If Cleopatra indulged in all the beauty treatments attributed to her, she wouldn’t have had time to rule her empire, seduce Mark Antony, or learn to speak Egyptian. But a girl’s gotta bathe, so the one skin-smoother she probably did rely on — milk baths — no doubt helped her bring Caesar and Mark to heel. Did Cleo know something we’ve forgotten? Actually, yes.
“Milk is a super soother for chapping, windburn, sunburn, eczema, and other skin irritations,” says New York dermatologist Amy Wechsler, MD. “It contains proteins (whey and casein), fat, amino acids, lactic acid, and vitamins A and D, all of which calm dry, upset skin.”
For irritations like sunburn and eczema, Dr. Wechsler suggests applying compresses dipped in cool milk. But use whole milk; skim won’t do because it doesn’t contain fat, one of milk’s most soothing components
If compresses aren’t practical—say you’ve managed to broil the backs of your legs on a beach getaway—a milk bath will give you some relief. Add 2 to 4 cups to a warm (not hot) tub and soak for 20 minutes. You can use powdered whole milk, too: As the water flows from the faucet, sprinkle the amount of powder needed to make a quart of milk.
Milky baths also soften skin, according to Wechsler. Milk’s lactic acid weakens the “glue” that sticks the dead, ready-to-be-shed cells to the skin’s surface and makes it look dull and dry. Soak for 15 minutes, and then give your body a gentle neck-to-toe scrubdown with a bath brush, loofah, or washcloth. This will slough off those dead cells, leaving skin smoother and softer.