Spa Rituals for Summer - Onsen

Four Scents Team

Discover the relaxing spa ritual of Onsen...


Progressing into longer days, Summer’s optimism is complemented by the a more relaxing undertone brought in by the warmth. A sense of adventure sets in too, so what captures this quite like the Onsen from Japan? Take a dive into this remarkable ritual…
Historical Japanese Onsen Building

Where did the Onsen Originate?

This unique traditional Japanese bathing culture stretches far back. The Nihon Shoki text, one of Japan’s oldest books written in 720, documents three Onsen – Arima, Shirahama and Dogo (evidence of these being used over 3,000 years ago). The indigenous Shinto religion highly prioritised cleanliness. Before the shrine was entered, it was important to cleanse symbolically by misogi or ritual ablution. Therefore, bathing became a way to purify the body and soul.


In the Middle Ages, Onsen moved beyond religious circles and were primarily used by samurai and soldiers resting and healing at Onsen after battle, as they were mainly used to treat ailments and offered relaxation. It became a vital code of conduct, fostering trust and camaraderie among them before battle. However, they weren’t accessible to commoners – the Sento, or neighbourhood baths, introduced the concept of social bathing for those who couldn’t afford their own private baths. They grew in popularity, and the concept attributed to the success of the Onsen industry.


However, with connections between major cities improving in the Edo period (17th – 19th centuries), Hakone was one of the places that was popular as a stopover, and travellers would use the Onsen for relaxation purposes. The modern hotel/Onsen grew out of this and was in itself considered a travel destination, becoming ingrained in Japanese culture as a more luxurious and recreational experience.

Outdoor hot spring in an Onsen  

What is an Onsen?

It is a public bath place which uses water from hot springs. Due to its geographical and geological features, including many volcanoes, Japan boasts thousands of them. Onsen are divided into volcanic hot springs where heat is sourced from underground magma of volcanoes, and non-volcanic hot springs, drawing heat from radioactive elements underground. For instance, the hot springs in Tokyo come from the water heated by the earth’s core under Kanto.
Depending on the ingredients in the water, they vary in colour and health benefits, generally subject to the location. The legal definition of an Onsen is that its water must contain at least 1 of 19 designated chemical elements, including minerals such as iron, metabolic acid and sulphur, and must be 25 degrees Celsius or warmer before being reheated.

The Onsen Experience

Onsens are quiet places, used typically for relaxation and meditation, with minimal chatting among guests. It is ultimately a soaking routine with a particular etiquette.

The Initial Cleanse

This means beforehand, a complete clean is necessary, even your hair. It includes washing the bucket you’re given and the stool you are sat on. Then, you soak the towel and wash the entire body, using the towel to rub off dead skin – usually this takes as much time as relaxing in the hot springs.

The Main Event

Then, shower off, clean the spot you have been, clean your towel in hot water, put it aside and you’re ready to use the hot springs. Sometimes you will be expected to clean your feet before you enter. The bucket you’ve been given is useful to take some of the water from the pool to carefully pour over yourself to acclimatise. For some, sitting down as fast as possible helps your body to regulate the difference in temperature.
You could use the cold pool to cool down between the hot baths. Before entering, wash off any sweat from previous pools (or the sauna – some Onsen have one), and you don’t need to submerge if the temperature change feels too intense. Taking a break in between helps you to adjust better to the differences in temperature.
No clothes are permitted, which seems daunting; however, the explanation is that everyone then becomes an equal in an Onsen and the relaxed atmosphere alleviates any self-consciousness. They are gender-separated, but the lounge area isn’t segregated and can be accessed once dried and dressed after your bathing experience to relax and have a light meal.
    Onsen bath with mountain view

Benefits of Onsen

As the mineral content of each hot spring varies, so will the benefits – these are usually outlined by each pool. So, here is a round-up of some of these:

Skin health benefits:

Water vapour helps detox and moisturise the skin.
Onsen water contains antioxidant components.
Open pores absorb mineral goodness. Some examples of mineral properties:
Carbonate ion: curbs inflammation and helps accelerate wound healing.
Silica: improves dry skin, smooths and softens skin, improves brittle nails.
Sulphur: helps improve skin problems such as eczema and acne.  

General health benefits:

Reduces headaches and muscle pains (heat of water expands blood vessels, helping to lessen inflammation).
Improves circulation.
Burns calories.
Some mineral benefits:
Carbon Dioxide: reduces blood pressure.
Copper and iron: improves anaemia.
Sodium bicarbonate: beneficial for gastrointestinal issues.

Holistic benefits:

Reduced stress levels.
Stimulates parasympathetic (rest & digest) nervous system at 37 – 40 degrees Celsius.
Improves sleep.
Buoyancy increases feelings of wellbeing, energy and ease of movement. The quiet atmosphere and, where Onsens are often set in stunning scenery, promote feelings of relaxation.
      Woman running candlelit bath

Onsen at Home

Picking up elements of this ritual, there are aspects of the Onsen that can be recreated at home to create the feel of an exotic Summer retreat…
  1. Create an ambient environment to help you disconnect from the day’s stresses, with the gentle background fragrance of our Summer Radiance Reed Diffuser – the exotic blend of Neroli, Ylang-Ylang and Jasmine will help soothe the senses.

  2. Start off with a deep cleanse. Our Organic cold-pressed Jojoba Oil lifts away impurities while hydrating the skin on a deeper level, and the cotton terry pads in our Cleansing Kit have a gentle exfoliating effect.

  3. Shower thoroughly and use either a towel or exfoliating glove to remove dead skin in preparation for the next step.

  4. Have a soak in a warm bath with our Summer Radiance Himalayan Salts for the mineral water experience. Himalayan salts contain 84 essential minerals – remineralising is said to help boost the immune system, while helping to draw out excess fluid, having a detoxifying effect. Helping improve skin health and easing sore muscles, 15 – 20 minutes allows optimal absorption into the skin.

  5. A cold shower afterwards isn’t for the fainthearted, so a gentler Onsen-style alternative would be to splash the face with cold water afterwards. This is said to have a resetting effect on the nervous system.

  6. A little extra is a pampering treatment with our Revitalising Duo Ritual. This blends 10 ml of our nutrient-rich Organic Rosehip Oil with a drop of our Summer Radiance Essential Oil. As well as encouraging relaxation, it boasts benefits for the skin:


Mandarin Essential Oil – Improves skin’s elasticity.

Petitgrain Essential Oil – Helps reduce the appearance of pores.

Neroli Essential Oil – Helps regenerate skin cells.

Rose Essential Oil – Rejuvenating benefits address dullness.

Jasmine Essential Oil – Hydrates dry and sensitive skin.

Ylang-Ylang Essential Oil – Balances and regulates oil production.

Tuberose Essential Oil – Soothes inflammation.

     Four Scents Bath salts on bath rack with Four Scents candles

A great place to start if you want to sample Summer Radiance is our Relaxing Gift Collection. Containing a Traveller Candle, travel-sized Himalayan Bath Salts, 10ml Room Mist and full-sized Organic Jojoba Oil, this works well as an accompaniment to your summer travels too.
Bring in the season of light, warmth and adventures with a mini-retreat for a hard-earned reset. Celebrate summer feeling radiant and rejuvenated!



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