Updated 07/01/21. Now that it’s summer, and many of us are spending time at the beach and swimming in the ocean, it’s time to talk about the link between your skin and the sea. More specifically, it’s time to talk about the link between your skin and salt water. There’s a lot of speculation about how it could possibly affect the skin, which leaves people wondering, is salt water good for your skin? Does it dry it out? Is it better for some skin types over others? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and more.
So, Is Salt Water Good For Your Skin, or Is It Bad?
For the most part, I believe salt water can be beneficial to the skin and that it can even aid in addressing certain skin conditions. That’s because seawater contains a variety of vitamins, amino acids, and minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, and sulfur. The therapeutic effects of these minerals have been widely recognized since the time of Ancient Greece, which was when Herodotus and Hippocrates proclaimed the curative powers of bathing in natural hot springs. This formed the basis for balneotherapy, which is still widely practiced, from Calistoga, California to the Blue Lagoon of Iceland.
Similar to balneotherapy is thalassotherapy, which is the use of seawater as a form of therapy to restore and remineralize the body. Spas, especially those located along the coast of France (in Brittany), have special marine pools that utilize this super-charged mineral water. It’s not just practiced in France, either. Just think about all the people who travel to the Dead Sea every year to bathe in its water for potential healing benefits! It looks incredible.
What’s interesting is that seawater and blood plasma have a nearly identical chemical composition in terms of mineral and trace element levels. In fact, seawater is so similar to the body’s internal environment that if white blood cells are removed from the body and placed in a sterile diluted seawater solution, they can maintain normal cell function. This is the only solvent that will accommodate continued cellular activity. How incredible is that?
Here are a few specific ways salt water can benefit the skin.
Salt Water Can Help Heal Blemishes
Salt water has natural antiseptic drying agents (such as sulfur) that are commonly used in blemish-fighting products. So, a swim in the ocean could be beneficial for healing existing breakouts. Of course, you should always wear sunscreen to protect your skin from sun damages, so don’t jump in the water without it. With that being said, UV light also helps destroy bacteria. So, the combination of sun and salt water could improve blemishes. This is especially true for people with back acne, who find it difficult to reach and thus properly treat that area (n that note, read more about how to clear up body and back acne).
If you want to try using salt water in your skincare routine, you could bring a bottle along to the beach and fill it up with seawater. When back at home, wash your face with a gentle cleanser, then apply the salt water to a cotton pad, and wipe it over your face. Leave it damp and immediately follow up with a moisturizer that’s suitable for your skin type. By leaving your skin damp with salt water, you’re sealing in all the therapeutic benefits. Note: tap water can leave behind chlorine and other drying chemicals on your skin. That’s why I recommend you use an alcohol-free toner after cleansing to wipe these away.
Salt Water Can Help Heal Wounds
Many people have found ocean water to be beneficial for helping to heal cuts and open skin (like blemishes).
Salt Water Can Improve Conditions Like Eczema and Psoriasis
Many people find an improvement in red, irritated skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis from salt water, thanks to the drying effect from the sodium in it. When it comes to psoriasis specifically, which is a skin condition characterized by redness and irritation, the addition of UV light from the sun can help greatly.
While beneficial in certain cases, the drying effect of salt water isn’t always helpful for people with dry skin types. So, if you’re someone who has dry skin, you need to know how to care for your skin post-swim. Luckily, I have some tips for that.
How to Defend Your Skin Against Dryness When Swimming In Salt Water
If you’re prone to dry skin, there are a few things you can do to mitigate extra dryness caused by exposure to salt water. The first tip I have to share is to apply water-resistant sunscreen before swimming. Why water-resistant sunscreen, you ask? Well, these sunscreens are typically formulated with heavier emollients. These emollients create a protective barrier over the skin that causes water to bead off instead of penetrating as deep into the skin as it normally would, thereby preventing it from disrupting the skin’s natural moisture barrier.
After you’ve applied water-resistant sunscreen and gone out for a swim, rinse off immediately. Salt doesn’t evaporate like water, so it’s important to remove the drying salt from your skin as soon as possible. Once you’ve done that, follow up with a moisturizer to replenish moisture levels in your skin.
How to Harness the Benefits of Seawater Without Swimming in the Ocean
An ongoing trend in skincare, which has been fueled by the green movement, is the concept of taking items found in nature (in this case that would be seawater) and using them topically on the skin in order to achieve a certain result. Using something in its natural, original, and unadulterated form is the best way to go, right? Not necessarily. It’s important to understand that even though ocean water contains enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids, you can reap so many benefits when you use it in its natural form. There is a term used by cosmetic scientists called “biomimicry,” and it means using biotechnology to harness the best of a good thing and make it even better. Many elements and organisms found in seawater are used in skincare products, and they can be very beneficial. In fact, I use some sea-based ingredients in my own skincare line.
Sulfur: This is a mineral that’s often used to address blemishes. It can dry out the blemish and heal it quickly.
Red Marine Algae: This is found along the shores of Hawaii and can be very helpful for hydrating and bolstering the skin’s moisture barrier.
Chlorella Vulgaris Extract: This is a microalgae that may help increase collagen synthesis to encourage tissue regeneration.
Sea Whip Extract: This ingredient is known to be calming to the skin, making it effective for addressing redness and sensitivity.
I hope you enjoyed learning about salt water and how it can affect the skin. Next, see my five skin tips for pool swimmers!
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”