Epsom and Dead Sea salts are widely known for their healing properties. Soaking in bath water infused with these mineral salts is a popular home remedy for improving muscle and joint pain, treating skin conditions and providing numerous other health benefits. These salts differ in their source, mineral composition, and to some extent, their purported and actual health benefits.
The mineral content of water is uniquely influenced by its local environment. For instance, compounds from nearby rocks and soil can dissolve in water, and when mineral-rich water evaporates, natural salts are formed.
For centuries, the water and crystallized salts of the Dead Sea have been used for their health benefits. This unique mineral-rich lake, located in the Jordan Rift Valley which borders Israel and Jordan, is the lowest point on earth, at 1410 feet below sea level.
Another commonly used mineral salt is Epsom salt, discovered hundreds of years ago near Epsom, England after it was noticed the bitter water shunned by local cattle had laxative and wound healing properties.
There are significant differences in the composition of these popular mineral salts. Dead Sea salts, if authentically derived from the Dead Sea, are particularly rich in magnesium chloride and potassium chloride, and also contain notable amounts of other minerals, including calcium, sulfur, iodine, sodium and bromide.
Epsom salt, on the other hand, primarily contains magnesium sulfate, and may be derived from a variety of natural sources. The benefits from these salts is commonly linked to their impact on skin health, and the presumed absorption of their minerals into the body.
Epsom and Dead Sea salts are primarily used in baths or mineral soaks. A common recipe is to add 2 cups of either salt to a warm bath, or about 1/4 cup to a foot soak. These salts may also be topically applied using home mixtures or products containing these salts, in order to exfoliate dry skin, or to treat skin conditions or dandruff.
While small amounts of Epsom salt can be taken orally or by enema to treat constipation, Dead Sea salts can be harmful if consumed or used internally.
Epsom Salt Benefits
Epsom and Dead Sea salts are touted to treat or manage a variety of conditions, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, leg cramps, muscle aches and pains, and skin conditions such as psoriasis and dermatitis. But research specific to the effectiveness of Epsom salt is lacking. These soaks are thought to work by increasing body magnesium levels, but there is insufficient evidence to prove levels reliably or significantly increase from skin exposure.
However, magnesium absorption could be enhanced in the presence of warm, salty water and if the skin is broken, as suggested by a 2014 report. More research is needed to tease out the specific role of Epsom salt and how it enhances the known skin and pain relief benefits of simply soaking in warm water.
Dead Sea Salt Benefits
In contrast to Epsom salts, some of the claims surrounding the use of Dead Sea salts appear supported by research. A 2012 review concluded that regularly soaking in water with these salts can benefit arthritis and psoriasis, a skin condition that causes patches of dry, scaly skin.
Although how these salts work is not clear, magnesium can directly improve skin health since it plays a role in improving skin hydration and enhancing skin growth and repair.
The healing properties of bathing in the Dead Sea isn't just about the minerals, however. The unique climate and ultraviolet radiation found at the Dead Sea is considered beneficial, with evidence to support that combining Dead Sea water treatments with ultraviolet radiation provides a greater benefit.
Dead Sea and Epsom salts have a long history of use, and soaking in these mineral baths may help improve skin health and counter muscle and joint pain. However, if you have persistent pain or swelling, or an untreated skin condition, see your doctor before trying to manage your symptoms with home remedies.
Do not consume Dead Sea salts or use as an enema. Although Epsom salt can be used as a constipation remedy, excess magnesium sulfate can be harmful, so seek the advice of your doctor before internal use of Epsom salts.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD
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