Salt in skincare and hair care: why the unsuspecting ingredient could be good for your beauty routine

A sprinkling of salt as part of your beauty diet can improve your breathing, post-gym ache and skin health. Stylist investigates…

Salt. We nixed it from our diets when physicians warned it caused everything from high cholesterol and hypertension to poor heart health. Food packaging touts ‘no added salt’ as a positive tag, and when you add a few extra twists of the salt grinder at a restaurant, you know you’re getting a disapproving side-eye from another diner.

Despite this, salt is the biggest buzzword in beauty and wellness right now, being hailed as a cure for everything from muscle aches to eczema. 

Salt has always been a healer – there’s a reason that people have been bathing in the Dead Sea for centuries – but once-unsexy Epsom salt is now the bath soak du jour, its high mineral content helping prevent post-workout soreness and aiding sleep. Likewise, the National Psoriasis Foundation prescribes salt-enriched water for acute dry skin.

“The high concentration of magnesium and bromide in salt improves skin hydration, strengthens its protective barrier and reduces inflammation,” explains dermatologist Dr Anita Sturnham. And it’s not just health, salt is leading the way in beauty, too. 

Cornish sea salt is cropping up in everything from body scrubs to hair-texturising sprays, says Philip Tanswell of the Cornish Sea Salt Company. “Dead Sea salt has up to 21 different vitamins and minerals, but the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall – where we get our salt from – has around 60,” he says. “It also contains electrolytes that are easily absorbed through the skin cells, which is why it’s so good at reducing swelling and fine lines when used topically.”

It’s becoming the natural-health go-to for every wellbeing warrior who has more than one pink Himalayan salt lamps in their home to help with air purification (and provide fuzzy ‘mood lighting’). But there are more ways to infuse your routine with salt – and once you have, you’ll never look back, or waste it by tossing it over your shoulder…

Smelling Salts

Working on your mind as well as your muscles, smelling salts were traditionally used to revive the faint of heart and help promote mental clarity back in the Victorian days. While that may seem decidedly old-fashioned now, they’re having a revival. Here’s why: when essential oils are combined with the magnesium in salt, they become a natural stress-buster.

That means you may find yourself feeling more resilient in tough times – Therapie Roques O’Neil Inner Light Crystal Clear Smelling Salts, £42, are the perfect desk accoutrement. Inhaling their scent will help you snap out of that midweek slump and instantly reboot your brain.


Sit in a salt cave

The Salt Cave clinics (there are 10 in England and Scotland) use dry salt aerosol technology, so a saline solution is evaporated into the air. The salt can loosen mucus, reduce inflammation and clear airways, helping you to breathe better, and particle sizes are calculated specifically to reach the deepest part of the lungs when inhaled. Clinical trials of salt caves from the Journal Of Aerosol Medicine showed an 85% improvement in people suffering from mild to moderate asthma.

Clean your teeth with salt

If you’ve ever had tonsillitis, you may have gargled with saltwater to help reduce swelling and get rid of bacteria. Brands are now utilising salt’s hygienic clout for tooth care. Using sodium-rich flakes rather than traditional dental-care minerals such as fluoride, salt stimulates the production of saliva – and the more saliva in your mouth, the easier it is for food to break down in preparation for digestion. Magnesium aids the body’s absorption of calcium too – and what are strong teeth rich in? Yep, calcium. Try Weleda Salt Toothpaste, £4.95, with peppermint essential oils, so it won’t feel like you have a mouth full of seawater.


Switch on a salt lamp

Salt lamps are lumps of pink Himalayan salt with a bulb inside that emit a warm glow. They are said to attract and absorb ‘polluted’ water molecules from the atmosphere, and the bulb’s warmth allows this now-cleansed water to evaporate back into the air, leaving allergy-triggering dust and pollen ‘locked’ in the lamp.

Like a Brita filter for the air, they’re reported to be great for those allergic to airborne allergens and hayfever-sufferers. In the bedroom, their red glow is said to help promote good sleep. Plug in a Westlab Himalayan Salt Lamp, £25.


Use a flake-filled exfoliator

Since the UK microbead ban, brands have been looking for natural alternatives to slough away dead skin, and salt is an obvious choice. Chunky granules can be too abrasive and ‘micro-tear’ the skin, so look for ones using salt flakes.

According to Philip Tanswell, the larger the surface area of a flake, the more skin-enriching minerals it can hold. Living Sea Therapy Sea Salt Scrub, £32, is infused with Cornish coastal water – which is important as the minerals in the sea match the mineral profile of our bodies, so our internal water and salt levels stay balanced, keeping dehydration and dry skin at bay.


Recreate the authentic ‘beach hair’ look

If the grains are too gritty, salt can strip dye and natural moisture from hair. While we wait for product developers to find a solution to this problem. Thankfully, there is now an easy-to-use version of this in the form of Percy & Reed’s Beyond The Beach Texture Spray, £16, a texture spray that uses Cornish flakes instead of crunchy shards of salt, meaning you get ‘just stepped out of the sea’ waves that are shiny rather than heavy or crisp. Win-win.


Find it in your face cream

Not all salts occur naturally: salt can be defined as “any chemical compound formed from the reaction of an acid with a base where all or part of the hydrogen of the acid has been replaced by a metal,” says Dr Sturnham. In skincare, these metals appear as copper peptides and magnesium complexes, which are beneficial for skin by boosting cell repair and elastin production.

Contrary to popular belief, salt doesn’t always dry out skin. Sodium hyaluronate (the salt form of hyaluronic acid) does the same, increasing the water-holding capacity of skin and leaving your complexion spongy and soft. Find it in the likes of Dr Dennis Gross’ Hyaluronic Marine Oil-Free Moisture Cushion, £59.


Swap your foam roller for a brine bath

Experts say a 20-minute salt bath is the optimum time needed for magnesium to work on muscles and reduce inflammation. Water at around 37-39°C provides the right dissolving temperature for salt, plus if skin is too hot, it can’t easily absorb magnesium. Epsom salt is pure magnesium sulphate, which has muscle-relaxing properties. That’s why it’s the go-to after exercise. Try Herbivore Calm Bath Salts, £16, to soothe tendons and soften skin.


Unwind in a salty sauna

Halotherapy has been around in numerous forms since the 12th century, and now spas have caught on. These salty relaxation rooms provide the perfect microclimate for our bodies to absorb minerals such as magnesium, sodium and chloride transdermally, so you’ll leave feeling more relaxed and less anxious; think of them as ‘speed stress-relief’ providers. Try a salt spa at a branch of Aqua Sana, which is adding salt-bathing experiences and rooms to its UK branches.

Sign up for our essential edit of what to buy, see, read and do, and also receive our 11-page Ultimate Guide To Making Your Home Feel Bigger.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Main image: Getty