Epsom Salt Baths: The Five Reasons They Don’t Work And Why You Should Still Be Taking Them

Epsom Salt Baths - Are they effective?

Epsom Salt baths have become “the new black” in the rehab and relaxation industry. Expensive, beautifully packaged bags of Magnesium Sulfate ready to whisk away all your aches, pains, toxins, nerve conditions, and whatever else that ails you.

But do epsom salt baths really work?

Many Epsom salts producers would have you believe a hot Epsom salt bath can solve anything. I have trained hundreds of patients to take these salty baths for muscle soreness and I have taken dozens myself, after hard workouts or long inline skates.

But I got to thinking. What is the science behind these baths? 

5 Reasons Epsom Salt Baths Don't Work

Short story, there isn’t any. When perusing the research regarding the effectiveness of Epsom salt bathing, the evidence is scant at best. But I did come across one seventeen-page article that I read word for word.

Paul Ingraham, who writes for Pain Science has the best review of the Epsom salt research in an article he entitles, “Do Epsom Salts Work?” He pens with sarcasm, and a fiery wit that makes reading about the emptiness of the Epsom salt claims an absolute pleasure.

5 Reasons Epsom Salt Baths Don’t Work 

So what does our friend Paul have to say? He has some very strong opinions on the subject! (Want to read it? Here is the LINK.)

But before I get to Paul’s thorough bashing of the Epsom salt myth let’s talk about the history of Epsom salts. As mentioned above, Epsom salts are made up of  Magnesium Sulfate. Magnesium Sulfate is a crystal formation that come from a spring in England, aptly named “EPSOM.” Do not go mixing up “Epsom salts” with “Dead Sea salts.” Dead Sea salts come from, well, the “Dead Sea” and that would be in Israel, not England. So there is that.

Okay, back to Paul and his passionate paper. Here is a sampling of his points:

  • OSMOLALITY: The theory is that Epsom salt baths create an osmolality shift where fluids from in the body will cross the skin barrier into the bath. Here is the thing. Our skin is intended to be waterproof. It is one of the reasons we don’t dry out like a worm on a sidewalk on a sunny Saturday. (His analogy, Totes stole it.) To get “things” across the skin barrier we have to work very very hard. Medication patches and lotions that allow substances to cross the skin barrier are formulated to contain the teeny tiniest particles, so they can have at least a chance of them crossing. Often you have to use a carrier, like DSMO, to aid in the process. Simply put, it is not an easy job to get things across the skin.
  • TOXINS: The theory is that if you take an Epsom salt bath, you are pulling “toxins” out of your body. IF, and that is a big IF, toxins are going to exit your body as a result of a salty emersion then it would be the “toxins” just beneath the surface of the skin. Unfortunately, most toxins in the body are housed in the liver and fat tissue which are far too deep for some salty bath to access. Not gonna happen. Agree with you on that one Paul.
  • LACTIC ACID: The theory is that lactic acid or metabolites that result from heavy exercise or exertion (some argue lactic acid is not even a thing) are found deep in the muscle tissue. Guess where the muscles are? NOT in the immediate layer under the surface of the skin. So, Paul and I are on the same wavelength here too. Your lactic acid/metabolites are not running for the exits because the sense you are in salty water.
  • HEALING: The theory is that Epsom salt baths are going to speed up the healing process, decrease bruising, and cure your sprained ankle in minutes. Sitting in a hot bath is going to vasodilate the tissues which can bring healing factors to the area of injury. Perhaps the relaxation of muscles and increased circulation may provide a better foundation for healing but salt on the outside of your body is not necessarily going to get you back into the game in half the time.
  • COMPLIANCE: The theory is that Epsom salt baths are better than bathing in plain water. Please gather ’round for a little story. Jim is a patient. I instruct Jim to take hot baths for his chronic low back pain. Jim says, “whatever” and does not comply. Then I say “Hey, Jim. If you get some Epsom salts and put them in your bath and soak for a full 20 minutes, your muscles are going to heal faster, and you are going to be back to your golf game in half the time.” What do you think Jim is going to do? Comply. So Paul Ingraham suspects that perhaps people follow through more with bathing instructions if they believe a magical potion poured into their bath is going to have some miraculous healing effect. Point – Mr. Ingraham.

Why You Should Take Epsom Salt Baths, Anyway

So the unfortunate thing about all of this is that I am not stupid. I am a fancy doctor, and I have both exhaustive anecdotal evidence that these baths work, and personal experience to support my fervor. I have taken both Epsom salt baths and regular baths, and there is, indeed a difference. There are thousands of other reports to support this claim as well. But Mr. Ingraham is completely founded in his research and certainly very convincing. What is one to do??

Good news! There are no downsides to an Epsom salt bath. The literature tells us there are few to no side effects. I have had a few patients claim that the Epsom salt baths made their personal pipes move a little too quickly. With the documented diuretic effect of magnesium, I can understand why that might happen. (For the record Paul would most passionately disagree there is a connection.) But the truth about Epsom salt baths is you really cannot go wrong.

IF you are going to take an Epsom Salt bath, you better do it right. The recommendation is to make the bath saltier than your own tissues, so you want to use quite a bit of salt. There are expensive essential oil-laden salts you can use, but, you can also get Epsom salts at your local grange or farmer supply store. Apparently, they use is it for stuff. Farmer stuff, I guess.

My Favorite!!

How much epsom salt should you use for your bath?

Most people just sprinkle a little in their bath. I would suggest that with Paul’s discussion around osmolality that small amount DEFINITELY isn’t going to do anything for you. The concentration, if there is any chance of it working, needs to be significantly higher. My recommendation is at least three cups in a hot bath for twenty minutes. I use a half cup of the more expensive salts and then the other 2.5 cups I use the cheaper option.

If you are completely confused, read on!

Recap of what we know:

  • Hot baths are nice.
  • Hot baths with some lovely salts are even nicer.
  • Perhaps we are not clear yet on the scientific efficacy of Epsom salt bathing,
  • Perhaps we don’t give a crap if science can show that Epsom salts work.
  • If Epsom salt baths serve as the impetus to get your butt into hot water for twenty minutes, (hot baths do have good scientific backing,) then who cares?
  • Epsom salt baths can’t hurt. (Except for the occasional poopy problem.)
  • So my professional recommendation is to golf clap Mr. Ingraham’s tremendous efforts in writing such an awesome article. And let’s do that respectful acknowledgment from the warm comfy confines of our Epsom Salt bath.


This week I encourage you to try an Epsom Salt bath. Twenty minutes in a bath can calm the mind, relax the musculature and help you sleep better. Are you ensuring you are getting adequate down time in your schedule? Soaking in a bath can be a forcing function toward a little bit of stillness. 



Epsom Salt Baths - Are they effective?

30 Responses

  1. Thank you for this article! I have been taking Epsom Salt baths for a few months and they help me relax. Because I’m getting magnesium to help with anxiety or because I’m taking the time to relax in a bath? No clue, but I feel better and when my daughter takes an ES bath, she becomes a much more relaxed and nice person. My husband came home and started reading the Pain Science article to me and then I stumbled across this article TOTALLY by accident! I was very please to return his favor and read your words to him! 🙂

    1. You are welcome! I love them too! I have one almost every night! And they do really help you sleep. Thank you for stopping by to check out this article. 🙂

    2. So it works because Epsom Salts increase the conductivity of the water, meaning there is less electrical resistance between your body in the bath and the earth via the plumbing and pipes. So your body is grounded. This is my theory. There is evidence to suggest grounding reduces muscle inflamation.

  2. You are absolutely wrong about skin barriers. The skin is the biggest organ of the body and it absorbs more than you think. Think how nicotine patches work and estrogen patches. Gasoline on hour hands? …major carcinogen conflict, just an example. Skin doesn’t make our bodies “waterproof”, it’s meant to hold, protect and its majority function is designed, per se, to absorb and secrete.

    1. I like your comment! Personally, I would categorize our skin as semi-permeable but not “easily” permeable and I think some of Mr. Ingram’s arguments on that portion of the discussion are valid. And although I am in total agreement with you regarding toxins getting across the skin barrier, I am still out on the “Detoxification” benefit of Epsom. Still researching that one. Thanks for stopping by.

      1. The one point the article does not address. The fact of when you bathe the water should be very hot. You want to perspire . This draws the toxins out of the system. Drinking water while in the tub is essential. Also when you are finished with the tub,pull the plug and let the water out. Don’t stand up till the water is down below your knees. This helps with restoring your system and helps prevent you from passing out.

    1. What about Pub Med? – It’s good? I should check it? There are refuting articles there I should know about? There are supporting articles? Mr. Ingram has some pretty decent references in his article, is it one of those you are referring to? Please tell me. 🙂

      1. It’s refreshing to hear a well-educated professional doctor speak with a humble and open mind about the complexities of the human body. Unfortunately most doctors think they know everything about the body and have large look at it as a machine and the components of the machine to try to figure out how it works. Very silly. I’ve see there are many more aspects of human life. It makes total sense from the research that it shouldn’t work but it does. We just don’t understand why yet and it’s probably be on the context of the way Western medicine looks at the human body. I just took a epsom salt bath and feel awesome after a hard run.

  3. the day i started having eye stye on my right eye, that night i soak my feet in the epsom salth bath just to relax my body because i was having trouble sleeping that day. I never thought that the eye stye i was having gone in just one night. the pain i felt on my eyes were 100% gone together with the small bumps.

    so i guess another benefit of soaking feet in warm Epsom salt bath helps cure eye stye too..

  4. Tried Epsom salts for the first time tonight. Felt about 20% better than usual during and after a long soak. Even if the effects ARE only psychosomatic, I’ll be using again and again

  5. I take epsom salt baths about once a week. Good to know you take one almost once a day. I wasn’t sure if I should have one more often. I think it helps me and I feel so good after the bath. Great topic!

    1. Thank you so much! I really appreciate this kind of feedback. I will correct it immediately. 🙂

    1. Ha ha, If you had the whole article you would know I totally agree. But thank you for your passionate feedback.

  6. My Mother used to practically FORCE me to take E. S. baths and when I had a cut or scrape that was looking nasty—then too.

    I grew up doing this and when I met my girlfriend/soul mate/ one woman I won’t marry. ( Marriage ruins good relationships) I told her about ES and she is a Masters Prepared Registered Nurse who laughed at the idea.
    After years of coaxing– she finally just did it– “no real reason” she said. She could not sleep and “just did it”.
    No need to coax anymore. She said she slept better than she had in years and her skin felt softer and “brighter” the next day.
    So THAT along with the testimony of my Great Grandmother who lived long enough to ride from Ohio to Nebraska in a covered wagon AND watch a man walk on THE MOON– she swore buy it. I remember her hugs–she always smelled so…. clean and there was a time when she refused to have indoor plumbing due to the “COST” So she too could be stubborn.
    After the plumbing was in–she said: ” I can take a bath everyday in ES and it won’t break anyone’s back carrying the water!”

    So I consider this to be Scientific Evidence. People who did not want to use it– finally did, I was Forced to take them and now encourage others to use this all around remedy. I had a cut on my foot that would not heal when I was in my teens. I soaked it in ES AND put an ES patch on it and in two days- it was healing not hurting!!
    That is enough “Science” for me.!!

    Warren E. Justice CARPS, CDMS, AA, CCIMS, CADC*

  7. Hi,
    I have a different use for Epsom salt soaks. I work with a horse farrier and his Veterinarian wife. Although we cant measure exactly the rate of activity. We find that when we soak horse hooves with abscesses in an epsom salt bath, until the abcess is gone the horses seem to limp less and the abscesses seem to be drawn to the surface quicker, and ether they pop on their own or the vet or shoer can get at them easier. We don’t like to let horses hooves stay wet to long as they can get to soft or develop fungus, so no we have never just soaked them in water as a control. We also make poultices for tendon strains with the same thought as that magnesium is good for muscle repair.Would you have any research on this? thank you

  8. Thank you for this article! A wonderful science/experience balance. Just because we don’t understand how something works doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

    My addition to the discussion: Enough salts in the bath makes you more buoyant, takes more stress off your joints, allows your face to stay above water with little or no effort. Even if you have to bend your knees to get your head in the water to let it float, it’s wonderful.

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Dr. Denniston is a wellness strategist for elite leaders and their teams, bridging the connection between personal well-being and professional success. She provides custom solutions for burnout and stress and facilitates cohesive habit-training strategies that maximize vitality, productivity, and resilience.

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