Psoriasis is a skin disease that leaves many people with itchy, painful, red, and scaled patches in skin folds, on the scalp, on elbows and knees, and elsewhere on the body. It's annoying and agonizing in turns, and those who suffer from it find themselves searching for any possible remedy to alleviate the symptoms, avoid triggers, and minimize outbreaks. While there is no cure for psoriasis, at least not yet, there are a variety of treatments that you can try to alleviate the symptoms when they happen.
Enter the Salt Treatment
One such treatment you've probably seen floating around – since it led you to our post – is a salt bath. Alternately called a sea salt bath, a salt detox, or salt treatments, the idea is simple: take a long soak in some saltwater, for skin benefits.
The question is, what are the benefits? How does this work? Before we get into specific kinds of salt, we first need to understand what a salt bath does and how it works.
First of all, you might think of salt as coarse crystals and assume that a salt bath uses them to exfoliate. In actuality, the amount of salt added to a standard bathtub is not enough to make use of the abrasiveness of the salt itself. It quickly dissolves in the warm water of a bath and is about as coarse as water normally is.
The general idea is simple: just add a cup or so of salt to a bath, then climb in and soak for a while. The salt itself has potential health benefits, as do other minerals in the salt if you're using particular kinds of mineralized salts. Also, of course, simply soaking in a nice warm bath can have all manner of therapeutic benefits.
The Benefits of a Salt Bath
So, what are the benefits of this kind of treatment?
First of all, a salt bath is relaxing and comfortable. One of the primary triggers for psoriasis is often stress, so a stress-reducing bath taken each evening can go a long way towards minimizing outbreaks. Getting into the habit of taking a salt bath each night, whether or not you're currently experiencing an outbreak, can do a lot to make life a little bit easier to handle.
A warm bath with mineralized water can also help soften the skin, which makes it easier to safely remove plaques caused by psoriasis without the danger of exfoliating or rubbing the skin raw underneath. Careful use of salt treatments allows scales to wash off without hurting the skin beneath.
Saltwater baths typically help remove or minimize itching associated with skin problems, ranging from psoriasis and eczema to poison ivy rashes and allergic hives. It can also help with acne and dermatitis.
Warm, salty water also helps stimulate circulation throughout your limbs and your skin. This has a range of benefits, from a reduction in muscle stiffness and aches to a soothing effect on tired feet and sore joints. It's no wonder that such baths are widely recommended by dermatologists and as stress relief.
Types of Salt
There are two main types of salt you'll see promoted as part of a salt bath. They are Sea Salt (or Dead Sea Salt) and Epsom Salt.
Dead Sea Salt is salt taken from the Dead Sea, which, if you've forgotten your grade school geography, is an extremely salty and mineralized body of water located along the border of Israel and Jordan.
Unlike typical sea salt, as you would buy in a grocery store, Dead Sea Salt is both very salty and highly mineralized. The Dead Sea includes not just salt, but chloride, bromide, magnesium, calcium, and potassium in high concentrations. It's these minerals, not just the salt itself, that have such a beneficial effect on your skin.
Using regular table salt or sea salt will not have the same effects. A similar kind of mineralized salt might be Himalayan salt, though the mineral concentrations differ.
Epsom Salt, meanwhile, is an entirely different chemical. It's called a salt because of the chemical structure, but while the salt in the Dead Sea is your standard NaCl (sodium chloride), Epsom Salt is actually magnesium sulfate, MgSO4. Go ahead and click that link if you're interested in the chemistry definition of salt and how interesting (and complex) it can get.
Epsom Salt is a widely recognized medical salt. It has been used for centuries for skin conditions ranging from boils or infections to rashes and psoriasis. It's also used internally to treat magnesium deficiency, to treat cardiac arrest, and for other medical purposes.
Despite not being "salt" the way we think of table salt, Epsom Salt is more or less safe for consumption. You shouldn't sprinkle it on your food or drink your bathwater, but it's a salt used in brewing beer and is occasionally used in making tofu. The name "Epsom" actually comes from a place in England where Epsom Salt started to be identified and harnessed chemically and medically.
You may have noticed something here; Epsom Salt is magnesium-based, and one of the most prominent ingredients in Dead Sea Salt is magnesium. Coincidence? No way. Magnesium is the key ingredient here. It's what gives you those soothing effects on your skin, muscles, and joints.
Which Salt is Better?
So if you have the choice between Dead Sea Salt and Epsom Salt, which one should you choose for your bath? Let's talk about a few different factors that might influence your decision.
Purity. The first thing you might be concerned about is the purity of the chemicals you're using on your skin and in your bath. Epsom Salt is generally quite pure and is a refined version of magnesium sulfate. Because it is so commonly used in medical treatments, Epsom Salt needs to be held up to medical standards of purity. Contaminants can be dangerous in a medical setting, so Epsom Salt is almost always pure.
Conversely, Dead Sea Salt is all about the "contaminants." The other minerals found in the Dead Sea are the entire point; otherwise, you'd just be using table salt, NaCl. These other minerals can have a wide variety of different effects on the body.
We put "contaminants" in quotes there because they aren't really considered contamination; they're an intended byproduct of the refining process for Dead Sea Salt. There's nothing inherently dangerous in this form of salt unless you have a rare mineral allergy.
Consistency. We don't mean consistency like "is it a crystal or a gel or a cream" here. We're talking about how consistent the effects are from batch to batch.
Epsom Salt wins out here because, again, it's a pure chemical. Epsom Salt is Epsom Salt; every batch you get will be chemically the same, refined using the same process, and held up to the same standards of purity. It will work the same way every time, depending on your own personal situation of course.
Dead Sea Salt, on the other hand, can be widely and wildly variable. The Dead Sea itself varies in terms of what minerals are found in its waters, from week to week and year to year. A lot depends on the flow of water, the rainfall in the area, how the salt is refined, and even where in the sea the salt is harvested.
This means that the Dead Sea Salt you get from different companies may come from different sources, and that may mean that it has different chemical compositions. Even salt from the same brand can vary from year to year, as their supplier changes and the composition of the sea itself changes.
Safety. The safety of the salt you're using is generally going to be fine, on a personal level. Barring strange contaminants, both Epsom Salt and Dead Sea Salt are safe to use on your skin and in your bathwater.
The one area you might be concerned with is your city's water infrastructure. Thankfully, not only is salt not a problem for water treatment, salt is often used as part of the treatment process. There should be no problem with taking saltwater baths and draining that water into the sewers.
If anything, Dead Sea Salt should be slightly concerning as a health trend the same way that many health trends should be: the destruction of the natural environment in pursuit of products to sell. The Dead Sea itself may be at risk, both because of climate change and because of over-use of the water lowering the level of the sea. If you have environmentalist concerns, you should probably avoid Dead Sea Salt.
Alternative Uses. Epsom Salt has a lot of different medical uses, but very few of them are uses you should do at home. For the most part, the internal uses of Epsom Salt should be guided by a doctor. Using Epsom Salt as a bath additive is fine, but it's not well suited to being a facial scrub or other more abrasive skin treatment.
Dead Sea Salt, meanwhile, is a component in many different skin treatments, ranging from exfoliating creams to lotions to scrubs and more. You can make some of these creams and concoctions at home, or buy them with Dead Sea Salt already added.
Price. Epsom Salts are generally going to be much less expensive than Dead Sea Salts. Epsom Salt can be refined in a wide variety of locations and is in no way a limited resource. A 96 oz. package from CVS, for example, costs a little over $6.
Dead Sea Salt, meanwhile, has to be processed from the Dead Sea itself and imported from the Israel/Palestine/Jordan region of the middle east. Thus, getting authentic Dead Sea Salt is going to be more expensive. An 80 oz. package of Dead Sea Salt on Amazon clocks in at a bit under $20. That's over three times more expensive for a smaller package of salt.
Of course, shopping around will find you a bunch of different options. Some therapeutic Epsom Salt bath treatments have a higher price because they have additional bath additives, from scents to oils to other minerals. Some Dead Sea Salt beauty treatments can be even more expensive as well because they have additives too. It really comes down to what you want out of your bath treatment; pure salts or a total body experience with scents, oils, and soaps.
A Third Option
Thus far we've framed this post as a discussion between Epsom Salts and the Dead Sea Salts as a bath treatment, but there's a third option: simply use them both at the same time.
In fact, oftentimes you'll see bath treatments specifically made using both kinds of salts, as well as other additives to make a more robust bathing experience. Something like these salts includes Epsom Salt, Dead Sea Salt, healthy oils, herbs, and essential oils for scent. There's nothing wrong with mixing the two, and in fact, you can combine the therapeutic benefits of them both.
Using a Salt Bath
So how should you go about using a salt bath? Well, the first step is to pick a salt to use. You can buy pure Epsom Salt, a Dead Sea Salt package, a mixture of the two, or a full-on bath concoction. From there, it's generally a matter of running a hot bath and adding the right amount of salt.
Your bath should be hot, but not too hot. You want it to be warm enough to dissolve the salt easily and to soothe your skin and muscles, but if it's too hot you can scald yourself, end up dehydrated, or otherwise find it unpleasant.
As for the amount of salt you add, follow the directions on the package you get. Typically for a normal-sized bathtub, you'll want to add between 1/4th of a cup and 1 cup of salt to the water. Some salt products recommend the lower end, and if you have a larger bathtub you might need more. Tailor it to suit your needs.
For psoriasis treatments, of course, you'll want to soak the affected areas. If this is your scalp, you'll want to soak your head for a good portion of the bath, and massage gently to help remove scales without hurting your skin. Otherwise, take a bath as normal, and focus on relaxing. We recommend a scented candle and some soothing music. Have fun with it!