Epsom salt has been used for centuries as a home remedy for treating a wide range of ailments, from flu symptoms and sore muscles to relief from sunburn and poison ivy. While there is much folklore surrounding Epsom salt, there is very little scientific evidence to prove its effectiveness. But if you have eczema, an inflammation of the skin that results in red, itchy skin, you may find that Epsom salt baths are soothing, and that they reduce dryness and flaking. However, doctor-recommended treatments may be more effective at managing this condition.
About Epsom Salt
Epsom salt is simply a magnesium and sulfate compound derived from distilled, mineral-rich water. Its name comes from this natural remedy's original source -- natural springs near Epsom, England. Today this salt is widely available in drug stores, discount stores and even in most grocery stores. Epsom salt is typically dissolved in warm water, and the body is soaked in the solution to provide relief. Epsom salt bath is commonly recommended to soothe skin problems such as sunburn, poison oak, mosquito bites or even treating eczema.
Epsom Salt Baths
The only Food and Drug Administration-approved use of Epsom salt is as a laxative -- when taken orally in small doses. While testimonials persist touting the virtues of an Epsom salt bath for treating eczema, there is no clear scientific evidence that a salt soak helps, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). But one study suggests the similar magnesium-containing Dead Sea salts may help treat eczema -- also known as atopic dermatitis. A small study published in February 2005 issue of the "International Journal of Dermatology" showed that skin roughness, hydration and inflammation were improved in bath solutions of 5 percent Dead Sea salt compared to water-only baths. Further research is needed to determine whether Epsom salt also has therapeutic benefits.
Balneotherapy, or the treatment of health problems by bathing, has been used for centuries as a way to relax and soothe the body. There are potential reasons bathing may help eczema, since soaking in water can improve the common symptoms of skin flakiness and dryness. In addition, soaking in warm or hot water improves blood flow to the skin, which can promote healing. However, a July 2015 review in the "Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology" found no improvement in atopic dermatitis from tap water baths. But there's no harm in trying an Epsom salt bath to decide for yourself if it helps.
The AAD provides several recommendations for dealing with eczema. This organization stresses the importance of using moisturizers immediately after bathing to maintain good skin hydration. In fact, the AAD suggests frequent use of lotions to keep the skin moist. Creams and ointments containing corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone can help decrease inflammation, and antihistamines can reduce itching. Antibiotics are sometimes needed to prevent or treat infection, and phototherapy -- exposing the skin to ultraviolet light -- is sometimes helpful. Many people find that their eczema is triggered by environmental factors such as detergents, sweat or dry air, so it is best to avoid anything that seems to cause a flareup of your eczema.
While eczema is not generally a dangerous condition, there are some reasons you should seek medical treatment. If you are not able to maintain adequate symptom relief using over-the-counter antihistamines and hydrocortisone creams, and these symptoms disrupt your daily life or sleep, consult your doctor. Medical treatment is especially important if you have crusty or oozing sores, or any signs of infection such as a fever, or red, hot, painful or swollen skin.
- International Journal of Clinical Practice: The Therapeutic Effect of Balneotherapy: Evaluation of the Evidence From Randomised Controlled Trials
- Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology: Are Baths Desirable in Atopic Dermatitis?
- International Journal of Dermatology: Bathing in a Magnesium-Rich Dead Sea Salt Solution Improves Skin Barrier Function, Enhances Skin Hydration, and Reduces Inflammation in Atopic Dry Skin.
Doug Dohrman earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Iowa. Following post-doctoral training at UCSF, he directed courses in neuroscience and histology for first year medical students and has also taught in anatomy, physiology and biostatistics. His research background is in cell and molecular biology and he is currently involved with medical editing/writing.