An age-old healing tradition, Epsom salts are one of the best ways to relax, ease muscle pain and tension, and soothe damaged or dry skin. Taking a bath is a great way to pack a ton of different health benefits into one simple ritual.
What is Epsom salt?
Many people don't realize this, but Epsom salts are actually made of magnesium sulfate, which means soaking in an Epsom salt bath is a mild form of magnesium therapy. (It would not be effective for someone with a significant magnesium deficit.) Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions1 in the body, and these reactions are involved in bodily processes that range from regulating blood pressure and supporting metabolism to keeping blood sugar levels stable and even synthesizing DNA.
Magnesium supplements are used to treat a wide variety of ailments including PMS, constipation, anxiety, headaches, and insomnia2. Both conventional and integrative doctors seem to agree that magnesium can be an important tool for improving health and treating common aches and pain.
So while there are a ton of reasons to establish a regular bath ritual, the idea that we can reap the benefits of a magnesium supplement by absorbing Epsom salts through our skin takes this wellness staple to a whole new level.
What are the bath benefits?
1. Pain relief.
Is there anything better than a hot bath to soothe sore muscles or an aching body? And by adding Epsom salts to the equation, you just might add to the benefits—at least anecdotally, many people say that Epsom salt baths help them after a hard workout or long day. Another idea: A small study3 on patients with osteoarthritis showed that a series of mud bath treatments with added magnesium-rich mineral water was effective at relieving pain and stiffness—and magnesium may have played a role in the pain relief. Go ahead, try it out for yourself.
Magnesium is famous for its detoxifying qualities; in fact, mbg Collective member Mark Hyman, M.D., recommends Epsom salt baths as part of his detox protocol. If you indulged a little too much last night Epsom salts, baking soda, and a few drops of your favorite essential oil, and sweat out all those toxins with a homemade detox bath. Magnesium is a popular headache treatment4 as well—many headache clinics actually offer magnesium through an IV to prevent or treat migraines5—so you'll be killing two birds with one stone. Of interest, magnesium is depleted by alcohol consumption, so regular epsom salt baths may help support healthy magnesium levels in those who drink alcohol routinely.
3. Relaxation and improved sleep.
As we learned before, many people are using magnesium to wind down and get to sleep with a lot of success. Research shows that magnesium plays an important role6 in our parasympathetic nervous system, which is also known as our "rest and digest" response. In addition, studies have shown that magnesium can help combat insomnia2.
Luckily, a bath is also the perfect type of magnesium therapy to call on at the end of a hectic day7 or when you know you need a good night's sleep. Try adding a few drops of lavender or chamomile to a nighttime soak session for even deeper relaxation. Studies have shown that aromatic effects of chamomile can help reduce stress8, and other research suggests that lavender can calm the nervous system9 and promote a more uplifting mood. May we also suggest leaving your phone and computer in an entirely separate room while you soak?
4. Soothe dry, irritated skin.
If you have dry, itchy skin in the winter months, an Epsom salt bath might help. In fact, wound healing was one of the first medicinal uses for magnesium, and a 2005 study found that found that Dead Sea Salt was effective for reducing dry skin and inflammation, and the magnesium in that likely had a significant role.
To soothe skin using an Epsom salt bath, try adding powdered coconut milk, coconut oil, and any essential oil of your choice (along with a cup or two of Epsom salt) and soak away in a custom milk bath. This soothing take on a traditional bath will leave your skin feeling soft, silky, and hydrated. Just make sure to be careful getting in and out of the tub, the oil can make it *very* slippery.
5. Boost your mood.
According to an article published in Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials, "Epsom salt helps stabilize mood and relieve stress, anxiety, and depression." Research has shown that taking oral magnesium supplements increases serotonin production10 in the brain, so a magnesium-rich bath may support a balanced mood
And since serotonin has been nicknamed the "happiness hormone"—because of the important role it plays in mood—why not take it an extra step. If you're bathing for mood-boosting benefits, try adding one of these natural bubble baths with the salts, too. Might not have any serious science backing bubble baths, but we all deserve to have a little fun, right?
Are there any side effects?
Epsom salt baths have been used for thousands of years with very few side effects reported. That said, the Cleveland Clinic warns against bathing in Epsom salt if you have severe skin inflammation, a skin infection, or a large open wound.
There are also some resources, online and otherwise, that say drinking Epson salt water is a good way to detox. And while this was one of the traditional uses for Epsom salts, it's no longer recommended and can cause serious GI symptoms like diarrhea and cramping, not to mention the more serious possibility of a cardiac arrhythmia11.
Finally, it's important to buy your magnesium sulfate salts from a reputable source that's testing their products for potency and purity (i.e., to make sure it doesn't contain any unwanted chemicals, preservatives, or toxins).
Other ways to use Epsom salts.
As much as we love our bath time, sometimes our self-care rituals need to fit into our busiest days. Don't worry; you don't have to give up the benefits of an Epsom bath altogether. Try adding Epsom salts to your hair conditioner for an oil-busting hair treatment. To exfoliate dry winter skin, add some salts to your favorite body oil and create your own salt scrub. Last but not least, if you're on deadline and can't take a bath, try doing an Epsom foot bath before bed. Your feet can absorb the magnesium, but you'll have your hands free to multitask if needed.
By incorporating any of these into your beauty routine, you can benefit from the healing properties of Epsom salts without the long soak time.
Gretchen Lidicker is an mbg health contributor, content strategist, and the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. She holds a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University.