Sodium borate is a form of boron, a naturally occurring element usually found in sediments and sedimentary rock formations, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In the U.S., boron compounds are used in glass, ceramics, soaps, detergents, water treatment, fertilizers, pesticides and flame retardants. Clinical studies have failed to show any therapeutic use for sodium borate, according to the EPA.
Sodium borate originally was obtained from saline lakes in Kashmir and Tibet and taken to Europe to be refined, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. About half of the world’s supply of commercial boron compounds comes from southern California. Sources include the borax crusts and brine from Searles Lake, the large kernite and borax deposits near Kramer, and the colemanite deposits from Death Valley. Boron compounds are formed from the evaporation of hot springs or saline lakes.
Sodium borate is used as a soap supplement, disinfectant, mouthwash and water softener, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. It is also a primary ingredient in bath salts, according to the website mountainroseherbs.com. When used in bath salts, sodium borate softens water and suspends soap particles. In turn, less residue sticks to the epidermis, resulting in softer skin. When combined with citric acid in bath bombs or salts, sodium borate produces a fizzing action. It is also mixed with water and guar gum in shower gel.
Boron has been used in small quantities to prevent or treat osteoporosis or osteoarthritis at a dosage of 3 mg per day, an amount similar to that in the typical American diet, according to iHerb.com. Food sources, however, may be safer, the website reports. No clinical studies have been performed to gauge the possible benefits of boron or its supplements for bone-related conditions. Boron is sometimes used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, but there is no evidence to support its effectiveness. Boron has been used as a sports supplement, but no scientific evidence has been found that it increases muscle mass or improves performance.
Some Asian cultures use sodium borate or borax as a meat rub, tenderizer or preservative. It is sometimes sold in Asian grocery stores, but should never be ingested, according to the NSW Food Authority. It can be toxic and may result in acute kidney failure and death. Symptoms of borax ingestion include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and red eyes.
In some cultures, boron is ingested for medical reasons. Ancient Egyptians, for example, used it in medicine and mummification. When the amount ingested is less than 3.68 mg/kg, no symptoms appear, according to the EPA. Doses of 20 and 25 mg/kg, however, result in nausea and vomiting. Lethal doses range from 15 to 20 grams for adults, 5 to 6 grams for children, and 2 to 3 grams for infants, the EPA reports.