Salty Skin

Sweating is a normal bodily function that helps keep you cool. Sweat is composed primarily of water and small amounts of other chemicals, including salt (sodium).

Salty skin can happen from excessive sweat production, high sodium concentrations in sweat, or certain medications. In some cases, excessively salty skin can signify cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition affecting the body's tissues, cells, and other glands that produce mucus and sweat.

This article discusses the symptoms and potential causes of salty skin, treatment, and when you should visit a healthcare provider.

Woman wiping off sweat after indoor cycling class in fitness studio
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Symptoms of Salty Skin

Those who sweat heavily or have high concentrations of salt in their sweat may notice their skin tastes salty once their sweat dries.

People with salty skin may also notice dried white salt crystals on their skin or clothing.

Causes of Salty Skin

Common causes of salty skin are:

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Heavy sweating
  • Genetics
  • Environmental factors
  • Certain medications

Salty skin is a hallmark symptom of cystic fibrosis. Those with cystic fibrosis have high salty sweat because of a dysfunction in the CFTR gene that prevents salt on the skin from being reabsorbed into the sweat glands.

Heavy sweating may also lead to salty skin. Usually, the water in your sweat evaporates from your skin, while the sodium and chloride (salt) is reabsorbed by your sweat glands. During heavy sweating, the body cannot absorb all of the sodium and chloride, which can lead to salty skin.

Additionally, the amount of salt in a person's sweat can be caused by various factors such as genetics, environmental factors, and diet. If you have performed an intense physical activity that causes heavy sweating, you may notice dried salt crystals on your skin after you stop sweating.

What Medications Can Cause Salty Skin?

Certain medications that cause excessive sweating can cause salty skin. Medicine that may lead to excessive sweating include:

  • Salagen (pilocarpine) used to treat glaucoma
  • Opioids like Oxycontin (oxycodone) and Vicodin (hydrocodone)
  • Zinc supplements
  • Anxiety medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Insulin

How to Treat Salty Skin

Salty skin itself is generally not a cause for concern. Although diet may influence the sodium concentration in a person's sweat, little evidence supports decreasing dietary sodium intake to prevent salty sweat.

Because large amounts of sodium lost through sweat can lead to an electrolyte imbalance, treatment focuses on maintaining normal sodium levels.

People with cystic fibrosis tend to sweat more than people without the condition. This places them at a higher risk of developing hyponatremia (low sodium levels in the blood) during intense exercise and in the summer months.

Our diet usually has enough salt to replace the amount lost through sweat. However, it's a good idea for salty sweaters to keep high salt snacks on hand and monitor for signs and symptoms of hyponatremia.

Signs of hyponatremia include:

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Salty Skin?

A simple, painless sweat test measures the amount of salt in a person's sweat to determine if they do or do not have cystic fibrosis.

No needles are required, and it is considered the most reliable test to diagnose cystic fibrosis. The test measures the amount of chloride (a component of salt) in a person's sweat.

During the first part of the test, a colorless, odorless chemical combined with a small amount of electrical stimulation is applied to the skin to encourage sweat production. The sweat is collected and sent to a laboratory to measure how much chloride is in the sweat. People with cystic fibrosis have more chloride in their sweat than those without it.

Scientists and fitness professionals also conduct similar sweat tests on athletes to help them personalize fluid and electrolyte replacement.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you notice that your skin is excessively salty, consider contacting your healthcare provider. They can help you learn more about your symptoms and potential treatment options.

Summary

Salty skin can be caused by several factors, including a person's sweat rate, genetics, and environmental factors. In some cases, it may be caused by cystic fibrosis. Although there is no standard treatment for salty skin, it is important to keep salty snacks on hand if you begin to experience low blood sodium.

A Word From Verywell

Everyone loses salt when they sweat. Though it may be scary to see white salt crystals on your skin or notice that your skin tastes salty, it is generally harmless. However, no one knows your body more than you. If you find that your skin is excessively salty, it's important to speak with your healthcare provider to discuss potential causes and treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does it mean when your skin is salty?

    Salty skin is a symptom of cystic fibrosis. However, it can also be caused by high sodium concentrations in sweat, environmental factors, or excess sweating.

  • What disorder causes salty skin?

    Cystic fibrosis causes salty skin.

  • Is it normal for skin to taste salty?

    Salt is naturally lost through sweat, which could cause your skin to taste salty. However, excessively salty skin may be a sign of cystic fibrosis.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Baker LB. Physiology of sweat gland function: The roles of sweating and sweat composition in human healthTemperature (Austin). 2019;6(3):211-259. doi:10.1080/23328940.2019.1632145

  2. Hackensack Meridian Health. Why is my sweat so salty?

  3. American Lung Association. Cystic fibrosis symptoms.

  4. Baker LB. Sweating rate and sweat sodium concentration in athletes: a review of methodology and intra/interindividual variabilitySports Med. 2017;47(Suppl 1):111-128. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0691-5

  5. Columbia University. What to do about salty sweat stains.

  6. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Summertime tips.

  7. MedlinePlus. Low blood sodium.

  8. Stanford Medicine. The basics of CF.

  9. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Sweat test.

By Lindsey DeSoto, RD, LD
Lindsey Desoto is a registered dietitian with experience working with clients to improve their diet for health-related reasons. She enjoys staying up to date on the latest research and translating nutrition science into practical eating advice to help others live healthier lives.