While some health care providers may recommend a warm bath with Epsom salt for conditions such as sore muscles or to relieve psoriasis, soaking opens wounds in the magnesium sulfate compound may be painful and could irritate an open wound.
"The best way to clean a cut, scrape or puncture wound (such as a wound from a nail) is with cool water," according to the American Academy of Family Physicians' first-aid tips at Familydoctor.org. "You can hold the wound under running water or fill a tub with cool water and pour it from a cup over the wound."
Epsom Salt Uses
People have been enjoying salt baths for centuries. Besides the soothing effect of a hot bath, many home remedies and folk medicine uses have grown around the special qualities of a warm bath containing Epsom salt. While the only FDA-approved use of Epsom salt is as a laxative taken orally in small doses, you can find many claims regarding other uses for Epsom salt. The Epsom Salt Council, for example, recommends it for “soothing muscle pain and aches, providing itch relief from sunburn and poison ivy, removing splinters, decreasing swelling and boosting your body’s levels of magnesium and sulfate.”
What Is Epsom Salt?
Originally sourced from natural springs in Epsom, England, hundreds of years ago, today you will find Epsom salt widely available in every drug store and even many grocery stores. Chemically, it is simply a salt that breaks down into its components of magnesium and sulfate when dissolved in water. In theory, some people believe that the magnesium and sulfate would be absorbed through the skin to work their magic on sore muscles. There is no published evidence, however, that the body absorbs magnesium and sulfate in that manner; in fact, skin generally works to prevent things from getting into your body. That said, soaking in warm water can relax you and perhaps soothe aches and pains.
Importance of Magnesium and Sulfate
Magnesium is an important cofactor for many enzymes in the body and is required for the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats and in the production of energy. Magnesium is also necessary for the synthesis of DNA, RNA and proteins, plays a structural role in the body and is important for cell communication. Sulfate is also involved in many biological activation and detoxification processes in the body and is an important component of four amino acids.
Does Epsom Salt Work for Wound Care?
While there are many home-remedy claims associated with Epsom salt, there is no clear scientific evidence that an Epsom salt soak does anything at all. Salt could certainly make an inhospitable environment for bacteria and the warm water could increase blood flow to the area and possibly speed healing. One study published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine in 2012 found that another type of salt water, also containing magnesium, improved skin regeneration when tested on rabbits, and sterile saline solutions are frequently used to irrigate wounds, removing dirt and debris.
There has been little research on the effects of Epsom salt on open wounds, however. In fact, the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that wounds be kept dry to facilitate healing. A brief wetting, such as in the shower, is acceptable, but prolonged soaking should be avoided.
Read more: Benefits of Epsom Salt Baths
- Family Doctor: First Aid: Cuts, Scrapes, and Stitches
- International Journal of Molecular Medicine: Effects of Thermal Water on Skin Regeneration
- Merck Manual Professional Version: Lacerations
- Epsom Salt Council: Health Uses of Epsom Salt
- Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: Magnesium
- PainScience.com: Does Epsom Salt Work? The Science of Epsom Salt Bathing for Recovery from Muscle Pain, Soreness, or Injury
- Wound Cleansing: Water or Saline?
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.