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Salt Water and Acne

Salt water is a popular natural acne remedy. This article explores the link between acne and salt water and whether or not salt water helps acne.
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Roughly 17% of the United States alone currently suffers from acne.

85% of those between age 12 and age 24 are likely to suffer from at least mild acne.

While it's unclear exactly what causes acne, what is known is that hormones and bacteria buildup are some of the primary drivers of acne breakouts.

There are countless treatment options available for clearing skin when you have acne. Yet none is as simple as the idea of using salt water for acne – a popular home remedy that many argue has helped them clear their skin.

What Does Salt Water Help Acne Do?

The salt water acne remedy is an intriguing one, and one that is very popular with those that want to avoid pharmaceutical medicines or over the counter facial cleansers.

While there are some variations of the salt water method, the most common use is to simply place salt into a glass of warm water and mix. Most recommend one tablespoon. Then dab a cotton ball or washcloth into the salt water and gently pat it against your face.

It's important you do not splash your face with it, because if the salt gets into your eyes or an open wound it can be very painful.

Unfortunately, there is currently no research as to the effectiveness of salt water as an acne remedy. Most theories of why salt water should improve acne buildup are based on personal theories and conjecture. Some of these theories include:

Why Does Salt Water Help Acne?

Drying Oils – Salt has the natural ability to reduce moisture, which dries out the oils in your face. Since facial oil is the leading cause of clogged pores and bacterial buildup, presumably the salt's ability to dry the skin should have an acne-reduction effect.

Reducing Bacteria – Salt is an ingredient that is often added to meals in order to prevent food from spoiling. Salt starves bacteria of moisture, which could kill off bacteria. It's unclear whether or not salt water effectively reduces acne bacteria, but it's a popular theory.

Closing Pores – Similarly, one popular theory on salt water is that it has the potential to close your pores which should create less of a space for bacteria and oils. Again, it's unclear whether or not salt has this ability, but it is one of the popular theories for the benefits of salt water on acne.


Some also consider salt, and to a lesser extent salt water, to be an exfoliating agent. However, most exfoliation with salt occurs in cream form, rather than in water where most of the salt dissolves.

These are the most popular theories for why salt water acne remedies may be effective. Regardless, there are legitimate reasons to believe in acne and salt water treatments.

What Type of Salt Should Be Used in Salt Water?

Because of the dearth in research, it's unclear if there is a specific type of salt or salt mixture that is best for acne.

Table salt is not generally recommended. Table salt is considered too harsh and refined. It also may contain iodine, which many believe increases your skin oil.

Sea salt is the most popular option, and the one recommended by most experts. Sea salt does not contain any added iodine and could, in theory, contain other ingredients that may promote skin health.

Another option is Epsom salt. Epsom salt is a magnesium based salt, rather than a sodium based salt, and a very popular mixture for baths. Many people use Epsom salt water and Epsom baths to reduce their acne outbreaks.

Downsides of Using Salt Water Acne Treatments

While salt may be one of the most natural elements available, there are many reasons to be careful before using salt water for acne.

Salt water can cause a great deal of pain on any open cut, or if it gets into your eyes. If you often pop your acne, you may find that you have open cuts that are irritated by the harsh salt water.

Salt also can dry the skin too much. Salt is not meant for anyone with dry or even regular skin, because salt may reduce the moisture in your face too much, leading to skin irritation and increased redness.

Salt can also affect how your skin feels, because it's possible for a layer of salt to build up on your skin if you use the salt water treatments too often. Similarly, salt water can prevent the effectiveness of soap. If soap is unable to work effectively, you will not be able to clean your skin and your acne could get worse.

It is also possible for salt to reduce the presence of good bacteria which may otherwise promote healthy skin.

There is a very small likelihood of any additional side effects, because salt cannot cross skin and enter the body. But because there is little research into acne and salt water, it's difficult to say with confidence that using salt water for acne is side effect free. It is possible that other issues may have yet to be discovered, or that different skin types will respond to salt water differently.

Does Salt Water Help Acne?

Acne and salt water do appear to have a link. Far too many people use salt water regularly and promote its benefits, despite the lack of research into salt water acne treatments.

While the exact mechanism is unclear, there are logical reasons to believe that salt water can be a quick and easy way to fight your acne breakouts. They do have drying and anti-bacterial properties that may be advantageous in eliminating acne.

Without research to back up the claims, it is not the best idea to depend on salt water for acne, and it's recommended that you combine salt water with other effective acne remedies.

In addition, you should not use salt water too often in order to prevent salt from building up on your skin.

Nevertheless, the side effects are fairly mild, and sea salt/Epsom salt is an easy ingredient to pick up from any grocery store. As a result, a salt water acne remedy may be something worth attempting. 

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