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 any so-called detox be bogus, but they can even be potentially dangerous (case in point: 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 probably be overwhelmed at the sheer volume of suggestions for DIYs for soaks and bath bombs. You may even get sucked in and impulse-buy a few essential oils and a bag of Epsom salts. There's no shame in doing so — taking a bath is a relaxing form of self-care that can help you decompress and soak away your post-run or weight room aches. You may even get in a bit of meditation too.

But calling it a "detox bath" is a little much, 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 — for example, when your liver processes and excretes toxins such as 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. 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 Dr. Kumar.

Well, that's settled.

Beyond "detoxing," Epsom salt soaks have long been touted for their muscle-relaxing and sleep-inducing abilities due to 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 isn't much science that confirms Epsom salts — or specifically the magnesium found in them — can 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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