WATCH: We tried to fight back against post-holiday acne with the TikTok #seasalt spray

Using salt water to treat a litany of skin concerns has been around for thousands of years, but there aren’t many studies on the benefits.

Emma Jones 4 minute read January 4, 2022

Spraying a mixture of warm water and sea salt on your face, as many TikTokers are now doing, may appear to help with light acne, but probably won’t be able to tackle the root cause of a breakout. 

In the video credited with launching the old-but-new trend, user @leacrylics explains she noticed her acne cleared up after a tropical vacation spent swimming in salt water. To try to get this effect at home, she mixed a teaspoon of sea salt with a half cup of warm water and sprayed it on her face every night, which she says helped clear up her acne and prevent more from forming. 

Another user, @imhannahcho, also says that the spraying the solution on her face every night has helped her get rid of the “small pimples on her [skin],” although a note on the video explains that she still has hormonal acne. 

Using salt water to treat a litany of skin concerns is not trend exclusive to TikTok, and has actually been around for thousands of years. Despite this, there aren’t many studies on the long-term effects of using salt water on the skin, so its effectiveness is questionable. 

Salt water can have a drying effect, which may help manage oily skin and fight back against acne-causing bacteria, Dr. Jo-Ann See at Central Sydney Dermatology told Women’s Health. Other minerals present in sea water, like magnesium, can also be beneficial to skin health.  

However, it’s that same drying effect that may actually cause skin issues, especially for already dry or sensitive skin, Marisa Garshick, a certified dermatologist in New York City, told Shape. Salts that haven’t been completely dissolved in the water that end up sitting on the skin can also be abrasive, potentially damaging the sensitive skin barrier. 

It’s likely that salt water may help with mild symptoms of a breakout — like redness or a bit of swelling — but won’t do much to help with deeper issues or more extensive cysts.   

Sea salt is more than just sodium 

While we may come back from a beach vacay fresh-faced and free of skin issues, it’s important to remember that sodium chloride and water aren’t the only things our skin comes into contact with. Other minerals found in water, the sunshine, and even a different diet can all contribute to a better complexion.

Many of the studies on salt water centre focus on the Dead Sea — with either salt sourced from the water or with studies conducted at the sea itself. The high concentration of sodium and minerals, combined with the hot, arid desert and unique pressure from the Dead Sea being among the lowest above-water places on earth have long been thought to carry a wealth of benefits. 

In a 2005 study published in the International Journal of Dermatology, participants with a common form of eczema submerged one arm in water mixed with 5 per cent Dead Sea salt (known to be rich in magnesium), and their other arm in normal tap water. During the six-week evaluation period afterwards, the skin on the arm that had been submerged in the dead sea salt solution appeared to be better hydrated and had reduced redness and inflammation. The researchers indicated that this was evidence of better skin barrier function.  

However, for those who go to the beach and notice an improvement in their skin, it may not just be the salty water, as the sun also plays a role in skin health. One 1982 study found evidence submerging skin in tap or salt water immediately before undergoing UVB treatment slightly improved the outcome for psoriasis patients. (Light therapy is a common treatment for psoriasis). A later study, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, also found that the UVA radiation in natural sunlight combined with bathing in the Dead Sea appeared to help with lesions and other symptoms caused by psoriasis. 

Playing in the water is not without its risks, however. Even salt water can play host to a substantial array of bacteria and parasites, which can wreak havoc on skin. Swimmer’s itch, for example, occurs when water-borne parasites burrow into the skin, causing a temporary, but nevertheless irritating, rash.  

Caution for DIY beauty

Even though salt has some anti-bacterial properties to it, a saline solution mixed at home and then left on the bathroom counter, can still become contaminated with bacteria. So anyone wanting to try using salt water as a beauty trend will want to use distilled or boiled water and change out the solution frequently. 

 

Emma Jones is a multimedia editor with Healthing. You can reach her at emjones@postmedia.com or on Twitter @jonesyjourn

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