Epsom salt is a natural compound that contains magnesium sulfate and has a crystallized structure. People have used Epsom salt for hundreds of years to treat a variety of ailments, including pain. However, there is limited research supporting many of the medicinal claims.
The theory suggests that soaking feet in an Epsom salt bath allows the skin to absorb magnesium, which could help treat various foot problems. Some small studies back the claims, but scientists need to carry out more research to confirm how well Epsom salt foot soaks work.
This article looks at the benefits, risks, and explains how to use an Epsom salt foot soak. It also discusses alternative foot soaks.
Benefits of Epsom foot soaks
Epsom foot soaks may help ease muscle soreness.
Typically, people add Epsom salt to a bath or use an Epsom salt foot soak to ease muscle soreness.
A few small studies suggest soaking in an Epsom salt bath may allow magnesium to penetrate the skin. One study found that magnesium penetrates the outer layer of the skin depending on the concentration of the salt and how long a person soaks in it.
Some people believe soaking the feet can rid the body of toxins and heavy metals, though the evidence is mixed. .
Absorbing magnesium through the skin from an Epsom salt foot soak may provide the following benefits:
Decreasing symptoms of athlete's foot
According to the Epsom Salt Council, Epsom salt does not kill the fungus that causes athlete's foot. However, it may help draw the moisture out, which makes the environment less inviting for fungus.
While some advocates claim that an Epsom salt foot soak removes toxins from the body, there is no strong evidence to confirm this. However, the absorption of the magnesium through the skin may boost the levels of the mineral in the body and decrease inflammation. Reducing inflammation may ease pain and stiffness associated with conditions, such as arthritis and gout.
Exfoliating the skin
The crystallized compound structure of Epsom salt provides exfoliation of the dead skin on the feet. The foot soak may help decrease roughness and leave the feet softer.
Any type of foot soak might help reduce odor and clean the feet. Keeping the feet clean and free from bacteria is beneficial for overall foot health.
How to do it
To best ease soreness, a foot soak should be between 92°F and 100°F.
A foot soak involves immersing the feet in warm water. According to the Arthritis Foundation, water temperatures between 92°F and 100°F are best to ease soreness.
To use Epsom salt in a foot soak, consider the following steps:
- Fill a basin or foot spa with enough warm water to cover the feet up to the ankles.
- Add half or three-quarters of a cup of Epsom salt to the water.
- Place the feet in the soak for about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Dry thoroughly after the soak and then moisturize the feet.
An Epsom salt foot soak can dry out the feet, so it is best not to do it every night. Try soaking the feet once or twice a week to make sure it does not cause dryness.
Be sure to purchase Epsom salts and foot soaks intended for human use. All Epsom salt contains magnesium sulfate, but manufacturers produce a range of salts for different purposes. Chemically, all Epsom salt is the same, but it is available in different grades.
Look for Epsom salt that has USP designated on the label. USP indicates that scientists have tested the product for human use and that it has met the safety regulations established by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Epsom salt suitable for foot soaks is available to buy at pharmacies, health food stores, and online.
For most people, an Epsom bath foot soak is safe. But there are a few instances when it is best to talk to a healthcare provider before using. For example, people that have very dry skin should avoid overdoing foot soaks because the salt can dry out the skin leaving the feet more prone to cracks.
Foot soaks of any type are not safe for people who have diabetes due to the increased risk of infection. Regularly soaking the feet may increase dryness, which can lead to cracking and raise the risk of infection. Individuals that have open wounds or sores should also talk with their doctor before using a foot soak.
A foot soak may not provide enough relief from certain foot problems. Consider seeing a healthcare provider if any of the following symptoms are present:
- prolonged tenderness after a foot injury
- foot pain that does not go away in a week
- swelling or redness of the foot
- open sores
Other foot soaks
When using essential oils, only a few drops are needed.
In addition to Epsom salt, other types of foot soak that contain different ingredients might help ease pain and improve foot health. There is little research into their effectiveness, though some people find them useful and most people can use them safely. Alternative foot soaks include:
Adding baking soda to a foot soak can help exfoliate the skin, ease itching, and cleanse the feet. Try adding 3–4 tablespoons of baking soda added to a basin full of warm water.
Use 2 parts water and 1 part vinegar for a foot soak. The vinegar helps kill bacteria and also reduces foot odor. It may also slow the growth of fungus.
Add a few drops of olive oil to warm water for a hydrating foot soak. The olive oil not only eases dryness, but it also contains antioxidants that may soften the skin.
Some people may find that various essential oils can help when added to a foot soak, including peppermint, rosemary, and wintergreen. Essential oils can reduce dryness, pain, and provide a cooling sensation to ease achiness. A little goes a long way when it comes to essential oils. Only add a few drops of the oil to a warm basin of water.
Although research is limited, it does indicate that the skin might absorb magnesium. Possible benefits of an Epsom salt foot soak include reduced itching, decreased inflammation, and reduced soreness.
The risks of using an Epsom salt foot soak are minimal. For most people, it may be worth a try. But there are a few instances when it is best to avoid using a foot soak, including when a person has diabetes or has open sores on their feet.