Bath salts got a pretty bad rap this year, what with the zombie freakouts and bloody headlines that they spurred. Wait, no, that's the drug version. A much safer use of bath salts — namely soaking in the legal variety — can help keep our skin healthy and hydrated. What's more, it could possibly reduce sickness, especially in these frigid months.
Research from the U.K. shows that soaking in a bath of Epsom salts is good news for those who have overdone it at the gym, as the salts help achy muscles. But, it's also good for the 50% to 80% of Americans who suffer from magnesium deficiency, which is tied to a host of diseases such as heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, joint pain, poor digestion, and chronic fatigue. The research showed that we absorb its sulfate (which helps form joint proteins) and magnesium when bathing.
And, according to New York-based dermatologist Dr. Bobby Buka, author of Buka’s Emergencies in Dermatology, salt from the Dead Sea makes for great skin hydrators, especially during the dry winter months. “There’s something about this blend of chloride salts that’s not entirely understood by us dermatologists, but it has a healing ability on the skin,” he says.
How can merely soaking in salty water add actual hydration to the skin? According to Buka, the positive charges in the salt’s magnesium and calcium help pull smaller water molecules into the skin. This ability to hydrate is particularly helpful for patients with with compromised skin-barrier function, like those with psoriasis and eczema.
Another bonus? No shriveled digits. Buka notes that with plain bathwater, “the pruning of the skin is a dehydration. If you’re in the bathtub long enough, that water will start pulling from your own tissue and pull water out of the skin.” Salty water, however, hydrates, making pruning a non-factor.
In addition to its ability to hydrate the skin, sea and thermal salt baths, such as Kneipp’s Arnica Joint & Muscle Mineral Bath Salt, also serve as an antimicrobial battleground that can help ward off seasonal flus and the common cold. No matter how clean we aim to be, our skin becomes host to camps of bacteria. But, those camps are sabotaged when the ionicity of bath water is changed by sea salts.
“Mostly bacteria, and also viruses, really don’t like ionicity of that water,” Buka says. “It’s so salty and that disrupts a lot of the cellular membranes of these bacteria that are trying to thrive. It’s an uncomfortable place for this bacteria to proliferate. For microbial-phobes and people who want to decrease the number of flus they get or the common cold, it makes sense to bathe in a microbial-hostile environment.”
Buka recommends those with sensitive skin bathe with plain sea salts and in lukewarm water, while those looking for a more sensory experience can try salt spiked with skin-soothing essential oils, like Osmia Organics Salt Bath (which contains chamomile, lavender, and rose otto).
Because salts from the Dead Sea can be pricey (it's surprisingly easy to concoct a $25 bath), Himalayan blends (such as EO Bath Salt and Soak) offer a more wallet-friendly way to harness the hydrating power of sea salts, which have similarly healing properties.
Reasons Buka, “If you have a potpourri of different positively charged chlorinated atoms, like magnesium, bromide, and potassium, then it seems to me you would have a very similar effect in that the salts would help transfer increased water mobility into your skin.”
Finally, what if you want to harness the healing powers of the salty sea, but have no tub to speak of? Ahava Liquid Dead Sea Salt can give the skin mineral-rich benefits without the soak. Meant to be used in the shower, the gel rinses away, leaving smooth and soft skin behind.
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