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Are Epsom Salt Baths a Smart Recovery Ritual?

Here, the benefits of Epsom salt baths, according to experts and the science.

epsom salt benefits
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There are three basic components of a successful training plan: fueling, running (duh), and recovering. That means what you do off the road and trails is equally as important as what you do when you’re on the move.

One of those off-road tactics that people turn to for R&R: Epsom salt baths. But will soaking in a tub full of salts truly optimize your recovery?

Some runners and fitness experts swear by Epsom salt benefits, which are believed to reduce muscle soreness, inflammation, and swelling. Here, we break down whether the salty soaks really work.

What is the purpose of an Epsom salt bath?

To understand the thinking behind Epsom salt benefits, you need to know what’s actually in Epsom salt.

Epsom salt is made of magnesium (which is typically found in foods like seeds, nuts, and some fruits and vegetables), as well as sulfate. “Magnesium is known to increase relaxation, reduce inflammation, and aid in muscle and nerve function,” says Corinne Croce, D.P.T., co-founder of Body Evolved, a boutique physical therapy studio in New York City. “And the sulfate in Epsom salt is said to help with recovery and detoxification.”

Greg Grosicki, Ph.D., an assistant professor and director of the exercise physiology laboratory at Georgia Southern University, adds that magnesium deficiency is associated with muscle aches and cramps. “By taking an Epsom salt bath, or by exposing the skin to Epsom salts in a cream, we hope to increase our magnesium levels and reduce muscle soreness.”

Does research back up the benefits of Epsom salt baths?

The key word there is hope. Even though magnesium sulfate has been used intravenously to treat muscle spasms and tetanus (a disease that causes muscle contractions), the million dollar question for runners is: Can the active ingredients in Epsom salt penetrate your skin and aid in muscle recovery?

The answer, unfortunately, is a solid: ehhhhhh. One Magnesium Research study shows that hair follicles may help magnesium penetrate the skin, and a small PloS One study found a slight increase in magnesium levels when people applied a cream with the element. But when researchers evaluated relevant studies on the topic for a Nutrients review, they still concluded that the evidence just isn’t there yet.

“Scientific support for transdermal (a.k.a. skin) exposure as a means to increase magnesium levels is scarce,” Grosicki says.

So, should you try an Epsom salt bath?

That said, the potential benefits—and low-risk nature of the therapy—may make Epsom salt baths worth a try. For starters, soaking your feet in an Epsom salt bath might help soothe blisters. “Magnesium helps reduce inflammation in the endothelial layer of the skin,” says Dendy Engelman, M.D., director of dermatologic surgery at Metropolitan Hospital in New York City, which can help blisters heal.

Most importantly, anything that helps you unwind can be considered a recovery win. “Lack of evidence aside, if a bath (with or without Epsom salt) helps you to relax after a hard workout, that in and of itself may help to expedite recovery because cortisol promotes muscle breakdown,” Grosicki says.

And since Epsom salts don’t dissolve in cold water (water should be around 130 degrees Fahrenheit for them to dissolve), you’re forced to forgo that miserable ice bath in favor of something warmer—and likely, more relaxing.

The Best Epsom Salt Products for Your Bath

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