Dead Sea Salt

dead sea salt

To say that the beauty business is prone to fashions and fads is a bit of an understatement.  Andy Warhol said that in the future everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes.

I think it is just as true to say that everything will be the next big cosmetic ingredient for fifteen minutes.  Dead Sea salts had their moment in the sun back in the early nineties.  Being a natural born cynic I have a feeling that a PR campaign funded by the Israeli government may have been behind that.  But for a while there were a lot of articles around on them and a fair few products based on them.

They are no longer in the limelight, but Dead Sea Salts haven’t actually gone away and I know of a couple of products based on them that continue to sell well.  They also pop up in formulations where they don’t obviously fit into the marketing story and where no particular song and dance is made about their presence.  Dead Sea salts are not cheap, so formulators must have some reason for continuing to use them even though they are no longer trendy.

So do Dead Sea salts actually confer any benefits or are they simply there to make a product sound natural?  I thought it would be interesting to have a look at what actual data, as opposed to marketing hype, there is out there.

First off, lets have a look at the chemistry.   How do salts from the Dead Sea compare to sea salt?  The main difference is that the Dead Sea is rich in magnesium and calcium, so the salt crystals from the Dead Sea have a very high concentration of magnesium chloride and calcium chloride.  Ordinary sea salt is largely sodium chloride.   But does this difference do you any good?

There is no shortage of claims for the benefits.  A quick trawl on the Internet will throw up a whole lot of suggestions for the good that Dead Sea salts will do – but there are lots of things you can say that about.  Is there any real evidence?  One study looks promising.  A paper in the International Journal of Dermatology reports a study where bathing in 5% Dead Sea salt solution improved skin hydration compared to the same treatment using tap water.   Interestingly, the improvement was mainly in subjects who had drier skin to begin with.  In other words, the more that was wrong in the first place the more benefit.

One interpretation of this is that the salts were in some way improving barrier function, and the worse the barrier function the bigger the improvement.  Normal skin in good condition has a pretty effective barrier function, so normalising dry skin is a big benefit.  The authors speculate that the agent is the magnesium.  There have been studies showing that magnesium can improve the skin’s barrier function so this sounds plausible.  There is even a proposed mechanism.  Denda has shown that magnesium promotes the production of ceramide, one of the key components of the skin’s barrier.

So it all ties together quite nicely.  We have clinical evidence coupled with background work explaining how it could work.  But science is a hard school.  Although there is a pretty reasonable amount of anecdotal evidence to support this hard data, that weighs very lightly in the balance.  I haven’t been able to find much direct confirmation of this rather nice story.  There is a trial with 12 patients that claims beneficial results, but without a control.  The lack of a control makes it very weak evidence.  You have to say that the evidence is promising but not conclusive.

But as this is a blog post not a scientific paper I am going to throw a couple of my own speculations in.  There is the case of Head and Shoulders.  Nobody really knows how it works.  The active ingredient is a zinc salt.  Zinc and magnesium are not all that similar, but they do share the fact that they are metals with two positive charges.  Although we usually think of  Head and Shoulders as countering dandruff, another way of looking at it is that is normalising the behaviour of a bit of the skin.   So we have two examples of a metal with a double charge having skin benefits.  And I can add a third.  Some years ago I developed an anti-fungal shampoo.   The logic was to kill off the yeast that caused dandruff.  It worked very well in the clinic and has gone on to be a great success around the world.  What we didn’t know when we started but found out while we were working with it, was that it bound very strongly to iron.  In fact it did so strongly that we had to stop using metal stirrers because it pulled the iron out of them and made them go rusty.   The significance?  Iron is usually a double charged metal as well.  Could the zinc in Head and Shoulders and the magnesium in Dead Sea salts be displacing iron?  And my supposed anti-fungal agent could be binding to the iron in the skin too.  One last straw in this idea.  A rather curious paper appeared in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology in 2001.  Some Estonian workers found that iron levels in the skin of people suffering from dermatitis had levels of iron 4 times higher than normal.

What does it all mean?  I can’t honestly say I know, other than the levels of metals in the skin may, just may, affect the way the skin handles its moisture balance.  One easy and relatively cheap way of affecting the metal balance in the skin is a bath in Dead Sea salt.  If your skin is a bit on the dry side you could give it a try.  It might just do the trick.

Declaration of interest – my friends at Artful Teasing sell Dead Sea Salt blended with essential oils.  Thanks to them for the image.  I am not actually on a commission but I like to see them do well.


Journal of Investigative Dermatology (2001) 116, 886–890; Patients with Allergic and Irritant Contact Dermatitis are Characterized by Striking Change of Iron and Oxidized Glutathione Status in Nonlesional Area of the Skin
Sirje Kaur, Mihkel Zilmer*, Maigi Eisen, Tiiu Kullisaar*, Aune Rehema* and Tiiu Vihalemm*

International Journal of Dermatology. 44(2):151-157, February 2005. Bathing in a magnesium-rich Dead Sea salt solution improves skin barrier function, enhances skin hydration, and reduces inflammation in atopic dry skin. Proksch, Ehrhardt MD, PhD; Nissen, Hans-Peter PhD; Bremgartner, Markus MD; Urquhart, Colin PhD

Archives of Dermatological Research Volume 291, Number 10, 560-563, Some magnesium salts and a mixture of magnesium and calcium salts accelerate skin barrier recovery M. Denda, C. Katagiri, T. Hirao, N. Maruyama and M. Takahashi

Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews Volume 54, Supplement 1, 1 November 2002, Pages S123-S130 New strategies to improve skin barrier homeostasis Mitsuhiro Denda

Isr Med Assoc J. 2001 Nov;3(11):828-32.The role of trace elements in psoriatic patients undergoing balneotherapy with Dead Sea bath salt Halevy S, Giryes H, Friger M, Grossman N, Karpas Z, Sarov B, Sukenik S.

11 thoughts on “Dead Sea Salt”

  1. Pingback: Dead Sea Salt – Does It Do Any Good? « ExtraDrySkin's Blog

  2. Howdy! I’ve wanted to compliment you on the blog, it is very interesting. I first found it when I was trying to find more information on acne and how to treat it, and ended up reading your article of Praventin. Impressed I bookmarked and come almost once a week to see if there’s new updates. Thank you very much for the information and updates!

  3. I just came across your blog today. I have a website (which needs some work) but want to start a blog myself. I’m really impressed with yours and won’t mind “networking” with your blog, with your permission, as it is a credible one.

    I wanted to point out an article that you referenced about the patients with dry skin, soaking in dead sea salts. I actually read that same article (summary). Thanks for a great blog, and I look forward to linking and coming back.


  4. Hi
    I read your blog on Dead Sea Salts, Head and Shoulders and your own anti-fungal product and the effect of zinc, magnesium and iron with interest. I developed a scalp problem — my hair loss is quite severe and the hairs come out with a ‘blob’ on the end, which is a crusty coating on my scalp.
    First, I was prescribed Nizorol by my GP — which made my hair too stiff to touch and did not address the scalp problem. Then I tried TGel, Selsun and Viviscal and then Phytocedrat shampoo sebo-regulator. I have been trying to make my own solution for over a year as nothing seems to ‘remove the crust’ apart from soaking my scalp in a combination of oils (rosemary, emu, sweet almond, cedar, coconut)….. I’ve also used cider vinegar as a rinse. This works temporarily, but with working, I don’t have time to oil/wash out the oil on a daily basis and if I don’t, the crust (a bit like cradle cap) is back and my hair starts rapidly falling out again …. do you think that crushing zinc / magnesium / iron tablets into the oil would improve the condition log term? Sorry that this is long winded, but I’m beginning to despair!

    1. Hi Tess. I am afraid I really don’t know. I have never heard of a condition like yours. I am pretty sure that you won’t get any benefit from applying any concoction of mineral supplements onto your scalp. The metals simply won’t be in a form your scalp can absorb. One thing that might be worth trying if you haven’t done so already is getting some Head and Shoulders Conditioner – not the shampoo – and letting that stand on your scalp for 10 to 15 minutes before rinsing it off. That might just get a bit more zinc into the scalp. Best of luck, it does sound like you have a problem there.

  5. Hi
    I noticed in your article you said you developed a very successful product to deal with dandruff problem, I wonder the name of it, I want buy it, because one of my friends he has very serious dandruff disturbance. Thanks, I love your post!

  6. Hi, is it good for eczema on the face? I’m currently using hydrocortisone & that only helps for two days then eczema and dry skin return.

    1. Hello Sarah,

      In the absence of proper trials it is impossible to say anything for sure. It could be worth trying. The normal way of using it is as a bath additive though, so that isn’t really a good way of getting to your face.

  7. Interesting about the iron. The electrochemical table reads: K, Na, Ca, Mg, Al, Zn, Fe. So if it’s the Zn “pulling” iron out of the skin, theoretically any of the higher elements in the table will have the same effect. Somehow I don’t think this idea is what’s responsible for the anti-dandruff effect.

  8. Good point Brun, but the skin is a biological system and may not follow chemical logic exactly. And I have long suspected sodium ions of causing dry skin so maybe they at least are doing something.

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