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Epsom Salt Benefits and Uses (plus important side effects)

Epsom salt is a popular remedy for many ailments.

People use it to ease health problems such as muscle soreness
and stress. It’s also affordable, easy to use and harmless when
used appropriately.

What Is Epsom Salt?

Salt on a Wooden Spoon

Epsom salt is also known as magnesium sulfate. It’s a chemical
compound made up of magnesium, sulfur and oxygen.

It gets its name from the town of Epsom in Surrey, England,
where it was originally discovered.

Despite its name, Epsom salt is actually a completely different
compound than table
salt
. It was most likely termed “salt” because of its
chemical structure.

It has an appearance similar to table salt and is often
dissolved in baths, which is why you may also know it as “bath
salt.”

While it looks similar to table salt, they taste distinctly
different. Epsom salt is quite bitter and unpalatable.

Some people still consume it by dissolving the salt in water
and drinking it. However, since it doesn’t taste good, you
probably wouldn’t want to add it to food.

There are many different ways of manufacturing and packaging
Epsom salt, but the contents are all exactly the same,
chemically speaking.

For hundreds of years, this salt has been used to treat
ailments such as
constipation
, insomnia and fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, its
effects on these ailments are not well researched.

Most of the reported benefits of Epsom salt are attributed to
its magnesium, which is a mineral that a lot of people do not
get enough of.

You can find Epsom salt at most drug stores and grocery stores.
It is typically located in the pharmacy or cosmetic area.

Bottom Line: Epsom salt, otherwise known as
bath salt or magnesium sulfate, is a mineral compound
believed to have many health benefits.

How Does It Work?

When Epsom salt is introduced to water, it dissolves and
releases magnesium and sulfate ions.

The idea is that these particles can be absorbed through the
skin, providing the body with magnesium and sulfates. These are
minerals that have important functions in the body.

The most common use for Epsom salt is in baths, where it is
simply dissolved in bath water. However, it can also be applied
to the skin as a cosmetic product or taken by mouth as a
laxative.

Bottom Line: Epsom salt dissolves in water,
so can be added to baths and used as a cosmetic. It can also
be taken by mouth as a laxative.

Reported Health Benefits and Uses of Epsom Salt

Many people, including some healthcare professionals, claim
Epsom salt is therapeutic and use it as an alternative
treatment for several conditions.

Better Magnesium Absorption

Epsom Salt in a Wooden Bowl with a Scoop

Magnesium
is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, the first
being calcium.

It is involved in more than 325 biochemical reactions that
benefit the heart and nervous system.

Many people do not consume
enough magnesium
. Even if you do, factors such as dietary
phytates and oxalates can interfere with how much your body
absorbs (1).

Some people claim that magnesium may be better absorbed via
Epsom salt baths than when taken by mouth.

This claim is based on a study that was conducted on 19
subjects, in which all but three showed higher blood magnesium
levels after soaking in an Epsom salt bath (2).

Average blood magnesium levels went up about 10 ppm after the
first salt bath. When subjects took baths for the next seven
days, average magnesium levels increased from 105 ppm to 141
ppm.

While this study is promising, it is important to take it with
a grain of salt since it is the only one of its kind and has
several limitations.

More research is necessary to determine the effectiveness of
using Epsom salt to increase magnesium levels.

Promotes Sleep and Stress Reduction

Adequate magnesium levels are essential for
sleep
and
stress management
, likely because magnesium helps the brain
produce neurotransmitters that induce sleep and reduce stress
(3).

Magnesium may also help the body produce melatonin, a hormone
that promotes sleep (4).

Low magnesium levels may negatively affect sleep quality and
stress. Many report that taking Epsom salt baths can reverse
these issues by allowing the body to absorb magnesium through
the skin.

Unfortunately, there is not any formal research to confirm
whether enough magnesium can be absorbed from salt baths to
affect sleep and stress.

Additionally, the calming effects of Epsom salt baths could
simply be due to the relaxation caused by taking hot baths.

Helps With Digestion

Epsom Salt in a Terracotta Bowl

Magnesium is often used to treat digestive issues, such as
constipation.

It appears to be helpful because it draws water into the colon,
which promotes bowel movements (5, 6).

Most often, magnesium is taken by mouth for constipation relief
in the form of magnesium citrate or magnesium hydroxide.

However, taking Epsom salt is also said to be effective,
although it is not well studied. Nevertheless, the FDA lists it
as an approved laxative.

It can be taken by mouth with water, according to the
directions on the package.

Adults are usually advised to take 2–6 teaspoons (10–30 ml) of
Epsom salt at a time, dissolved in at least 8 ounces (237 ml)
of water and consumed immediately. You can expect it to have a
laxative effect in 30 minutes to six hours.

You should also know that consuming Epsom salt may produce
unpleasant side effects, such as bloating and liquid stool
(6).

It should only be used occasionally as a laxative and not as a
long-term solution.

Exercise Performance and Recovery

Some claim that taking Epsom salt baths can reduce muscle
soreness and relieve cramps — both important factors for
exercise performance and recovery.

Like the digestive effects of Epsom salts, this effect is also
attributed to magnesium. It is well known that adequate
magnesium levels are helpful for exercise because magnesium
helps the body use glucose and lactic acid (7).

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Magnesium deficiency is more common in athletes, so health
professionals often recommend they take magnesium supplements
to ensure optimal levels.

While magnesium is clearly important for exercise, the use of
Epsom salt to enhance fitness is not well researched. At this
point, the benefits are anecdotal.

Reduced Pain and Swelling

Sea Salt In Wooden Plate

Another common claim is that Epsom salt helps reduce pain and
swelling.

Many people report that taking Epsom salt baths improves
symptoms of fibromyalgia and arthritis.

Again, the magnesium is deemed responsible for these effects,
since many people with fibromyalgia and arthritis are deficient
in the mineral.

One study on 15 women with fibromyalgia concluded that applying
magnesium chloride to the skin may be beneficial for reducing
symptoms (8).

The participants applied magnesium to their lower limbs every
day for four weeks. After using the solution, women reported
less pain and tenderness, as well as increased quality of life.

While this finding is promising for forms of magnesium that can
be applied to the skin, such as Epsom salt, it must be
interpreted cautiously since there isn’t any more research
available on the topic.

Bottom Line: Most of the benefits of Epsom
salt are anecdotal and attributed to its magnesium content.
It may be beneficial for sleep, stress, digestion, exercise
and pain.

Safety and Side Effects of Epsom Salt

While Epsom salt is generally safe, there are a few negative
effects that can occur if you use it incorrectly. This is
mostly a concern if you take it by mouth.

First of all, the magnesium sulfate in it can have a laxative
effect. Consuming it may result in diarrhea, bloating or upset
stomach.

If you use it as a laxative, make sure to drink
plenty of water
, which may reduce digestive discomfort.
Furthermore, never take more than the recommended dosage
without consulting your doctor first.

Some cases of magnesium overdose have been reported in which
people took too much Epsom salt. Symptoms of this include
nausea, headache, lightheadedness and flushed skin (1, 9).

In extreme cases, magnesium overdose can lead to heart
problems, coma, paralysis and death. This is unlikely as long
as you take it in appropriate amounts as recommended by your
doctor or listed on the package (1, 9).

Contact your doctor if you experience signs of an allergic
reaction or other serious side effects.

Bottom Line: The magnesium sulfate in Epsom
salt can produce side effects when taken by mouth. You can
prevent these by using it correctly and talking with your
doctor before increasing your dosage.

How to Use Epsom Salt

Here are a few of the most common ways to use Epsom salt.

Bath

Orchid and Sea Salt

The most common use is taking what’s called an Epsom salt bath.

To do this, add 2 cups (about 475 ml) of Epsom salt to the
water in a standard size bathtub and soak your body for at
least 15 minutes.

You can also put the Epsom salt under running water if you want
it to dissolve more quickly.

Beauty

Epsom salt may be used as a beauty product for skin and hair.
To use it as an exfoliant, just place some in your hand, dampen
it and massage it into your skin.

Some people claim it’s a useful addition to facial wash, since
it may help cleanse pores.

Just a 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) will do the trick. Simply combine
it with your own cleansing cream and massage onto the skin.

It can also be added to conditioner and may help add volume to
hair. For this effect, combine equal parts conditioner and
Epsom salt. Work the mixture through your hair and leave for 20
minutes, then rinse.

These uses are entirely anecdotal and not backed up by any
research studies. Remember that it works differently for
everyone and you may not notice all the reported benefits.

As a Laxative

Epsom Salt in a Wooden Bowl

Epsom salt can be taken by mouth as a magnesium supplement or
as a laxative.

Most brands recommend taking 2–6 teaspoons (10–30 ml) per day,
dissolved in water, as a maximum for adults.

Approximately 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 ml) is generally enough for
children.

Consult with your doctor if you need a more individualized
dosage, or if you want to increase the dose to more than what
is listed on the package.

Unless you have the consent of a doctor, never ingest more than
the upper limit of intake stated on the package. Taking more
than you need could lead to magnesium sulfate poisoning.

If you want to begin taking Epsom salt by mouth, start slowly.
Try consuming 1–2 teaspoons (5–10 ml) at a time and gradually
increase the dose as needed.

Remember that everyone’s magnesium needs are different. You may
need more or less than the recommended dose, depending on how
your body reacts and what exactly you are using it for.

Additionally, when consuming Epsom salt, make sure to use pure
Epsom salt that does not have any added scents or coloring.

Bottom Line: Epsom salt can be dissolved in
baths and used as a beauty product. It can also be consumed
with water as a magnesium supplement or laxative.

Take Home Message

Epsom salt may be helpful in treating a variety of health
ailments. It can also be used as a beauty product.

There isn’t a lot of evidence to support all of the reported
benefits. Its positive effects are mostly anecdotal at this
point, and more research is needed.

However, Epsom salt is generally safe and easy to use, so it’s
certainly worth a try.

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