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Since its discovery, people have turned to Epsom salt as a folk remedy believed it could heal all sorts of ailments. Named for the location in England where it was discovered, Epsom salt is estimated to have been in use for at least 400 years.
The effectiveness of Epsom salt baths in achieving health benefits is open for debate.
Many believe that when you bath in water with dissolved Epsom salt, the active ingredients (magnesium and sulfate) are rapidly absorbed through your skin.
Those who practice folk remedies believe these ingredients produce many health benefits, including weight loss.
A 2016 review of magnesium in the Journal of Nutrition and Food Services reported that there’s no scientific proof that magnesium can be absorbed well via your skin.
Researchers noted that the only study that has conclusively shown the skin’s ability to absorb magnesium was small, not peer-reviewed, and has not been replicated.
Similarly, in 2009,
Despite conflicting evidence, if you’re interested in trying Epsom salt baths for weight management and other potential health benefits, it’s low risk and might be worth a try.
The main benefits of Epsom salt come from its active ingredients. Though Epsom salt looks like and shares a name with table salt, they’re actually different chemical compounds.
Table salt is sodium rather than magnesium and sulfate. However, the ingredients in Epsom salt are vital minerals for the body and hard to come by through diet alone. This is why many people try to absorb them through their skin during a bath.
Keep in mind, taking Epsom salt baths will not cause drastic weight loss, but it can support your healthy lifestyle. Weight management is best achieved through a balanced diet and physical activity.
Epsom salt baths have been used to:
- improve nutrient intake
- support the body’s detox systems
- ease constipation
- replace emotional eating with a warm bath to relax and de-stress
A 2009 review reported that magnesium levels in food are declining. But consuming foods that are rich in dietary magnesium can help you increase your intake.
The following body systems and functions rely on healthy levels of magnesium to work properly:
- cardiac and circulation
- nervous system
- serotonin use and mood-stabilizing
- detoxing and flushing heavy metals
Epsom salt is also full of sulfate. Sulfates are important for:
- adequate muscle protein
- healthy joints
- digestive tract function
- detoxification within the pancreas
Putting these lists together, you can see why some believe that Epsom salt baths may be beneficial.
However, more research is needed to determine how well people can actually absorb magnesium and sulfate from bath water.
Other potential benefits of Epsom salt include:
- easing swelling and sore muscles
- improving circulation
- promoting better sleep
- healing skin
How to take an Epsom salt bath:
- Fill the tub with warm water (a healthy heat range is between 92°F to 100°F (33°C to 38°C).
- Add approximately two cups of Epsom salt.
- Add a few drops of essential oils to the water if you want. Be sure not to use too much oil, and only use oils that you know you’re not sensitive to.
- Soak in the bath for at least 12 minutes. (Some healthcare providers recommend up to 40 minutes, but you should start with lower intervals of time and see how it feels.)
- Keep a plastic glass of water in the bathroom with you to drink during and after an Epsom salt bath to prevent dehydration and help your body detox.
When buying Epsom salt, choose a salt that is labeled “USP” (which means United States Pharmacopeia) and one that has a drug facts box on the label. Both indicate the product is regulated and safe for human use.
You can take an Epsom salt bath regularly but probably not every day. You don’t want to risk overexposure. Remember that your body has its own natural process for detoxing.
Healthy habits can support and maintain these natural processes, but they aren’t always necessary, and more is not always better.
When you sit in an Epsom salt bath, your body responds to the heightened magnesium and sulfate in the environment, and this may cause a detox reaction.
Your body works hard to maintain a balance of nutrients and minerals, and overexposure could stress your body or cause toxicity. That’s why people with diabetes and anyone who has kidney disease should avoid Epsom salt baths.
Talk with your healthcare provider if you’d like to make Epsom salt baths a regular part of your lifestyle.
Although Epsom salt contains very important magnesium and sulfates, your body only needs the right amount of these nutrients, not too much of them.
Though overdosing on magnesium is rare, especially from Epsom salt baths,
- cardiorespiratory arrest
- respiratory depression
- cardiac arrhythmia
Because the kidneys process magnesium, anyone who has kidney problems should avoid Epsom salt and consult with a healthcare professional before taking magnesium supplements.
Epsom salt baths may also not be recommended for you if you have diabetes because soaking in a tub may increase your risk for damage to the skin on your feet.
It’s unclear whether Epsom salt baths can truly aid weight loss. Results are mostly anecdotal.
But the risks are low for people without health complications. And in the end, a soothing, warm bath can be a good way to relax.