What Are Epsom Salts?
Epsom salts are a type of mineral salt found in nature. Specifically, this type of salt is a compound of magnesium and sulfate.
Epsom salts look very much like coarse salt you might find in a kitchen. However, they are not meant for cooking with and taste very bitter.
Rather, they can be dissolved in the bath or applied to the skin. If unscented, they can also be dissolved in drinking water.
It's the magnesium that is thought to bring about purported health and beauty benefits. This mineral helps with many processes in the body, including muscle functioning, bone growth, and the processing of energy.
How Epsom Salts Work
Dissolving Epsom salts in bathwater allows them to break down into magnesium and sulfate. It's said that soaking in a tub filled with Epsom salts allows these components to get absorbed into the skin so your body can use them.
However, whether or not the amount that is absorbed by the skin is sufficient enough to have an effect on your health is not well-supported.
Multiple studies have shown that little to no magnesium is absorbed from an Epsom salt bath. In fact, magnesium has a difficult time getting through all the layers of the skin. Similar results were also noted when magnesium sulfate skin creams were used.
Magnesium sulfate works effectively when taken by mouth as a laxative. It works by taking water from the rest of your body and bringing it into your digestive tract. This makes having a bowel movement easier.
Epsom salts are thought to help with a variety of conditions, though there is not a lot of research to support this. Since the risks of uses are relatively minimal for most, some people—including some healthcare providers—view the potential pros as outweighing the any cons.
Muscle Aches, Pain, and Injuries
Your healthcare provider may recommend Epsom salts baths as an alternative treatment for certain conditions.
Besides being relaxing, Epsom salts soaks are often used to:
Help with pain and swelling due to arthritis, a group of conditions that impact the joints
Ease pain and tenderness caused by fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that can cause pain, exhaustion, and sleeping issues
Relieve soreness from diarrhea
Ease pain from sunburns
Help with bruises and sprains
Heal and cleanse tears or stitches after childbirth
Help soften ingrown toenails and foot pain
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Skin and Hair Health
Epsom salts may be used to help remove dead skin from the face, body, and scalp. It can also be used as a hair mask to increase hair volume.
Other uses may include:
Soothe itchiness from poison ivy and mosquito bites
Soften skin affected by psoriasis, a disorder that causes scaly patches of skin
Cleanse and soothe sores from genital herpes, a sexually transmitted infection3
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Epsom salts taken as a laxative are effective at relieving constipation. Many individuals are able to have a bowel movement within six hours.4
Pure Epsom salts that do not contain fragrance or other additives can be taken by mouth by adults and children 12 and older.