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Is Epsom Salt Good for Itchy Skin? Find out
Epsom salt is a magnesium salt kept well hydrated by water molecules bound to it. The healing powers of this salt are actually well studied and recognized in modern medicine. This magnesium salt is commonly used to treat constipation, bring down high blood pressure and prevent seizures. In addition, this magnesium salt is also useful in the treatment of skin diseases such as eczema. What makes Epsom salt effective for relieving the symptoms of eczema? Read on to learn how Epsom salt can help your itchy skin and what you need to prepare the most soothing Epsom salt bath.
by Brad Chase
Epsom salt is an inorganic salt also known as magnesium sulfate. It is named after a bitter salty spring at Epsom in Surrey, England.
The magnesium sulfate found in Epsom salt naturally occurs as a heptahydrate molecule. This means that Epsom salt is composed of 1 molecule of magnesium sulfate surrounded by 7 molecules of water.
The hydrated form of magnesium sulfate is preferred in medical preparations because without the molecules of water, magnesium sulfate is a drying agent and, therefore, readily absorbs water to form hydrated salts such as Epsom salt.
There are a variety of uses for Epsom salt but it is most commonly used as an ingredient of cosmetic products and bath salts. However, Epsom salt is also used internally as oral and injectable solutions.
As an oral drug, Epsom salt can serve as a laxative and a purgative for addressing constipation. It is also used to treat heartburn. For pregnant women, magnesium sulfate is used to treat eclampsia and to delay labor.
This salt can also be used as first line treatment of cardiac arrest and to prevent seizures and cerebral palsy especially in preterm newborns.
Because Epsom salt is basically magnesium sulfate, it can supply the body with magnesium and sulfate. Therefore, this salt can be used to treat hypomagnesemia.
By increasing serum magnesium level, Epsom salt can regulate the activities of certain enzymes, relieve inflammation, improve muscle and nerve functions as well as lower the risk of atherosclerosis. By raising sulfate levels, Epsom salt can help relieve migraine headaches, promote detoxification and improve the absorption of certain nutrients.
Before discussing the benefits of Epsom salt in the treatment of eczema, it is important to know that the magnesium sulfate found in Epsom salt is easily absorbed through the skin. Even with Epsom salt bath, it is possible to raise your blood levels of magnesium and sulfate.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham, UK, studied the absorption of magnesium sulfate across the skin. For the study, they recruited 19 healthy adults aged 24 – 65 years.
Each of the participants had multiple Epsom salt baths over a period of 7 days. Each bath took 12 minutes at a temperature between 50 and 55 degrees Celsius. However, the amount of Epsom salt added to the bath varied.
Thereafter, blood samples were taken regularly after each bath and urine samples were taken at the end of each day.
The results of the study showed that blood magnesium levels rose in most of the participants after each bath and at the end of the study.
Even in the few cases without a corresponding increase in blood magnesium level, there was an increased excretion of magnesium which means that magnesium was still absorbed through the skin, reached the blood but was quickly excreted because the blood level of the mineral was already optimal.
However, urine levels of magnesium reduced after the first day because some of the absorbed magnesium was being stored up in the tissues after bathing.
A day after the end of the study, magnesium levels returned back to values similar to the ones measured before the commencement of the trial.
This study shows that magnesium can be significantly absorbed into the blood after taking Epsom salt baths. In addition, some of the magnesium is stored in tissues. The ones stored in skin tissues can provide local benefits for treating skin diseases such as eczema.
In addition, it is unlikely to reach toxic levels of magnesium from Epsom salt bath because more of the mineral is excreted in the urine in those who already had optimal levels of magnesium in their blood.
The results of this study also confirmed that the absorption, urinary excretion and storage of sulfate from Epsom salt baths also followed similar patterns.
Magnesium has an anti-inflammatory property due to its ability to influence inflammatory factors and immunological responses to antigen challenges.
This is important because most of the symptoms of eczema are caused by hypersensitivity reactions. In response to allergens, the immune system produces a number of proinflammatory factors but magnesium salts can block the release of such inflammatory factors.
The anti-inflammatory property of Epsom salt makes it useful in the treatment of asthma and muscle cramps as well as for reducing edema-like swelling of gout.
In the same way, Epsom salt can exert both local and systemic anti-inflammatory effects to reduce inflamed eczema lesions as well as relieve itching.
Because Epsom salt is a hydrated salt, it can easily absorb moisture. Magnesium sulfate is hygroscopic in its basic form. This means that it is always seeking water molecules from its environment to form into hydrated salts such as Epsom salt.
The same mechanisms by which Epsom salt can reduce edema and eczema swelling on the skin also make the salt potent against pathogens on the skin.
By drawing moisture from eczema-causing bacteria and fungi on the skin, Epsom salt can reduce eczema symptoms by preventing the overgrowth of these pathogens. Therefore, its indirect antimicrobial effect can help heal your eczema.
Both the magnesium and sulfate found in Epsom salt are useful for detoxifying the body.
Magnesium is an alkalinizing agent that can lower the acidity of the blood. This is important because by restoring the acid-base balance of the body, magnesium saves the immune system the effort to counter the harmful effects of toxins.
Therefore, magnesium not only detoxifies the body but also promotes the removal of toxins from the body.
Toxins are an important cause of eczema. Once the body rightly identifies toxins as foreign substances, it mounts an immune reaction to remove them. Unfortunately, such immunological response involves pro-inflammatory cytokines and allergy-promoting antibodies such as the immunoglobulin, IgE.
Magnesium and sulfate can prevent the cascade of immune reactions that only end up promoting a cycle of eczema breakouts.
In addition, sulfate can help flush out heavy metals from the body. Because sulfate is a negatively charged molecule, it is easily attracted to positively charged metal ions.
Therefore, sulfate can combine with these free heavy metals and then remove them from the body. In this way, Epsom salt may serve as a chelating agent.
Heavy metals have been identified as another common cause of eczema. Heavy metal poisoning can commonly result from lead, mercury and cadmium. Sources of heavy metal poisoning include dental amalgam fillings, old pipes and asbestos.
Like regular toxins, the immune system recognize these heavy metals as foreign substances and then sends antibodies after them. Unfortunately, the antibodies can also cause local skin inflammation, rashes as well as itchy skin.
Epsom salt is included in beauty products because of its systemic anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties as well as for its local effects on the skin.
On the skin, Epsom salt is an excellent exfoliant and cleanser. It can help remove dead skin cells and prevent them from clogging the pores of the skin.
This cleansing action keeps the skin aerated and remove debris and toxins from the skin.
In addition, by peeling the top layer of the skin, Epsom salt opens up a fresher, smoother and softer lower skin layer. These exfoliating and cleansing effects are responsible for the improvement in skin appearance observed after taking an Epsom salt bath.
However, the benefits of Epsom salt for eczema go beyond simple exfoliation and cleansing. Magnesium salts like Epsom salts can also speed up skin barrier recovery after it has been breached.
This is important because eczema can cause as well as result from failing skin barrier.
The top layer of the skin becomes porous following damage done to it by toxins and/or microbes. This damage not only changes the pH and microbial flora of the skin but also allows more toxins and microbes to get into the lower layers where they cause more irritation, more inflammation and more hypersensitivity reactions.
In a 1999 study published in the Archives of Dermatological Research, a group of researchers found that magnesium salts sped up the recovery of the skin barrier after it was disrupted.
For the study, they used a group of hairless mice and exposed their skins to 4 different magnesium salts for 12 minutes. This is the equivalent of taking an Epsom salt bath for humans.
In addition to confirming the positive effects of magnesium salts on the integrity of the skin, they also found that the addition of calcium salts in equal or lower portions to the magnesium salts improved the barrier recovery action.
These results suggest that both Epsom salt bath and mixed bath salts may be effective for restoring the skin barrier as well as for keeping out toxins and pathogens.
The best way to ensure that you will keep taking Epsom salt bath for your eczema is to turn it into a personal and invigorating spa treatment.
Discussed below are a few things you need to know to make your Epsom salt baths soothing and healing.
Water Enhancers – You can enhance the water you use for your bath by adding certain natural products to it along with Epsom salt. Baking soda is the most commonly recommended additive. This is because it can help raise the pH of your bath water.
In addition, baking soda solutions are commonly used to fight skin infections.
Water Temperature – Generally, the hotter the Epsom salt bath, the more effective are its cleansing, exfoliating and restorative properties. Furthermore, heat opens up the pores of the skin.
Therefore, a hot bath can increase the absorption of magnesium and sulfate from Epsom salt baths.
You should try making the bath water hot enough to sting your skin but still tolerable. Ideally, your skin should quickly adapt to the high water temperature as long as the bath water is not scalding hot.
Essential Oils – Essential oils are great additions to warm baths such as the Epsom salt bath. These oils are regularly used in aromatherapy for their ability to relax the body, improve the quality of sleep and stimulate healing processes in the body.
Commonly used essential oils in Epsom salt bath include lavender oil, calendula oil, eucalyptus oil, rose oil, patchouli oil and cypress oil.
Create the Right Mood – Besides adding essential oils, you can also turn your Epsom salt bath into a luxury spa treatment by adding mood music and lighting.
Mood music may be a meditation track or your favorite artist crooning loudly. Alternatively, you can crave silence and use ear plugs to shut off all sounds. For mood lighting, nothing beats the soft glow of candles.
Make sure you are taking your bath at a time and/or place where you will not be disturbed so that you will be fully relaxed.
Amount of Epsom Salt to Use – The amount of Epsom salt to add to your bath will depend on the size of your bath tub and the part of the body to be submerged in the bath.
Ideally, you only need 450 grams or 1 – 3 cups of Epsom salt for a regular tub. Children only need 1/2 – 1 cup of Epsom salt per bath. You may need a smaller portion of the salt if you are not doing a full-body bath.
Add the salt to the hot bath water along with baking soda and essential oils. Then wait a few minutes for all of them to dissolve before stepping in.
Ideal Bath Duration – How long should an Epsom salt bath take? There is no consensus but the usual range of bath time lies between 10 and 40 minutes. For most people, the best benefits are obtained from 20-minute Epsom salt baths.
After the Bath – Make sure to apply a moisturizer on your skin after taking an Epsom salt bath. The heat of the bath water and the salt itself can leave your skin dry if you do not quickly lock in moisture on your skin after taking the bath.
Therefore, you must prevent moisture from evaporating from your skin after the bath. A moisturizer will keep your skin supple and also ensure that the Epsom salt left on your skin is well hydrated to continue healing your eczema.
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