No, You Can't 'Detox' from an Epsom Salt Bath

Sorry to burst your (bath) bubble.

woman in bathtub with bubbles

It's natural to raise an eyebrow at the word "detox." Not only can the proposed effects of the detox be bogus, but it can even be potentially dangerous (like in the case of the generally unhealthy juice cleanse). But with the pervasiveness of the word — it's even spilled over into the beauty world with skin and hair detoxes — it was only a matter of time before the idea of a "detox bath" got its 15 minutes of fame.

Search the words "detox bath" on Pinterest and you'll find so many DIYs for soaks and bath bombs. You'll probably be overwhelmed at the sheer volume of results — and may just get sucked deep into it all and end up purchasing a few essential oils. Don't get me wrong, I consider myself quite the bath enthusiast — bath time is MY time, it's where I decompress, soak away my post-run or yoga aches, and often get in a bit of meditation, too. But a detox bath? I wasn't so sure.

Because what does detoxing even mean, really? The everyday kind of detoxification happens on its own, when your metabolism works as it is intended to, like when your liver processes and excretes toxins like Tylenol or alcohol, explains Nitin Kumar, M.D., a physician based in Boston.

So how could a bath with some kind of salt — specifically Epsom salts, aka magnesium sulfate—help with everyday detoxification?

The theory is that after the Epsom salts break down into magnesium and sulfate in the water, your body absorbs the minerals through the skin, and these minerals then "draw out" toxins from the body. But not only is there no evidence to back this up, but it's also just not how your body works. There is no way, scientifically speaking, for any kind of particle to pass through the skin and draw toxins out in this way, says Kumar.

Well, that's settled.

Beyond "detoxing," Epsom salt soaks have long been touted for their muscle-relaxing and sleep-inducing abilities, because of their high magnesium content. While there is a slew of scientific and FDA-approved uses for Epsom salts (for example, they're ingestible for a laxative effect), there is almost no science that confirms Epsom salts — or specifically the magnesium found in them — aid in these kinds of home remedies.

If nothing else, studies have found Epsom salt baths helped people simply as a kind of placebo effect, and there's no potential harm. In this case, the relaxed-all-over feeling of a nice hot bath might be mistakenly attributed to Epsom salts, when really, it's just soaking in the tub (maybe with a glass of wine — just saying) that deserves the credit for your zen.

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