Epsom salt baths are popular. But do their health claims hold water?

Does bathing in Epsom salt increase the level of magnesium in the body? It turns out that all you have heard may need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Myupchar February 27, 2020 13:47:30 IST
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Epsom salt baths are popular. But do their health claims hold water?

You may have seen some medicine cabinets and bathroom trays lined with bottles of Epsom salt. It has been used for a long time as a remedy for many ailments and for its cosmetic effects as well. Bathing in Epsom salts is especially popular; two cups of the compound are added to a hot bath to ease the pain and stress of the day. 

Epsom salt baths are popular But do their health claims hold water

Representational image. Image by StockSnap from Pixabay.

Interestingly, Epsom salt is atomically different from salt - it is, in fact, magnesium sulfate and not sodium chloride and is named after Epsom, a town in England, where it was discovered. Its alleged health benefits are linked to the magnesium it contains. Magnesium, an abundant mineral in the body, assists in many tasks like maintaining nerve and muscle function, keeping the joints and bones strong, and is also involved with the immune system. 

It is believed that the magnesium in Epsom salts is an important supplementary source of the mineral since people are often deficient in it. However, does this stand scientific scrutiny? Does bathing in Epsom salts actually increase the level of magnesium in the body? It turns out that all you have heard about the wonder drug may just need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Does Epsom salt really work?

The most commonly used method of using Epsom salt is by dissolving them in a bath. It is believed that the mineral is absorbed through the skin. Unfortunately, there are no studies that show that the mineral can actually be absorbed through the skin in any meaningful quantity. The skin is a protective barrier and won’t just let anything that comes in contact with it through. Therefore, the hot baths that are supposed to calm aches and reduce stress are probably working because of placebo. This doesn’t mean that Epsom salt is useless - placebo is actually a powerful therapeutic tool. It’s just that it’s not the magnesium healing the body. 

Having said that, magnesium itself is used for a variety of purposes. Lower levels of magnesium are linked to difficulty sleeping since magnesium assists in the production of melatonin, a hormone that is associated with sleep. Also, those suffering from joint pain or arthritis may be prescribed magnesium supplements to take care of any mineral deficiencies. Similarly, athletes recovering from exercise or injuries can also benefit from magnesium supplementation. 

Is Epsom salt a good source of magnesium?

The question then becomes whether Epsom salt can provide for a magnesium deficiency. This is unlikely since bathing is not a reliable way to absorb the mineral. While taking it orally is generally considered safe in small quantities, most people are put off by the taste of it and it can also have some side effects like bloating and an upset stomach. Leafy greens and dry fruits are a better bet to get your required dose of magnesium. 

Are there any scientifically-backed uses?

There is some respite for Epsom salt after all. It has been approved by the FDA as a laxative. Dissolving 2-6 teaspoons in a glass of water is supposed to hasten bowel movement and can relieve constipation. There is a risk of taking too much, which can lead to bloating and gas. While unlikely, gross overdoses can lead to more serious problems such as paralysis, coma and even death. 

How can I make the best use of Epsom salt?

As mentioned above, if you find Epsom salt baths relaxing and they appear to calm your aches, there is no reason to stop since there are no associated health risks. 

Also, there are many cosmetic applications of Epsom salts that are worth trying. It can be used as a foot scrub to soften the skin and help with cracked heels. It can also be added to your regular face wash as it is supposed to cleanse pores and brighten the face. Many people also use it with their conditioners to add volume to their hair. 

The advantage of Epsom salt is that it is cheap and easily available. It is easy to use as-is or as a supplement with cosmetic products. So even though robust science does not back more grandiose claims, it can be used safely to calm the nerves and experience the power of the placebo effect.

For more information, read our articles on Home remedies.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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