There’s no shortage of TikTok skincare hacks that have gone viral, but the most recent social media fad nearly brought the internet down.
Earlier this year, a TikTok user’s video quickly surpassed 4 million views when she claimed to have cleared up her acne using a homemade sea salt spray. If the thought that all you need to get clear skin is sea salt and water sounds too good to be true, you’re correct.
While sea salt may have some skin benefits, it is far from the cure-all that the internet has made it out to be.
Claire Chang, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at New York City’s Union Square Laser Dermatology, and Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, explain why and weigh in on what more you should know.
What Exactly Is Sea Salt?
Simply defined, it’s ocean salt, which contains naturally occurring minerals like sodium, magnesium, calcium, and potassium, according to Chang. It is (obviously) used in seasoning, cooking, and preserving food, but it is also present in bath and cosmetics products. No, this is not the same as iodized or table salt.
The Skin Benefits of Sea Salt
Let’s start with a huge, hugely significant caution. “There is scant evidence in the scientific literature about the benefits of sea salt,” Chang explains. “And there have been no studies on its benefits for acne treatment,” she continues. Having said that, there have been anecdotal accounts and indications that sea salt may be beneficial to the skin.
It is a natural physical exfoliant: There is a reason why salt scrubs are so popular. According to Gohara, its exfoliative characteristics are what make it good for persons with psoriasis.
Chang cites a tiny study published in the International Journal of Dermatology that revealed soaking in a Dead Sea magnesium-rich salt solution helped reduce skin roughness, redness, and even moisture in eczema patients. 1 (However, the crucial point here is that it was swimming in this solution rather than cleaning with salt—more on that later.)
It may have anti-inflammatory qualities, which are most likely owing to its high mineral concentration, albeit this is not scientifically supported.
According to Gohara, it can help absorb excess oil, and this, combined with potential anti-inflammatory and antibacterial actions, is why it could theoretically be good for acne-prone skin. “The salt absorbs excess oil, which is frequently a problem because sebum is an acne precursor,” she says.
She does, however, refute the widely circulated online myth that another reason sea salt is excellent for acne is that it “balances your skin’s pH.” “It has an alkaline-basic pH of around 8,” she says.
Sea Salt’s Negative Effects
In summary, the negative effects are dryness and irritation, which might exacerbate any inflammation or blemishes, according to Gohara. “Using sea salt as an exfoliator, particularly if applied firmly, can result in over-exfoliation, irritation, and even micro tears in the skin,” Chang adds. The point is that who uses sea salt and how they use it makes all the difference.
How to Make Use of It
For starters, forget about DIY. “I’d avoid any DIY skincare concoctions and instead opt for ready-made products with added calming components in the composition,” Gohara advises. If you want to check if all those skin-clearing tales are true, she recommends applying a sea salt–infused face mist once daily, rather than using sea salt as an exfoliator and trying to scrub your acne away.
It’s also worth noting that this is only a successful option if you have oily skin and/or just have sporadic blemishes; inflammatory or cystic acne requires far more comprehensive therapy, according to Gohara.
If you have rough or extra-dry skin, you can exfoliate with a sea salt scrub; however, use an over-the-counter solution that has moisturizing components to avoid overdrying your skin. (Oh, and most importantly, keep this to your body exclusively.)
Sea salt scrubs, regardless of skin type, are far too harsh for the more sensitive skin on your face.) And there’s no need to scrub too hard; the abrasive nature of the scrub will do the dirty work for you.
Alternatively, Chang says she loves sea salt–based bath soaks that you can simply lay in to absorb the benefits (a good option if you have outbreaks on your back or chest), rather than actively exfoliating the skin with the salt crystals.