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Epsom salt looks like any other table salt — but don’t sprinkle it on your fries. It tastes nasty. An Epsom salt bath might chill you out and soothe your aches at the end of a long day.
This article gives you a sprinkling of Epsom salt baths’ benefits — from your muscles, to your joints to your stress levels. The bath is drawn — time to soak!
Why do people use Epsom salt baths?
The jury’s still out on how effective they are. But Epsom enthusiasts claim that soaking in an Epsom salt bath can:
- soothe tired, aching muscles
- reduce inflammation and treat skin infections and scratches
- help people feel relaxed
- exfoliate skin
- soothe dry or sunburned skin, or the symptoms of conditions like eczema
Is there any evidence supporting these claims? Not really. If it feels good and won’t hurt, give it a go!
Epsom salt, or magnesium sulphate, is a popular muscle-soothing remedy for marathon bathers and runners alike. It’s a chemical compound made up of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen.
The supposed benefits of Epsom salts may come from their magnesium content.
Several studies on small groups of people have been unable to prove whether skin can absorb magnesium when taking a bath or when applying it in the form of a cream or lotion.
And even if that’s possible, it’s not clear whether absorbing magnesium through your skin is better for you than taking supplements. After all the science, it might just be a nice bath. What’s wrong with that?
Some researches still debate the efficacy of Epsom salt baths. But if you just want to chillax and add some minerals to your soak in the process, what’s to lose? Here’s how to get your salty bath just right.
How much Epsom salt do you use for a bath?
There’s no amount of Epsom salt that’s going to make a difference to your magnesium levels. According to a research review, if it’s even possible to absorb magnesium through your skin, your body won’t absorb anywhere near enough to bump up your magnesium content.
The recommended dosage will be on the packet of whichever Epsom salt product you buy — usually between 1 and 2 cups of Epsom salt for an average-sized bathtub of water.
If you have sensitive skin, you might want to start with a lower dosage of around a 1/2 cup of Epsom salt and work your way up.
People who are allergy-prone can also test their skin beforehand by applying a compress of dampened Epsom salt to the inside of your arm. Leave it on for about 10 minutes to see whether there’s a reaction.
If you’re after a little you time, try the following steps to fill that Epsom salt bath to the brim:
- Buy some Epsom salt (duh). They’re available for purchase online. Make sure it has a USP (United States Pharmacopeia, not a Unique Selling Point) label and a drug facts box — these show that humans have assessed it for safe use in other humans.
- While running the hot water into your bath, add the recommended dosage of Epsom salt to the water. This helps it dissolve beneath the running tap before you add the cold water.
- Maybe add some essential oils if you like (pick your favorite smell and bask in it).
- Top the bath up with cold water until you reach a warm, comfortable temperature.
- Make sure the salts have dissolved.
- Languish in that salty, bubbly business for however long you want.
How often can you take Epsom salt baths?
You can take an Epsom salt bath once a week or every 2 to 3 days. Since there’s no proven medical benefit from it, there are no strict guidelines either — so, follow the instructions on the packaging as best you can.
(As mentioned above, make sure you buy from a USP-approved source, so those instructions are on point. No one needs packaging that lies to them.)
Check with your doctor beforehand if you have any health concerns. But it’s pretty tough to get a magnesium overdose just by soaking in a bath. And your bod can be something of a pro when it comes to flushing out excess magnesium in your pee.
So, an Epsom salt bath isn’t a miracle cure for skin conditions or muscle pain. But it’s also pretty hard to cause any serious damage with one. So, if it works for you, come up with a bathing routine that feels great.
How to make Epsom salt baths even better
Why not turn this into a pamper session?
- Get some soothing music on your playlist.
- Turn the lighting down (or off altogether).
- Spark up some fragrant candles.
- If you have kids in the house, lock that bathroom door. You don’t need to be disturbed every 5 minutes for a drink or to referee a squabble.
- Grab that loofah you keep forgetting about. Use this or a body brush to scrub all over your body. This gets rid of dead skin cells and might make your skin more receptive to whatever absorption might take place.
- Place a long, cool drink next to the bathtub so that you stay hydrated. (Not booze — alcohol dehydrates. Instead, go for a jug of cold, infused water or iced tea with a hint of lemon.) (If it really is that kind of weekend though, grab a cocktail — who’s judging?)
- Get into the bath, lie back, and relax. The longer you can stay in the water, the better. Ignore any knocks on the door and shouts from the kitchen. This is your time.
That depends on what claim you’re looking at.
Stress management and relaxation
The claim. Magnesium helps your brain produce sleep-promoting and stress-reducing neurotransmitters, and melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy.
The reality. Long, hot baths with Epsom salts can feel nice and relax you. That’s all, though.
One 2015 research review showed that there’s currently no evidence examining the effects of magnesium on stress levels. A 2012 research review showed that a dose of magnesium did not affect melatonin release in participants.
The claim. Epsom salt baths can top up the magnesium in your blood.
An older 2003 research review showed that compounds in the body can block dietary magnesium. This may make absorption through the skin a better way to supplement this important mineral.
The reality. But nope. You simply won’t absorb enough through your skin to make a difference. This claim is based on weak studies with no control groups.
Soothing muscle aches after exercise
The claim. The extra magnesium from a bath helps your muscles use lactic acid after exercise. This lets them recover quicker.
The reality. Nuh-uh, try again. A relaxing bath after an intense workout is the dream — but adding Epsom salts doesn’t mean that more magnesium is coming your way. Your skin won’t absorb enough.
Pain and swelling relief
The claim. Some people with fibromyalgia and arthritis report finding sweet relief from inflammation after an Epsom salt bath.
The reality. It might help some people. But only one small 2015 study found this. It’s just not enough evidence to recommend this as a pain relief remedy.
If you find that an Epsom salt bath relaxes you and soothes your aches, then go for it. But there aren’t any high quality studies that back their benefits.
A warm bath might help your blood vessels dilate and bring down blood pressure.
While this is good news for people with high blood pressure, the reverse is true if you have low blood pressure. It would be a good idea to talk with your healthcare professional before taking a hot bath, with or without Epsom salts.
You should lower the water temperature and get into the tub very slowly to avoid causing a sudden shock to your system.
In times when most folks didn’t have access to a doc, natural remedies sometimes provided a handy alternative.
A research review showed that way back in 1618 (before even MySpace existed), an English farmer from Epsom, Surrey, dug some wells on his farm to provide water for his cattle. The moo-moos weren’t keen on drinking this water, and the farmer noticed that the wells were caked with a salty residue around the edges.
Even the cows thought it tasted like dirt. But the farmer found that the water was good for healing scratches and sores in humans and animals.
Epsom then became a spa town, with people flocking from all over to experience the water’s purported “healing” properties. A physician in the area noticed that the water also had a laxative effect (which the farmer was likely pretty relieved he didn’t discover in the cows first).
Voilà! Epsom salt was patented and marketed worldwide.
Epsom salt baths can help you soothe stresses, aches, and pains as much as any other hot bath. But the jury’s still out on their benefits as a way to supplement magnesium.
There’s no confirmed benefit of adding Epsom salts to your bathwater — but there’s also no reason why not. People were mad about Epsom salts in 17th century Britain. Besides, the 21st century can be a drag too.
If nothing else, it gives you an excuse for some you time. Fill your tub, add a cup of Epsom salt if you like, put on some chill music, and relax.