When you think of salt water, it's usually in reference to the ocean or spending the day relaxing on the beach. However, the vacation staple has also recently gone viral on TikTok, with claims that using salt water to wash your face may be able to cure acne and reduce redness.
So is salt water the secret to smooth, acne-free skin? We spoke to two dermatologists—Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, and Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD—to get the lowdown on everything we need to know about washing your face with salt water. Keep on scrolling for all the details.
Meet the Expert
What Is Salt Water?
Salt water is exactly what it sounds like: A mixture of salt and water. While it can be found in the ocean, you can also make your own spray at home by combining water and salt. Typically, salt water uses dissolvable salt (such as table salt, as opposed to coarse sea salt) and regular tap water.
In recent TikTok videos, salt water has been gaining notoriety due to users claiming it can cure acne, reduce redness, and help with certain skin conditions. However, many dermatologists on the app advise against using it as it may worsen the skin and cause damage to the skin barrier. While it does have some positive attributes, dermatologists still advise using other alternatives to achieve the same results—without the fear of dealing with unnecessary side effects.
Benefits of Salt Water
While salt water can provide a whole slew of benefits for your skin if used correctly, dermatologists don't advise using it (or really recommend it at all) since it may be extremely drying. However, if you do opt to use it, it can provide benefits such as smoothing, brightening, and reducing excess oil.
- Clears up acne: Salt water on your face can work to clean your pores deeply since it's a physical exfoliant. "This may have the positive side effect of reducing acne," explains Engelman.
- Eliminates excess oil: Buffing away dead skin cells, dirt, and other forms of build-up can help eliminate excess oil. "Washing with salt water can help to reduce excess oil, making it a good option for those with oily skin," explains Garshick.
- Leaves the skin brighter and smoother: By exfoliating away dead skin cells, salt water may act as a mechanical exfoliant, which will leave the skin brighter and smoother, says Garshick.
- Reduces inflammation: Some of the minerals in salt water—like magnesium—may help reduce inflammation. For this reason, Garshick says that it may be helpful for certain conditions like eczema or psoriasis as it may help reduce inflammation. "That said, too much salt water may be drying and exacerbate some conditions, especially in those with sensitive skin," she adds.
Salt water isn't great for all skin types, and should be used with caution. Engelman says that while it's best for those with acne or oily-prone skin, "I don't recommend it as an alternative to chemical exfoliants since applying salt water can easily dry out and damage your skin due to its abrasiveness."
With that being said, if used extremely cautiously—and with permission from your dermatologist— it may be helpful in treating inflammatory conditions (like psoriasis or eczema) and can potentially help reduce oil and acne on oily or acne-prone skin types. "While it may be tolerable and considered safe in certain skin types, it may be harsh or irritating in certain skin types, especially those with dry or sensitive skin," says Garshick.
How To Wash Your Face With Salt Water
If you're looking to incorporate salt water washing into your routine, you can simply make a saltwater solution using a bit of table salt and hot water. You can also find salt water in safer alternatives such as facial toners, body scrubs, bath salts, and masks, which can be purchased at any beauty store. These will give you the same benefits, but will likely get the approval from your dermatologist and be a bit safer for your skin than applying salt water directly.
Potential Side Effects
Both Engelman and Garshick advise steering clear of salt water due to its side effects. It may be irritating to your skin, compromising your skin barrier. "This is due to the fact that salt water is naturally harsh, which can lead to irritation and potentially worsen skin conditions such as acne and eczema," explains Engelman.
While there are benefits to washing your face safely with salt water, it often overly dries the skin in the process, leading to worsening skin conditions and other severe skin complications.
The Final Takeaway
All in all, while salt water may have some good-for-you skin benefits, it's simply not worth putting your skin at risk to try the trend. When you use it the wrong way, salt water may cause severe irritation and redness, and may even worsen your existing skin conditions. If you're still curious about trying it out, be sure to speak with your dermatologist first.
Proksch E, Nissen HP, Bremgartner M, Urquhart C. Bathing in a magnesium-rich Dead Sea salt solution improves skin barrier function, enhances skin hydration, and reduces inflammation in atopic dry skin. Int J Dermatol. 2005;44(2):151-157.