You may have spotted Epsom salt at your grandmother’s house, thinking it was just another type of salt for cooking. But this age-old cure-all has been used as a remedy for such things as muscle aches and pains, constipation, dry skin, and many more. It’s currently enjoying renewed popularity as a bath salt that has a number of purported benefits.

What Is Epsom Salt?

Epsom salt looks very similar to table salt (sodium chloride) but its components are different: magnesium sulfate. Magnesium plays a role in many bodily functions, like keeping blood pressure normal, while sulfate helps cleanse the liver, among other things. There have been no conclusive studies, but it’s been suggested that magnesium sulfate can be absorbed through the skin via an Epsom salt bath, giving the body numerous benefits. 

Epsom Salt Benefits

Some of the benefits of soaking in an Epsom salt bath are:

1 It can ease aches and pains. If you’ve got a crick in the neck from sitting in front of a computer all day or are feeling sore all over from a weekend run, then an Epsom salt bath might just be what you need. While some research has linked magnesium to exercise performance, anecdotal accounts suggest that the magnesium in an Epsom salt bath can also have some soothing effects post-exercise. While there is no conclusive evidence to prove this just yet, a nice, relaxing soak can certainly help relieve tired muscles.

2 It can help soothe arthritis. Aches and pains from a tough gym workout are one thing, but the pain and stiffness from arthritis are quite another. Those who suffer from this condition are all too familiar with the discomfort that comes from constantly stiff and tender joints. Fortunately, the U.S. Arthritis Foundation says that a warm water bath can help alleviate the symptoms.

The foundation advises choosing a warm bath over a hot one and doing some gentle stretching while in the water. They also recommend adding Epsom salt, stating: “Data collected by the National Academy of Sciences show most Americans don’t get enough magnesium… One way to remedy that: bathing in magnesium sulfate crystals, also known as Epsom salts.” The foundation goes on to cite a study from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom that Epsom salts can increase magnesium levels by as much as 35%. However, they also warn that the salts are just for occasional use.

3 It can help relieve stress. The act of soaking in a nice, warm bath can in itself be relaxing and can help melt the stresses of the day away. But adding Epsom salt may help even more by making up for stress-inducing magnesium deficiency, according to some research. One study, published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, even suggests that magnesium can be beneficial for those with depression.

4 Can promote good sleep. It stands to reason that once your muscles and joints are relaxed, and once all that stress has melted away, then you set the stage for a good night’s sleep. Some studies also suggest that magnesium is one of the nutrients that stimulate the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.

While the combination of warm water plus Epsom salt can be enough to send you off to dreamland, you can further increase the sleep-inducing effects of the bath by adding essential oils. A couple of soothing scents to try: lavender and jasmine. (You can read more about essential oils and their benefits here.)

5 Can soothe some skin conditions. While Epsom salt should not be used on broken or irritated skin, they may be good for certain skin conditions. The U.S. National Eczema Foundation recommends different baths, including one with salts, to help manage symptoms like itchiness and dryness. If you suffer from psoriasis, Epsom salt may also be able to help remove scales and reduce itchiness.

6 Can alleviate a sunburn. Aloe vera is the go-to natural after-sun treatment. But Epsom salt is another skin soother if you’ve gotten a little too much sun. Make sure you mix them with lukewarm warm as hot water can feel unpleasant on your already hot skin.

7 Can cure athlete’s foot. You can also use Epsom salt for feet. Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that usually begins between the toes. It’s caused by sweaty feet in confined footwear and leads to itching and stinging. An Epsom salt bath may help draw out the infection, soften the skin, and send athlete’s foot running.

How to Use Epsom Salt

You can get Epsom salt from Healthy Options. Mix about 2 cups with water in a standard-size bathtub. Depending on the specific issue you’re trying to address, lukewarm to warm water will work best. Stay submerged for 15 to 20 minutes.

If you are pregnant, nursing, or have certain health conditions, especially renal failure, then it’s best to consult your doctor before using Epsom salt. Also take note that overdoing it can lead to stomach problems (it’s a laxative, after all), allergic reactions like itchiness, dizziness, and muscle weakness.