Epsom salt baths will make you smell good. They may have a placebo effect in soothing and calming sore muscles, but the science behind the practice is questionable.
Every day, I walk by the bag of Epsom salt in my boys’ bathroom and giggle when reading the label statements. Lisa (my amazing ex-wife) buys it for them and they buy in, so I figure it’s “working” for them. However, Epsom salt claims run the gamut from soothing children with autism to improving recovery after a workout through the restoration of magnesium and sulfate in your system.
Proponents of Epsom salt baths claim that the body absorbs the minerals through the skin, resulting in powerful health benefits. Before we get to those health benefits, whether or not the skin is even penetrable in this way is in question. From guardianlv.com:
Proponents of Epsom salt usage presume that either osmosis is the means in which the salts can “get into the body and then have a detoxifying effect,” or osmosis is actually the detoxification process itself. However, osmosis is about the movement of water, not the ions or compounds…Therefore, if the salts do get absorbed into the body, it is not done by osmosis. Detoxification and osmosis do not provide an explanation for Epsom salt “benefits.” Ingraham also wrote that the human skin is almost completely waterproof — very possibly Epsom salt proof, too….“Ions and molecules dissolved in water cannot generally pass through the stratum corneum because there is virtually no water in the outer layers of skin for them to diffuse through.”
Here’s the thing. Many of the products we ingest, apply, soak in, etc., have limited or no dependable evidence to support their claims. Still, if the belief is strong enough in the product, the benefit can be tangible. The power of the mind is significant and the results aren’t all psychological. There are chemical implications of a placebo effect as well. From brainfacts.org:
Exactly how placebos work to relieve pain and other symptoms remains a mystery, but neuroscientists have uncovered several important clues. They have learned that placebos help the brain release natural chemicals and change brain activity in ways that mimic the effects of real drugs and treatments.
Of course, this can be taken too far. The placebo effect is certainly real, and Epsom salt baths are, at worst, a harmless practice. People are sometimes swayed to reject evidence-based information in favor of mystical or grandiose claims. Being skeptical of these promises, doing your own research and looking to scientific proof is always a wise choice.
I’m heavily invested in the well-being of my youngsters. In this case, if they feel good after soaking in Epsom salt, I’m happy. I don’t need to confront them with the science. Frankly, I’m just happy they’re bathing.