There’s a reason being called “salt of the earth” is a compliment. Salt — more specifically, salt water — can offer some considerable perks for your hair, skin, mouth, and body in general. With that said, there are some caveats. It’s important to know what salt water can and can’t do, so you can reap all the benefits, without hurting yourself in the long run.
“Salt water is mainly composed of sodium and chloride,” Hillary Cecere, RDN, Registered Dietitian for Eat Clean Bro, says. “Sodium, found in salt water, is an essential mineral. It helps regulate fluid balance and is required for muscle and nerve function. The body also uses sodium to control blood pressure and blood volume.”
However, Cecere warns that too much salt can lead to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
There are also some unproven claims out there about how and to what extent salt water can improve your health. Ancient Ayurvedic medicine says that doing saltwater flushes can be a way to detox your stomach, intestines, and colon. However, there isn’t enough research to support this, and it can even be dangerous.
Despite all these caveats, some of the benefits of salt water are worth, well, their salt.
It can be rehydrating
“A small amount of salt water could be beneficial to rehydrate and replace electrolytes after an especially gruelling workout or even after the stomach flu,” says Cecere. However, usually it’s only extreme athletes or marathoners who need to rebalance with salt.
If you just went a little harder than usual in HIIT class, you can usually just stick to plain water.
Gargling does wonders for mouth inflammation.
Growing up, your mom probably told you to gargle salt water to help with the occasional canker sore. Although it sounds a bit like an old wives' tale, the dental community actually backs this trick. A sodium water mix can also help with fighting mouth, gum, and throat bacteria to improve overall dental health. The American Dental Association recommends people gently gargle salt water after dental surgeries and procedures.
Salt water pools feel like heaven
If you want to feel like you're drifting on cloud, a salt water pool is one of the closest simulations. Most people who've swam in these pools will tell you they just feel better.
Rick Woemmel, president of Bi-State Pool & Spa and a member of the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance's builders council, says that salt pools are a greener alternative to buying chlorine to keep your pool clean. "The biggest misconception about salt water pools is that there's no chlorine, and nothing's keeping your pool clean," Woemmel says. "It's chemistry. It's sodium chloride, and so salt water pools do make chlorine." You're just purchasing salt instead of chlorine itself.
The upshot of the salt water pool is that it's easier to keep the pH balance of the water at the ideal level, 7.5. If the pH in the pool is balanced, it's better for your skin, and won't make your eyes burn as much. It won't really change the way you swim, but it can make it a more pleasant experience because of the balanced pH.
We all love a good epsom salt bath
Some people swear by Epsom salts for sore muscles. But there are a few things to know before you put all your faith in them. First of all, it's different from regular salt (scientists refer to it as magnesium sulfate heptahydrate), and its the magnesium part you're supposed to benefit from.
Amy Baxter, MD — founder and CEO of Pain Care Labs and associate clinical professor with the Medical College of Georgia — says that studies have shown magnesium helps to relax muscles and has anti-inflammatory properties. And magnesium blocks NDMA receptors, which signal your brain that you're in pain. Sounds great, right? But the thing is, Baxter says no peer-reviewed studies have shown that a magnesium soak will block those receptors, which would in turn make you register your soreness as less painful. "It's much more effective if taken orally as a supplement," Baxter says.
The good news: "It’s in a bath, so you're taking in the heat and relaxing," Baxter says. "Just plain old hot water baths would be helpful. If you stayed in it a really long time, maybe you could absorb some amount of magnesium and get the other benefits, but it would probably have to be for hours."
It can improve your skin
“I love using salt water and salt scrubs topically to keep my skin clear, but actually drinking it is not necessary,” says Cecere.
Adding sea salt to your water when you’re washing your face can also help remove dead skin and exfoliate it. There's lots of talk about salt’s supposedly anti-inflammatory properties can also be beneficial for wound healing, although the jury is still out on that. One 2006 study found that it could increase inflammation when it came to wounds. The study was done on rats, not people, and was published in The Chinese Journal of Burns.
It can help you achieve the perfect beachy waves.
There are tons of sea salt sprays on the market that aim to give your hair that "I just came from the beach" look. These products boast that the sodium will offer texturizing benefits.