What Are the Benefits of Epsom Salt?

epsom salt

Photo Illustration by Amelia Manley for Verywell Health; Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Epsom salt is a naturally-occurring mineral that’s often recommended by healthcare professionals as a remedy for muscle pain, inflammation, and stress.
  • While there is no concrete evidence to prove the supposed health benefits of Epsom salt, it's considered safe and has been used as an alternative health treatment for generations.
  • Epsom salt should be dissolved in a warm bath for best results.

Epsom salt is a naturally-occurring mineral salt that’s often used to soothe muscle soreness and reduce stress. This compound breaks down into magnesium and sulfate ions when dissolved in water, but it doesn’t dissolve in alcohol-based liquids.

While there is no concrete evidence to explain Epsom salt’s health benefits, people have anecdotally sworn by its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects for centuries, according to Jana Abelovska, MPharm, a pharmacist at the U.K.-based Click Pharmacy.

Some also claim that magnesium can help increase serotonin production, Abelovska said, leading to a reduction in feelings of anxiety and depression.

Laura Purdy, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician, said people also use Epsom salt for a wide range of ailments, including arthritis, ingrown toenails, sunburns, and minor injuries like bruises, scratches, and sprains.

How Is Epsom Salt Used?

When Epsom salt is used in a bath, the skin might be able to absorb the magnesium and sulfate ions that are dissolved in the water. Magnesium is an essential mineral responsible for many biological processes, and its deficiency has been linked to several inflammatory disorders.

While scientific evidence proving that magnesium can be effectively absorbed through the skin is lacking, one small study found that magnesium can penetrate through the outer layer of the skin depending on the concentration of the substance and the amount of exposure time.

Abelovska said individuals interested in using the alternative treatment should dissolve roughly 300 grams of Epsom salt in a warm bath without any other bath products. It’s a good idea to test the water temperature and adjust as needed, ensuring the water is warm and not hot, before soaking in the bath with the salts for at least 10 or 15 minutes, she said.

“Epsom salts could be used in the evening before going to bed, whenever people feel that there is a tightness in their muscles or a general need to relax,” Abelovska said.

The frequency of use may vary, depending on the part of the body that is involved, and how long the symptoms persist, Purdy added.

For example, if you have an ingrown toenail, you may only need to soak it once or twice. But for a chronic condition, such as arthritis or other muscle pains, you may want to do it more frequently. You may even want to repeat the soak daily or even twice a day if you feel that your symptoms are not improving, Purdy said.

Are There Any Risks in Using Epsom Salt?

While Epsom salts are considered to be relatively safe to use, Abelovska said there are some potential risks associated with using them in conjunction with certain skin conditions, including skin infections, open wounds, severe burns, or severe skin inflammation.

There are also claims that drinking Epsom salt is a helpful way to “detox,” but Abelovska and Purdy both said this isn’t recommended. Drinking Epsom salt can cause an upset stomach and diarrhea, which can in turn lead to dehydration.

But when used properly—dissolved in a warm bath—Purdy said the treatment is generally quite safe.

“I can’t imagine that we will ever see any large research studies or scientific evidence that solidly proves or disproves the effectiveness in Epsom salt, but because it is such a common and often used treatment, I would consider it to be very safe,” Purdy said. “I think it is so deeply rooted and established in the home remedy culture that it would be impossible for it to go out of style.”

Epsom salt can be found at any local pharmacy, and it’s important to follow the directions on the package before use.

What This Means For You

While the benefits of Epsom salt are not scientifically proven, it has been anecdotally praised for its ability to relieve muscle pain, reduce inflammation, and relieve stress. If you’re curious about the potential benefits, try dissolving roughly 300 grams of Epsom salt in a warm bath before soaking in it for 10 minutes or more.

1 Source
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  1. Chandrasekaran NC, Sanchez WY, Mohammed YH, Grice JE, Roberts MS, Barnard RT. Permeation of topically applied magnesium ions through human skin is facilitated by hair folliclesMagnes Res. 2016;29(2):35-42. doi:10.1684/mrh.2016.0402

By Mira Miller
Mira Miller is a freelance writer specializing in mental health, women's health, and culture.