Eight Reasons to Take an Epsom Salt Bath (Plus Essential Oils to Elevate Your Soak)

Eight Reasons to Take an Epsom Salt Bath (Plus Essential Oils to Elevate Your Soak)

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How to have an Epsom salt bath

Epsom salt baths are my absolute favorite form of self care. They’re also a simple home-therapy that I recommend to almost every patient at one point in time or another. I get asked how to take an Epsom salt bath often enough that I decided I’d like to write it out for all my patients and anyone else who would like a little guidance.

Though you can read lists and lists of all the things that Epsom salt baths are good for, there are really only a handful of reasons that I use them in my practice.

  • Magnesium deficiency
  • Joint/muscle pain
  • Inflamed skin (can show itself as acne, eczema, etc)
  • Constipation
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Stress
  • Feeling energetically ungrounded
  • As part of a detox

I like to boost up the therapeutic value of baths with essential oils, so beside each indication I’ve included some essential oil add-ons. You’ll notice that lavender is good for almost everything, so if you are only choosing one oil, make it a beautiful, high quality lavender! Essential oils can be irritating to the skin so make sure that you consult someone knowledgeable to help you choose the right oils for you and be sure to patch test on your skin BEFORE adding them to a bath to prevent a full body reaction! Do not take essential oils internally without the advice of a doctor.

Magnesium deficiency

Epsom salts are actually crystals of magnesium sulfate. This form of magnesium can be absorbed through your skin (transdermally).

When I’m concerned about magnesium deficiency, I always use oral supplementation as a first line treatment- transdermal magnesium sulfate is more of a back-up.

I don't have any essential oils to add to this bath, but you can add any of the oils discussed below and not compromise your absorption of magnesium.

 

Joint/Muscle Pain

If you don't get muscle pain sometimes, I think you might be doing life wrong! A little pain sometimes is good. A lot of pain or constant pain is not. Epsom salt baths don’t help everyone with joint and muscle pain- but they help enough people that I feel it is usually worth a try if you’re feeling stiff and achy.

There are three mechanisms that might be at play when you’re using Epsom salt for pain. The first and most obvious is the magnesium. Low magnesium can cause tight muscles and even cramping. This can cause muscle pain and pull on joints making them sore too. The second is the sulfate (the other half of Epsom salt). Sulfate levels are low in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and boosting them up may help with the pain (however this hasn’t been studied). The third is the relaxing effect of a warm water bath. Ahhhhhh!

Essential oil add-on: lavender, clary sage, rosemary, birch

 

Inflamed Skin

Inflamed skin can show up as eczema, acne, rashes, sores, etc. Magnesium salts are anti-inflammatory and can speed up the healing of the skin barrier.

In some cases, I find that Epsom salt baths can irritate the skin. For those patients, we switch to oat baths instead.

Essential oil add-on: lavender, chamomile, helichrysm, rosewood, calendula, yarrow

 

Constipation

Epsom salt baths are not a stand-alone treatment for constipation, however, I find them useful, especially for kids who are stressed about having a bowel movement. If you are finding yourself in fight/flight/freeze mode a lot of the time, a relaxing Epsom salt bath might be just the trick to get you into rest/digest mode and get your bowels moving.

Note: I never use magnesium sulfate internally for constipation… which is perhaps ironic because that is the use that it is best studied for. It has too many side effects, and if you use it long term it carries a risk of magnesium overdose. There are so many other better/safer laxatives out there- pass on drinking Epsom salt water.

Essential oil add-ons: fennel, peppermint, sweet basil, lavender, yarrow, patchouli

 

Anxiety/Insomnia

Feeling anxious is such a common issue these days. It seems like there are less and less people who say "no" when I ask them about feelings of anxiety and difficulty sleeping. For the occasional symptom of insomnia or anxiety (less than once a week), an Epsom salt bath could be just the trick. If anxiety and/or insomnia are part of your daily life, seeking help from a Naturopathic Doctor could change your whole experience of the world.

One of the perks of an Epsom salt bath is that increasing your body temperature has been shown to be calming. In addition, magnesium is also calming to the nervous system and mildly sedating. A double effect!

It’s important to note that while magnesium can be effective for insomnia, it has only been shown to be effective for the feeling of anxiety. The jury is still out on whether it can be an effective treatment for anxiety disorders, and there are other better natural remedies for anxiety out there.

Essential oil add-ons: lavender, vetiver, frankincense, jasmine, clary sage

 

Stress

Did you know that stress can deplete magnesium levels? True story. Did you also know that supplementing with magnesium can improve the stress response as measured by ACTH and cortisol? It can also prevent the damaging effects of stress on the immune system as measured by IL-6. Looks like you can add Epsom salt baths or magnesium supplementation to your immune boosting plan if you’re experiencing stress! Check out the references linking stress and magnesium below.

Essential oil add-ons: lavender, clary sage, chamomile, frankincense, vetiver, jasmine

 

Feeling Energetically Ungrounded/Depleted

This is a common concern among my patients who work with energy (healers, empaths, psychics, sensitives etc). From years of observation, it seems like use of subtle energies depletes glucose and electrolytes (I don’t have any measurements or Pubmed results to back this up… obviously?). Epsom salt baths are good a way to get back into your body and raise electrolyte levels. I often have these patients add Himalayan pink salt or a mineral rich sea salt to their baths as well to round out the minerals present in the water and to provide a stronger grounding effect.

Essential oil add-ons: vetiver, patchouli, spruce, fir, pine, lavender

 

As part of a detox

Detoxification occurs through the following body systems: Kidney/urinary, liver/bowels, lungs/skin, female reproductive tract. We often hyperfocus on the liver (and to a lesser extent the kidneys) when we think of detoxification. However, it is important that all of these systems be in balance in order for your body to function optimally. One of the most common side effects of a liver detox is a flare up of acne if the bowels get overwhelmed. In addition to staying hydrated, improving the function of the skin with an Epsom salt bath can help prevent that side effect. I often have patients add dry-brushing to their protocol if detoxification is part of the goal of Epsom salt baths.

Essential oil add-ons: rosemary, juniper, angelica, yarrow, grapefruit

 

There you have my top reasons for taking an Epsom salt bath as well as essential oil suggestions to elevate the experience. Also make sure that you have a stretch of quiet time (I take mine after the little one is in bed), and dim lights to calm your mind.

 

How to take an Epsom salt bath:

  1. Drink a big glass of water
  2. Start filling the tub with hot water
  3. Dissolve salt- use amount indicated on package (usually 1-2 cups). Use lower amounts for kids (I use 1 cup for my little one).
  4. Adjust bath temperature to desired warmth.
  5. Add oils if using (make sure you’ve patch tested them first- there is nothing worse than being covered in an essential oil that you react badly to! I know from personal experience!)
  6. Set the mood with candles and/or relaxing music. Turn off your phone. Grab a good book.
  7. Set a timer if you’ve been instructed to take a specific length of bath.
  8. Get in and relax.
  9. Rinse off. Cool water is ideal.
  10. Dry off.
  11. Moisturize.

 

There are possible side effects to any natural treatment- including something as seemingly benign as Epsom salt baths. I take especial care when recommending Epsom salt baths to people who are pregnant, who have a cardiovascular condition, or who have difficulty regulating their electrolytes (eg. due to a kidney condition). Note: Epsom salts may be beneficial for people with these conditions- but it needs to be monitored on a case by case basis.

 

Happy bathing!

 

Selected References

Effect of a 12-day balneotherapy programme on pain, mood, sleep, and depression in healthy elderly people.

Permeation of topically applied Magnesium ions through human skin is facilitated by hair follicles.

Bathing in a magnesium-rich Dead Sea salt solution improves skin barrier function, enhances skin hydration, and reduces inflammation in atopic dry skin.

Oral collagen-derived dipeptides, prolyl-hydroxyproline and hydroxyprolyl-glycine, ameliorate skin barrier dysfunction and alter gene expression profiles in the skin.

Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial.

Non-pharmacological interventions for somatoform disorders and medically unexplained physical symptoms (MUPS) in adults.

The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial.

The effects of magnesium supplementation on subjective anxiety.

Effect of intravenous epinephrine on serum magnesium and free intracellular red blood cell magnesium concentrations measured by nuclear magnetic resonance.

ACTH, Cortisol and IL-6 Levels in Athletes following Magnesium Supplementation.

Coordination between antioxidant defences might be partially modulated by magnesium status.

Low Hepatic Mg2+ Content promotes Liver dysmetabolism: Implications for the Metabolic Syndrome.

How to Stay Healthy At University (Alternate Title: How to Thrive When You're Young, Broke, and Stressed)

How to Stay Healthy At University (Alternate Title: How to Thrive When You're Young, Broke, and Stressed)