Ever returned from a beach vacay with your skin (and hair) looking *chef’s kiss*? You might have wondered whether you could replicate that effect at home, perhaps by washing your face and spritzing your hair with salt water from the sea.
Perhaps you’ve come across the TikTok videos suggesting that washing your face with sea salt water can cure acne, not to mention help you renew that fresh-off-the-beach look. But should you really try it? Is all that salt actually safe for your hair and skin?
Before you swap your regular face wash for a splash of the sea, drop anchor and keep reading to find out what dermatologists have to say about using salt water on your face — including what it can and can’t do for your skin.
Salt water has been recognized for its ability to disinfect and cleanse skin since ancient Egypt, says Snehal Amin, MD, FAAD. Amin, a board certified dermatologist and the co-founder and Surgical Director of MDCS Dermatology, goes on to explain that yes, salt water is responsible for making skin feel smoother and drier after a day at the beach.
As for the benefits of salt water for skin?
“Salt acts as a mechanical exfoliant and scrub, removing dead skin cells. This leaves the skin feeling smoother, softer, and brighter. Through osmotic actions, salts absorb toxins and draw out dirt and oil. Improved pore size is another benefit,” says Amin.
But before you load up on packages of salt, know that washing your face with salt water should be reserved for occasional use, according to Azadeh Shirazi, MD, a board certified dermatologist at La Jolla Dermatology and Laser Surgery Center.
Without a doubt, most people would probably love to have cleaner, softer, smoother skin, not to mention pores that appear smaller. Both experts agree, though, that salt water works best for people with oily or acne-prone skin — though it may not actually treat acne.
“I don’t consider it as a treatment for acne on its own,” Shirazi emphasizes.
While you might have come across Internet guidance or TikTok videos framing homemade salt water as an easy and miraculous solution for all of your skin concerns, that’s not exactly the case.
Washing your face with salt water can be harsh and irritating, according to Shirazi, who warns that overuse can compromise your skin barrier.
“This can worsen some skin conditions like acne and eczema, or potentially cause hyperpigmentation and scarring as a result. It may also delay proper treatment and care from a dermatologist,” cautions Shirazi.
If you do want to try washing your face with salt water, keep in mind that it’s best to avoid overdoing it since this can lead to dry and damaged skin. You might, for example, start by trying a saltwater wash once or twice a week to check how your skin handles it.
Amin also recommends skipping the scrubbing, when it comes to using salt on your face.
“Salt is corrosive and can damage the skin when applied in high concentrations for an excessive period of time. My basic advice is that a salt scrub is fine for the body but best to avoid for the face,” says Amin.
To make your own saltwater solution, Amin offers the following instructions:
- Boil 2 cups (500 ml) of tap water and 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of fine sea salt or table salt. Avoid using coarse salt.
- Let the mixture cool in a loosely covered, but still open container.
- After it reaches room temperature, close the container tightly.
- Store at room temperature.
Tip: You may want to opt for sea salt over table salt. Sea salt contains trace minerals since it undergoes less processing.
If you want to try washing your face with salt water, you can use one of these gentle methods:
- Lightly wipe your face using a cotton ball or pad soaked with your saltwater solution.
- Spray the salt water onto your face and gently dab away any excess with a cotton pad.
A few final tips to protect your delicate facial skin:
- Let your saltwater mixture cool before using it, since hot water can burn or further dry and irritate skin.
- Using more salt does not equal more benefits.
- Consider following the saltwater wash with a moisturizer that works well for your skin type to help prevent dryness.
One important thing to consider before you try the saltwater trend? It may not have the effect you’re hoping for.
A homemade saltwater concoction doesn’t provide the same benefits ocean water does, in other words.
Salt water from the actual ocean doesn’t just contain salt. It also contains natural minerals like magnesium, calcium, and potassium. These minerals, which are more than likely responsible for the skin benefits, are also hard to replicate at home, as Shirazi points out.
And again, salt can be harsh, so it could have a drying effect on your skin and potentially lead to irritation and flaking.
If you’re prone to dry skin, Shirazi recommends using professionally formulated products. These are safer for your skin, and they may also work better than plain salt water.
When washing your face with salt water, pay attention to any signs of skin irritation and dryness. It’s probably wise to stop using salt on your face if you notice any of the following:
- a feeling of skin tightness
- scaling or peeling
- changes in your skin color, like dark or ashy patches
Washing your face with salt water may not be the answer when you have lingering skin concerns, such as:
- inflammation and discoloration
- persistent dryness or sensitivity
- itchy and irritated skin
Consider making an appointment with a dermatologist to get a diagnosis instead.
A dermatologist can help identify and treat skin concerns, but they can also offer more guidance on recognizing your skin type and caring for your skin.
You can ask a friend or a healthcare professional for a referral, but you can also find a board certified dermatologist in your area by visiting the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) website.
While a frolic in the ocean can leave your skin feeling amazing, replicating the magic of the sea at home and washing your face with DIY ocean water may not have exactly the same effect.
All the same, salt water can still benefit your skin.
If you’re going to try it, go easy on the salt and use salt water sparingly to avoid drying out your skin. A dermatologist can offer guidance if you’d like more support with treating acne, or any other skin issue.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.