Easy Detox & Stress Relief: The Simple Power of Epsom Salt Baths

People have used Epsom salt to improve human health since the early 17th century (1). Anecdotal experience from centuries of usage shows that very few things naturally reduce muscle pain and provide stress relief like a hot bath with Epsom salt. The naturally occurring minerals in Epsom salt supercharge the benefits of a hot water bath, providing a gentle detoxifying effect and improved circulation. 

The name “Epsom salt” is misleading because it’s not a salt! It’s actually magnesium sulfate – a blend of magnesium, oxygen, and sulfate. As the magnesium and sulfate dissolve in water, the human body can absorb the minerals through the skin through transdermal absorption. While there is scant evidence that adequate magnesium can be transdermally absorbed to treat a magnesium deficiency (2), researchers have confirmed properties of magnesium (and sulfate) that could contribute to Epsom salt’s beneficial effects, including cellular detoxification. However, based on centuries of anecdotal evidence, many holistic health practitioners suggest Epsom salt baths because they provide substantial, noticeable health benefits. At the same time, the risk of side effects is low (2).

 

Detoxification

There are many ways to help the body to detoxify (break down and dispose of harmful elements). The body naturally detoxifies itself, with the liver doing much of the job of converting toxins into a harmless or less harmful substance and removing them from the bloodstream. Once the liver renders substances less toxic, they can be eliminated from the body through urine or stool. Sweating also helps eliminate many toxins, such as heavy metals.

The pores in human skin are dual-function, as they can release small amounts of toxins in sweat and absorb small molecules that land on the skin. Bathing in Epsom salt allows small amounts of sulfur and magnesium ions to be absorbed into the skin.

Meanwhile, warm water can help remove toxin-containing sweat from the surface of the skin. The magnesium and sulfate in Epsom salts further stimulate this detoxification pathway, pulling out salt and toxins along with the salt. A more direct way of detoxifying is through cleansing the liver (discussed Here). However, the mild detoxification and other health benefits of regular Epsom salt baths are often overlooked.

Additional Benefits of an Epsom Salt Bath

Warm baths provide benefits such as dilating blood vessels and reducing blood pressure (3), even without Epsom salt. In one Japanese study, those who took warm water baths almost daily lowered their rates of cardiovascular disease (by 28%) and stroke (by 26%) (3). Adding Epsom salt to the warm bath can build on these already impressive health benefits. Many positive effects of an Epsom salt bath are immediately noticed, and when used regularly over time, Epsom salt baths provide additional improvements (2, 4):

  • Stimulates detoxification pathways 

  • Reduces muscle pain

  • Relaxes muscles

  • Counters effects of stress, anxiety, and depression 

  • Potentially alleviates migraines and headaches

  • Increases magnesium, which can increase serotonin levels 

  • Reduces inflammation of tissues, muscles, and organs

  • Improves bowel movements

  • Reduces the effects of psoriasis and eczema 

  • Reduces swelling caused by lupus, gout, arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis 

  • Counters infections such as athlete’s foot (fungal) and ingrown toenails 

  • May help reduce foot odor 

Are There Any Risks to Epsom Salt Baths?

Bathing in Epsom salt is generally safe. In contrast, drinking Epsom salt dissolved in water could exacerbate many health conditions and result in discomfort or even require medical attention. Drinking Epsom salt solutions can be quite dangerous for small children, anyone with a kidney condition, and women experiencing pregnancy (4). So, unless recommended by a doctor, oral consumption of Epsom salt solutions should be avoided – even if directions for doing so appear on the Epsom salt packaging. 

While bathing in Epsom salt is typically safe for those of all ages, there are some minimal risks or potential adverse reactions to be aware of (4):

1. Not recommended for specific conditions – Those who suffer severe inflammation of the skin, infected skin, unhealed wounds on the skin, or burned skin are cautioned against taking Epsom salt baths (2).
2. Interaction with medications – Even the small amounts of magnesium from an Epsom salt bath can interact with drugs (including acetaminophen) (4). So, if you are taking medications, please consult with a doctor.
3. Possibility of dehydration – Hot water can cause the body to become dehydrated, so drinking enough water before and after is essential.
4. Excess magnesium – Though many people are deficient in magnesium, a tiny number of people may get too much magnesium from an Epsom salt bath.
5. Skin irritation – Epsom salt baths can make skin conditions worse for some individuals (4). If a person has eczema, psoriasis, or other skin conditions, it’s good to test a small spot to see if there is an adverse reaction. For those with sensitive skin, it might be helpful to rinse off with a shower after the bath. 

How to Prepare an Epsom Salt Bath

Many Epsom salt powders are available on the market now, including some augmented with essential oils or fragrances. Whatever brand you choose, it’s best to get an Epsom salt with “USP” on the packaging, meaning that it has passed the Food and Drug Administration’s quality tests for items that humans will use.

Follow the directions on the label for diluting the powder. If no instructions are given on the Epsom salt package, use 2 cups in one average-sized bathtub. Sprinkling the powder under the faucet will help dissolve the grains. Be careful to avoid scalding yourself; the ideal water temperature is roughly between 90 and 100 degrees. Soak in the solution for up to 20 minutes. Experiment with showering afterward – some people will benefit from allowing the Epsom salt to dry on the skin, while it may be too drying for others. Epsom salt may significantly relax the muscles, so plan to lie down or sleep after the bath until you know how it impacts your body.

Enjoyable Additions

Many things can be added to Epsom salt baths to make them more enjoyable! Essential oils are a popular addition because they can increase skin healing and provide aromatherapy – beneficial effects from the smells they impart. Experiment with the following to see what works best:

Baking Soda – Adding 1/2 cup of baking soda to the Epsom salt bath can help prevent itching and provide a boost to antifungal properties  (4). Those with fungal conditions such as athlete’s foot or jock itch may greatly benefit from adding baking soda.

Essential Oils – Adding a small amount (5-10 drops) of essential oil to the Epsom salt bath water can increase health benefits. Some essential oils are promising aromatherapy agents, lifting mood or calming anxiety (5). The warm water of the bath releases the fragrances. Here are a few options and their common uses (5):

  • Lavender: Reduce pain, diffuse stress, and aid sleep.

  • Frankincense: Reduce inflammation, improve mood, and assist sleep.

  • Eucalyptus: Open sinuses (great when suffering seasonal allergies), antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and may offer pain relief.

  • Bergamot: Calming and able to improve mood, bergamot can also lower blood pressure in some people.

Moisturizers – Adding some oily elements to the bath water can moisten the skin and counter the dryness that Epsom salt baths can cause for some people. Caution must be used when adding moisturizers to baths, as the bathtub can become slippery. Those with balance disorders or mobility issues should not use oils in baths. Others may add up to half a cup of olive, jojoba, or almond oil. An alternative is to apply the moisturizer to the skin after the bath, which also saves on wiping the bathtub afterward.

Conclusions

Relaxing baths are great stress relievers and are known to improve health, and Epsom salt enhances and adds to the benefits. Part of the health benefits come from taking 15 or 20 minutes to engage in self-care, and the other part comes from the physical effects of warm water and revitalizing minerals. The combination goes a long way towards countering cumulative physical, mental, and emotional stress. We all deserve to have a few minutes of peace every day, allowing the “toxins” of the day to melt into the water and flow down the drain. 

Taking a bath may seem too simple to work for complex issues. However, in functional medicine, we use many tools and methods that are easy to do, have minimal risks, and consider the whole human’s needs, such as detox baths and saunas. Some of these simple practices can have a profound positive impact on your health!

This content was originally published here.

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