Epsom salt, derived from distilled mineral-rich water, is a widely used health and beauty product. Named after the town of Epsom in England, this commonly used bath salt is actually a mineral compound containing magnesium and sulfate. Epsom salt is widely touted and used as a treatment for sore muscles, joint pain, arthritis and skin disorders. Despite sparse research on the effectiveness or even the mechanism of action, there are some reasons why Epsom salts may provide benefits to the foot.
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A home remedy for generations, Epsom foot soaks are purported to relieve aches and pains, decrease inflammation, improve circulation, and soften and deodorize the feet. Epsom salt is also claimed to have anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties -- and soaking feet in Epsom salt baths is reported to help heal a variety of foot and skin infections, including athlete’s foot, toenail fungus and small wounds. Epsom salt is even claimed to detoxify the body and relieve stress. However, the benefits of Epsom salt is mostly based on personal testimonies and its longstanding reputation, as there is little research to back up these claims.
The Research: Skin Absorption of Minerals
Since magnesium deficiency can lead to foot cramps and pain, Epsom foot soaks are believed promote magnesium absorption through the skin which helps relax muscles and nerves and lessen foot discomfort. But there isn’t research that supports topical application of magnesium is effective in increasing body magnesium stores, according to a 2012 review published in “International Journal of Cosmetic Science.” However, another review article published in the June 2014 issue of “Experimental Biology and Medicine” suggests that skin absorption could occur given the right conditions -- such as with heat or high salt concentrations. In addition, minerals from the water are able to be absorbed if the skin is broken, as in a cut or scratch.
The Research: Healing Properties
Epsom salt is also touted to have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. While there is a lack of research supporting these benefits, there may be some reasons why these foot soaks work. First, soaking feet in water will help clean the feet, removing substances that may risk or worsen infections. Warm or hot water improves blood flow to the skin which can promote healing. Because most bacteria do not thrive in a salty environment, soaking feet in Epsom salt could inhibit the growth of the microorganisms that cause infection. Finally, soaking feet in warm or hot water feels good. It’s relaxing, soothing and reduces stress, and this may simply make you feel better.
How to Soak Feet in Epsom Salt
To enjoy a Epsom foot soak, add one half cup of salts to a small tub that holds enough warm water to cover the feet up to the ankles. Or add 2 cups to a standard size bath tub. Soak feet for 30 to 60 minutes. Combining Epsom salt with essential oil is a relaxing aromatherapy bath treatment. Store the essential oil in a jar with a lid and add a few spoonfuls to bath water.
Topical Epsom salt is not known to have any negative impacts on health; however, excess use of Epsom foot baths can result in dried, cracked skin on the feet. Use a foot bath only two to three times a week for duration of 30 to 60 minutes. Individuals with very dry skin should try using less Epsom salt and massage the feet with moisturizer after drying them. Even though Epsom salt may help heal of minor wounds, in certain cases medical treatment will be necessary. If you have diabetes, or if you have nerve damage or poor blood flow to the feet, consult your doctor first with any sores, wounds, redness, swelling or foot pain. Anyone with severe foot pain or redness or pain following a foot injury should also see a doctor.
Reviewed by: Kay Peck, MPH, RD