During the 16th century the world fell into the "Dark ages" where superstitious beliefs of the Church equated cleanliness with self indulgence and sin. A new Christian trend emerged where dirt was a symbol of one's spirtual purity and indicated restraint against sexuality. To ward off the overwhelming stench that must have been prevalent during the period, the use of powders, perfumes, wigs, cosmetics and layers of clothes became a necessity. Snuff was used to clear the nostrils if a particular whiff would cause a sudden faint.
Fortunately in the 19th century investigations revealed the necessity of hygiene, and that clean water helped prevent and cure many diseases such as typhoid and fever. Epsom, mineral and sulphur baths became popular, and Spas became all the rage over Europe.
In the modern day and age it's a common practice in many countries. Spas, steam rooms, saunas and public bathhouses are a daily/weekly tradition for families and friends.
The type of bathhouse custom varies by culture. Here are a few.. if you want to know more. Travel sites, especially luxury ones have piles of info where spas can bleed your wallet dry.
Budapest, Hungary (Thermal bath)
Known for their Thermal Baths there are many to chose from. Popularized in 1565, buildings are built around a natural hot spring creating an authentic way of acquiring mineral rich waters for health. The eclectic Széchenyi Baths, prestigious Gellért Baths, and neoclassical Lukács Baths are among the best.
Istanbul, Turkey (Turkish Bath: Hammam)
Some people worry about cleanliness however there are numerous 5 star hotels that offer traditional Turkish Baths with no communication difficulties. Similar to ancient Greek and Roman practices, a bather first relaxes in a room that is heated by a continuous flow of hot and dry air to encourage perspiration. The bather is then ushered into a hot room before splashing themselves with cold water. They complete the process with a full body wash and massage. Retiring into a cooling room the body is left feeling rejuvenated.
Japan, Ibusiki Osen, Kagoshima (Ryokan)
One of the Kyushu Islands's top spas at the southernmost tip. Famous for the black volcanic sand that is heated by the subterranean hot springs. The Hakusaiken Ryokan have their visitors wrapped in cotton yukata gowns where they lay down on warm sand and are buried in hot sand up to their necks. The process is reknown for its health benefits, and after a rinse, they can relax in a series of hot pools.
Finland, (Sauna, steam bathing)
Not for the shy or abashed. Nudity is how to do it right. Used to combat the harsh realities of a long winter, the original Finnish Sauna was a smoke sauna. A fire is lit under stones in a sauna room (wood house), and the smoke escapes through a hole in a wall. Afterwards, when the fire is put out, the hole is shut and fresh air is let in to enjoy an ideal germ free sauna environment.