If you have eczema, you’ve probably heard of countless magical cures for you to try. Tea tree? Healing crystals? Sure, Jan.
You’ve also probably Googled your way through a slew of supposed relief remedies. One surely comes up again and again: Epsom salt baths.
So, what’s the deal? Does Epsom salt really work to reduce symptoms and relieve the itch? Before you start running some warm water, here’s what to know.
No, it doesn’t go on your pasta. Technically, it’s not even a salt at all. (And people wonder why we have trust issues.)
Epsom salt is a sulfate-magnesium compound that comes from mineral water. It’s the stuff you find in the personal care aisle next to the soaps and bath products.
It’s also the most common ingredient in commercial bath scrubs, salts, and soaks.
Athletes often dissolve it in warm water to treat achy joints and muscles. It’s also used to remedy:
- poison ivy
- bug bites
Let’s be clear: although there’s anecdotal evidence, there’s no scientific proof that Epsom salt relieves eczema symptoms.
Still, a lot of people with eczema swear by their Epsom salt baths. It could be a placebo effect, or the relief could simply come from the relaxing nature of the warm water.
Or, there could be something to it. The science just isn’t there yet.
We need more science
A 2017 review found that more in-depth research is necessary to reach a conclusion on the topical application of Epsom salt. There’s also little-to-no research on the use of Epsom salt to treat eczema specifically.
According to the National Eczema Association (NEA), soaking in a bath and moisturizing right after is the best way to keep the skin hydrated (no Epsom salt required).
Salt or no salt, taking a bath as per the NEA’s instructions can aid in relief. Here’s what to do:
- Soak for 5 to 15 minutes in lukewarm water. Lay off the hot water, which can dry out your skin and worsen symptoms.
- Use a mild cleanser that’s free of fragrances or dyes. Soap or antibacterial cleansers are too harsh for an eczema flare-up.
- Avoid using a loofah or washcloth to scrub the skin, which can cause sensitivity.
Even though there’s not enough supporting science at this time, trying an Epsom salt bath can’t hurt. So, YOLO. If you want to give it a try, here’s what to do:
- Fill the tub with warm water. Add 1 to 2 cups of Epsom salts.
- Soak in the tub for about 15 minutes.
- Repeat 2 to 3 times a week.
While you can buy pure Epsom salt, there are also many bath products out there with Epsom salt as a key ingredient. If you choose one of these, remember to skip any fragrances or dyes (bye, bye, bath bombs), which can worsen eczema symptoms.
Instead, look for a product with soothing ingredients like oatmeal or natural oils.
When you hop out of the tub, your work’s still not done. Here’s how to boost your bath’s soothing effects:
- Lightly pat — don’t rub — yourself dry with a towel, leaving your skin slightly damp. This retains moisture.
- Have a prescription eczema medication? Now’s the time to apply it.
- Moisturize your whole body within 3 minutes of drying off.
- Wait to put on clothes until the moisturizer fully absorbs.
You might also want to experiment with a few other common eczema remedies. Here are some that the NEA recommends:
- Gentle, fragrance-free bath oils can boost moisture and may aid in relaxation. Just watch out — they can make your tub slippery!
- Baking soda (a quarter cup) in the bath may relieve itchiness.
- A colloidal oatmeal bath may fight that pesky eczema itch.
- A half cup of table salt might relieve the sting from a severe flare-up.
- One cup of vinegar might kill bacteria that contributes to outbreaks.
You can also give bath oils blended with essential oils a try. But, the research is limited on how effective essential oils are for eczema (and sometimes they can even be irritating). Always do a patch test before using an essential oil that is new to you.
While short baths 2 to 3 times a week can alleviate eczema symptoms, soaking for too long or too often might make matters worse. It might be tempting to devour your whole book in the bath, but it def won’t do your skin any favors.
If you notice any reactions to Epsom salt or other soaps, hop out of the bath and stop using them. Talk to your dermatologist about what could be up.
If your fingers and toes look like raisins, you’ve gone too far. Set a timer to play it safe.
There’s no scientific evidence that Epsom salts work to treat eczema symptoms. Still, giving them a try can’t hurt.
You might also want to try a bath with oatmeal or baking soda. Avoid bathing more than 20 minutes 2 to 3 times a week, which may worsen symptoms.
If you experience an allergic reaction or your eczema gets worse, lay off the baths and talk to your dermatologist.