents) took off on a life of their own. Mayer’s song was devoted specifically to the brand’s the Big Sleep Jelly Bomb, which turns bathwater into a frothy, Shrek-like green.

Like unicorn lattes and pool floaties, bath bombs come off as perfectly engineered for Instagram — they’re fun, but they’re even more photogenic — even if they predate social media. “Bath bombs are sooo trendy right now,” confirms Sapphire Rayne, a 24-year-old Canadian who’s racked up 115,000 followers since founding her bath-bomb test-drive account (@lush4lush) a year ago. (She now does this full-time, getting requests from international brands to promote their products on her feed.) “They’ve become huge because of social media, especially [the interest in] ASMR,” internet speak for a sensory turn-on. “I get random messages from people saying my videos help them calm down from high-stress situations.”

Lush, the actual store, is currently kind of like what Barnes & Noble was to bookstores in 1998 — a corporate giant in an otherwise largely independent landscape. Lush has three locations in Manhattan, and its 12-year-old fans (and their parents) regularly wait on line just to go inside. Lush is close to becoming the brand name for bath bombs (think “Lush bombs” standing in for bath bombs), but there’s a selection of other bombs from small brands out there, ranging from ones created by teenage entrepreneurs to ones sold by Rudy’s, the Seattle barbershop founded by the late Alex Calderwood, who also helped launch the Ace Hotel.

Plenty of bombs out there are little more than spheres of salts and food dyes, but with help from some so-called Bath Influencers like Rayne, @lushdolly, “solitary witch” and “bath lover” @toxicbitchcraft, we rounded up a handful of the ones worth knowing.

A 10-year-old and 12-year-old sister duo (who are now 15 and 16) founded Da Bomb Bath Fizzers in 2012, and theirs are like the modern-day equivalent of Cracker Jack boxes: Each bomb has a secret treat inside. The Fairy Bomb is one of their newest.

Some, like this Party Bomb, also have sprinkles.

According to its makers, Echo Park, Los Angeles–based House of Intuition (whose product line also includes crystals and “holy waters”), this bomb is made with “love and magic.” Also: peppermint, Epsom salt, and rose petals.

“We’re here to help when life gets in the way of your detox diet,” reads the tagline for this Australian company. We’re pretty sure that means these are for hangovers. The bath bombs, which come in sets of four, contain fulvic and humic acid that purport to help the body’s nutrient-absorption process, and act as an anti-inflammatory. Reviews on Instagram — which include claims that the bombs suppress fibromyalgia and lupus symptoms — border on Evangelical: “How did I recover after last nights heavy lifting in class to be able to lift again this morning?!?! I turned the bathroom lights off, lite a candle & soaked for 25 min in a super hot detox bath thank you @lequere for making a product so good,” says one.

The bath bomb craze has a lot to do with gimmicks. One example: Whiskey River Soap Co. (they make a craft-beer-and-bacon-scented soap) designed this one to smell like a saucer of warm milk and turn your water a pale peach, reminiscent of the coat of your favorite calico. Hence, the cat-person product name.

Technically not a bath bomb, but similar in fizziness, shower bombs go on the drain-adjacent shower floor or get propped on a shelf. (They usually contain less essential oils than their bath counterparts, you won’t slip.) This version, from barbershop Rudy’s, has notes of vanilla and nutmeg.

There’s a goth subset of bath-bomb culture that is partial to coffin- and tombstone-shaped bombs. This one comes from the Belfast-based clothing store Bella Muerte. It turns your tub into an inky black, and garnered 1.4 million views when Instagram user @toxicbitchcraft — a very influential character in the goth-bath-bomb space — took it for a test drive.