The idea of putting more salt in our bodies is frowned upon in many health sectors, but what about putting it on our bodies?
Salt is one of the most important minerals in modern society. Indeed, ancient civilizations knew about its many properties and made great use of them too. According to Snehal Amin, MD, FAAD, Amin 一 ancient Egyptians used it to cleanse and disinfect the skin.
But, as with all things skincare, much of the story lays beneath the surface.
Is saltwater good for the skin?
The general rule with any skincare ingredient is this: the stronger a compound is, the more specific we have to be about its application. Just look at Vitamin C.
It’s one of the most popular ingredients in beauty products, and for good reason. It’s nutrient-rich, moisturizing, and supports healthy cell function. And yet, when used in topicals, our skin can only absorb it at a concentration of 20–30%. Any higher and the absorption rate drops.
So what about salt?
What the experts say about saltwater and skincare
A 2018 study in the International Journal of Biometeorology investigated the relationship between saltwater and skin. Researchers found that sodium-rich water could act as a therapeutic agent when applied topically. According to the study:
“When topically administered, this water-rich in sodium and chloride penetrates the skin where it is able to modify cellular osmotic pressure and stimulate nerve receptors in the skin via cell membrane ion channels known as “Piezo” proteins.”
Dr. Adam Sheridan of the Australasian College of Dermatologists discussed a similar effect with seawater. However, he provides an important caveat about its role in skincare:
“[Salt water] is hydrating up to a certain point, so if you go for a relatively short swim it’s good for you, but it will be dehydrating if you get in there too long,“
Medical researchers and dermatologists agree: saltwater can be beneficial, but only in moderation, and only at the right concentration.
Sea salt vs table salt: what’s the difference for skincare?
Dr. Sheridan’s seawater example brings up another important point. Not all salt is good salt, at least when it comes to your skin.
Salt from ocean water is usually considered healthier than table salt. It’s less processed, contains trace minerals like potassium and calcium, and the salt granules tend to be larger. The last point is the only one we need to focus on here.
When it comes to skincare, salt is a mechanical exfoliant. It works like a sugar or coffee scrub, removing dead cells through physical motion, not a chemical reaction. Crucially, it’s water-soluble. This means the granules meltdown before they become too abrasive,
Potential benefits of saltwater on the health of your skin
When done safely, saltwater can be a fun, homemade treatment to cleanse the skin. But what benefits should you look out for most?
As mentioned, salt is a great mechanical exfoliant, but any saltwater solution should be made with care. As a general rule, don’t use more than a teaspoon of salt per 2 cups of boiled water for your solution. This will keep the concentration low enough to apply topically.
Always give the mixture enough time to cool. The trace minerals in sea salt can provide extra nourishment for smooth skin. Still, the key when starting is moderation, especially for exfoliating an area as sensitive as the face.
For a full-body treatment, a saltwater bath is a great way to mimic the revitalizing effects of seawater, especially when there’s no beach nearby. Again, pay attention to salt concentration and how long your skin is exposed to any solution.
If you add a one-third cup of salt 15-30 minutes in a warm bath is all you need for a relaxing, detoxifying soak. While Epsom salt is considered the go-to for detoxing, the minerals in sea salt and seawater generally) can be beneficial too.
Salt baths detoxify the skin through reverse osmosis. Sulfates in the salt flush heavy metals and toxins. Don’t stay in the bath too long, and drink plenty of water before and after to keep your body hydrated throughout.
Reduction in pore size
That’s right, saltwater can reduce the appearance of pores. The solution tightens the skin while flushing oils and toxins that clog pores and make them more visible. The result: clear and smooth skin.
This may be particularly valuable to people with acne-prone or oily skin. That said, this is not an acne treatment. Your two most important guides are your skin’s reaction and the advice of your dermatologist.
Things to keep in mind about saltwater in skincare
As exciting as the potential benefits are, there are some considerations you should be aware of. Salt, as a mineral, is harsh on the skin in high concentrations. Even in a salt bath, it’s only nourishing for the first 20-40 minutes or so. Beyond that, it starts to actively dry out the skin.
If you’re unsure about how your skin might react, speak to a professional dermatologist before trying a salt treatment. Use salt sparingly in your solution, at least in the beginning. You can always work your way up, but don’t exceed the recommended amounts.
Even if you feel the positive effects, remember that saltwater shouldn’t be part of a daily skincare routine. A weekly salt bath is more than enough. When it comes to exfoliating, either with saltwater or salt scrub, give your skin ample time to recover between sessions.
If you experience any of the following signs, stop applying it and contact your dermatologist:
- Dryness or redness
- Itchy skin
- Overly tight skin
And don’t forget the most important rule in skincare 一 moisturize!
Could saltwater be right for your skincare and health?
Our skin has a delicate relationship with saltwater and salt in general. Even the sodium we eat can impact our appearance, so treat it with the respect it deserves. When you follow best practices, though, you put yourself in a position to see amazing results!