Is Salt Water the Key to Clearing Up Acne?

A now-viral TikTok claims that the DIY spray can treat pesky zits, but seriously, does salt water help acne disappear?

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Considering all the videos showing how to make DIY pimple patches and concoct face masks out of Pepto Bismol, TikTok seems to have an endless supply of hacks meant to help you achieve your best pimple-free complexion. The latest at-home skin-care treatment to cause a frenzy on the social platform? Spraying salt water on your face to make stubborn zits vanish.

The novel trick was first shared by TikTok user @leacrylics, who said they've been struggling with acne since they were 11 years old and had recently experienced a terrible breakout. "You know how I cleared it up?" they said in the now-viral TikTok. "I went on vacation...and I swam in the ocean, and it completely cleared my acne." After that initial success, @leacrylics said they've been spraying their face with a mix of sea salt and warm water every night, which they noted has helped prevent pre-period breakouts and treat current ones.

Based on the TikToker's experience, the zit-stopping treatment sounds promising. But are those claims too good to be true, and does salt water help acne disappear? Here, a dermatologist breaks down just how beneficial salt water can be for breakouts and general skin health. Spoiler: You might not want to believe everything you see on the internet.

Does Salt Water Help Acne?

On paper, salt water sounds like it could be a gold star-worthy, breakout-busting treatment: It's thought to dry out skin, ease inflammation, and kill bacteria, says Marisa Garshick, M.D., F.A.A.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. The problem: There isn't any research to show that salt water can reduce inflammation and bacteria enough to actually treat and prevent acne, both in the short and long term, says Dr. Garshick. "The idea of using it as a treatment for acne is theoretically hopeful, but in actuality, it's unclear how much of the benefit you actually would see," she says.

Currently, research investigating salt water's potential benefits for acne is lacking, says Dr. Garshick. Of the small number of available studies looking into salt water's overall skin benefits, the majority are focused on magnesium-rich salt, which is primarily found in the Dead Sea (re: not your standard table salt), and suggest it can be beneficial for inflammation in general, she says. "We don't have great studies or evidence to tell us that salt water is definitely the way to go [for acne]," she adds.

Though the TikToker claimed to have noticed an improvementin their zits after going on vacation and spending their days immersed in the salty ocean, Dr. Garshick wants to remind you that correlation doesn't equal causation. "When we are away [on vacation], there are lots of other reasons that our skin sometimes starts to look better," she says. "Sometimes it's less stress, sometimes it's the environment, sometimes there's more humidity or less humidity — there are other factors that may be involved beyond just the salt water." Even if the salty ocean water does treat your acne, you may not get the same benefits if you were to recreate it at home with a DIY mix of sea salt and warm water, says Dr. Garshick.

The Downsides of Using Salt Water for Acne

Salt water is largely accessible and affordable compared to other skin-care treatments, but it doesn't come without flaws. Spritzing salt water on your skin can potentially overdry it, which can lead to irritation and sensitivity, says Dr. Garshick. And if you decide to apply large salt crystals directly to your face without dissolving them in water first, "it can be too abrasive on the skin and actually can cause disruption in the skin barrier," she adds. Without a healthy skin barrier, you're more likely to lose moisture and enable irritants, potential allergens, bacteria, and viruses to penetrate the skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

Given the lack of research supporting the efficacy of salt water for acne and those potential risks, Dr. Garshick encourages acne-prone folks to turn to tried-and-true treatments for their concerns. "We do have other treatment options that are generally going to work better in the long term, ingredients [like] salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or retinoids," she says. "The verdict that's out there is that it's probably best to stick with these other ingredients that we know are effective for breakouts."

So, Is Salt Water Good for Your Skin at All?

Though there aren't any evidence-backed benefits to using salt water for acne, some skin-care brands do incorporate it into cleansers as an exfoliant, says Dr. Garshick. Unlike DIY salt-infused skin-care products, professional formulations will generally use salt crystals that are small enough that they won't cause as much skin irritation, she explains. You may also see products that utilize salt straight from the Dead Sea. "It's thought that the Dead Sea, based on the different nutrients found there [such as magnesium chloride], has extra benefits in terms of being anti-inflammatory and helping to overall soothe the skin, and it can be helpful for hydration and moisturization," says Dr. Garshick. (FTR, sea salt hair sprays can give you effortless waves.)

And research backs this up: In a 2005 study, participants with dry skin experienced significantly improved skin barrier function, greater hydration, and reduced skin roughness and inflammation after soaking their forearms in a bath with Dead Sea salt, which is rich in magnesium chloride, for 15 minutes. That said, the Dead Sea is a unique micro-environment, and you're not going to be able to replicate its benefits with the sea salt you'd find at the supermarket, says Dr. Garshick. Instead, you'll need to use products specifically formulated with Dead Sea salt and its minerals, such as those from AHAVA, says Dr. Garshick. The brand's Liquid Dead Sea Salt (Buy It, $25, amazon.com), a rinse-off body gel, helps improve the skin's moisture levels and strengthens its barrier, while the Softening Butter Dead Sea Salt Scrub (Buy It, $28, amazon.com) smooths and hydrates skin.

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AHAVA Liquid Dead Sea Salt

AHAVA Liquid Dead Sea Salt
Amazon
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AHAVA Softening Butter Dead Sea Salt Scrub

AHAVA Softening Butter Dead Sea Salt Scrub
Amazon

Should You Try Using Salt Water for Acne?

While science hasn't yet shown that spritzing your face with salt water will make your stubborn pimples disappear, Dr. Garshick says it's okay to give it a shot if you're curious. Just know that you might not experience any magical skin-clearing effects.

"I'm always a believer that if you want to try something, try it — things work differently for different people," she says. "But for something like acne, where we really do have great treatment options, it's still generally advised to speak to a board-certified dermatologist and focus on the key ingredients that we do have lots of clinical studies to show benefits for."

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