A salt detox isn’t the same as pouring table salt into your bathtub. Salt detox baths are usually made of Epsom salt, which allows for minerals to “draw out” toxins from the body. Supporters may claim that soaking in an Epsom salt bath can remove harmful toxins and balance the body. They may also say that it helps with:

  • weight management
  • gaining relief from sore muscles
  • increased health
  • relaxation

Epsom salt looks similar to table salt, but it’s a completely different compound. Epsom salt is made of both magnesium and sulfate, whereas table salt is sodium.

Epsom salt has reportedly been used for over 400 years, ever since an English farmer discovered that the “bitter water” in his wells had remarkable healing properties on skin rashes and injuries. Read on to learn about the benefits of Epsom salt and how to use it in a bath.

Magnesium absorption is the biggest benefit of an Epsom salt bath. There needs to be more studies to confirm that your body can absorb magnesium across the skin, but one 2004 study looked at 19 participants and found increased levels of magnesium and sulfate in the blood after the baths.

BenefitsMethodHow it works
softer skin20-minute bath soakmay soften skin, reduce inflammation, and strengthen the skin barrier to keep skin hydrated
muscle soreness and pain12-minute bath soakreduces inflammation, muscle aches, and tension; there’s moderate evidence that magnesium can reduce muscle cramps
relaxation and anti-stress1-hour bath soakcan help relieve stress (magnesium deficiency may induce anxiety, depression, and stress)
laxative20-minute soak or oral ingestion: 10 to 30 grams for adults; 5 to 10 grams for children 6 years or older (talk with your doctor if you have an infant under 6 years)leads to bowel movement 30 minutes to 6 hours after dose
ingrown toenails12-minute foot soakreduces inflammation and pain
splintersEpsom salt pastecan help draw out tiny splinters
magnesium balance12 to 20-minute soakmight restore magnesium (this may benefit people who are at risk for low levels, including those with fibromyalgia)

Read more: Using Epsom salt as a laxative »

Some of these benefits may also be due to the temperature and self-care nature of a bath. Heat helps with relaxation, soreness, and aches.

To make an Epsom salt bath, you can:

1. Use 2 cups of Epsom salt for a standard-size bathtub with warm water (never more than 101.5 to 102°F (38.6 to 38.8°C).

2. Pour the salt under the water spout. This allows for the salt to dissolve faster and mix fully into the bath. The water mixture should feel soapy.

3. Soak in the tub for at least 12 minutes (or 20, for constipation).

For added aromatherapy benefits, add essential oils like lavender, peppermint, or tea tree to your bath (always perform a patch test before trying a new essential oil). Or take more than 12 minutes to really relax and enjoy some personal time.

Read more: Can essential oils help relieve pain? »

For smaller applications, you can make an Epsom salt paste. If you want to use the salt on certain areas, you can make a paste with a small amount of salt and water and spread over the affected part of the body.

You can purchase Epsom salt at a health food store, grocery store, or online. Avoid using Epsom salt in hot tubs, jet pools, and tubs with jets unless the manufacturer says it’s OK.

Evidence on baths

There’s no evidence that Epsom salt baths are effective. At most, 1 hour in a hot bath may help you burn about 130 calories. This is the same as a 30-minute walk, but without the benefits of building physical strength or endurance. Reports of weight loss may also be due to sweating and loss of water weight.

Evidence on drinking

Experts advise against drinking Epsom salt as a “salt” detox. Most weight loss will be water weight, which will be quickly regained when you stop drinking Epsom salt. You may also experience diarrhea, as it’s also a laxative.

Do this instead

There are much more effective and longer lasting ways to attain healthy weight loss. The first steps include:

  • eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet
  • exercising regularly
  • practicing self-care
  • limiting alcohol and sugar intake

Alcohol particularly depletes the body of magnesium, so you should limit alcoholic beverages if you’re trying to watch your magnesium levels.

Read more: Everything you need to know about weight loss »

Talk with your doctor about any concerns you have about an Epsom salt bath. The risks of side effects from an Epsom salt bath are low. Your body won’t absorb that much magnesium through your skin.

An Epsom salt bath is also relatively safe for children, but you should take extra precautions to prevent your child or infant from drinking Epsom salt water.

Pregnant women, children, and people with impaired kidney function should avoid taking oral magnesium. If your kidneys are not working at their optimal levels, your body may not be able to get rid of excess magnesium, putting you at risk for serious health complications.

Side effects of magnesium overdose, usually from ingestion, include:

  • lethargy
  • blurred vision
  • dizziness or fainting
  • breathing problems
  • increase or decrease in urination
  • slow heartbeat
  • muscle weakness

Side effects are rare in people with normal kidney function. See a doctor if your symptoms continue or don’t get better.

Check with your doctor if you have any concerns about taking an Epsom salt bath due to magnesium overdose. While there needs to be more studies to prove the effectiveness of Epsom salt baths or magnesium absorption across the skin, people still report benefits.

For the average person, a salt bath detox may have more external benefits than internal. You’ll likely leave an Epsom salt bath feeling more relaxed, less sore, and with softer skin.

Although an Epsom bath is unlikely to help with weight management, it can be an enjoyable experience after a long day of sitting at work or after the gym. A hot bath in itself is a great way to reduce stress and spend quality time relaxing.

Read more: 7 healthy benefits of magnesium »