You’re probably well-versed in the perils of having too much salt in your diet. But what about in your beauty products? It seems that for every crop of creams, scrubs and lotions that proudly include the ingredient—along with promises to soothe, smooth and moisturize your skin—there’s an equally large selection that loudly proclaim their salt-free status. So is it a little salt in your beauty arsenal something to seek out or avoid? It all depends on what beauty issue you’re trying to address.
There’s no doubt that salt can dehydrate your hair. Just picture how your strands after a beach vacay—chances are, your hair feels a bit brittle and lackluster. “Ordinary sea salt—which is the same as the salt you have in your kitchen cupboard—is made up mostly of sodium chloride, and that can be drying,” explains Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor, Yale University School of Medicine.
And yet, you’ll find sodium chloride listed on the ingredients label of many hair products, where it’s actually used to add thickness to the liquid. The amounts probably aren’t enough to do any serious harm. But if you have a curl-relaxing keratin treatment (also known as a Brazilian Blowout), you do need to carefully avoid using salt on your hair—it’ll break down the keratin and wreck the results of your treatment. Many natural hair care lines are already salt-free (like Alterna and Pureology) and others have been created specifically for the keratin-treatment market (like Rusk Deepshine Smooth Keratin Care).
For the same reason it can dry out strands, salt can also be a fantastic treatment for oily scalp and dandruff. Julie Ebner, owner of JuJu Salon & Organics in Philadelphia, recommends this weekly DIY treatment: Mix a tablespoon of salt into a handful of shampoo and massage well into scalp. Rinse thoroughly and follow with regular shampoo and conditioner. “The salt will help absorb excess oil, unclog follicles stopped up with sebum and product gunk and reduce the inflammation associated with dandruff and psoriasis on the scalp,” explains Ebner.
Salt on Your Skin: Pros and Cons
Ordinarily, sea salt can leach moisture out of your skin, just as it does from your hair. But it’s a wonderful exfoliant. “In its raw, crystal form, salt stimulates skin renewal and boosts radiance,” says Idit Gandelman, Global Head of Training at Ahava (a skincare company based on Dead Sea minerals). A handful of coarsely ground salt, mixed with a skin-nourishing oil can slough off dead skin cells, while the oil replenishes moisture.
If you’re looking for salty skincare that’s also going to moisturize, search labels for products containing Dead Sea salts. “The Dead Sea has a much lower concentration of sodium chloride than normal sea water, and its salts contain a mix of other important minerals, including magnesium, potassium, calcium chloride and bromides,” says Ava Shamban, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA. “Using these salts on the skin replenishes minerals that are critical to our skin metabolism.” Mineral-dense Dead Sea salts are also unique in their ability to bring water into the skin—and hold it there—which is what you want if you’re combating fine lines and wrinkles. “The minerals activate an ‘osmotic pump,’ that attracts water and nutrients from the lower layers of the skin up to the outer skin layer, where moisture is needed most,” says Gandelman.
The minerals in salt are also anti-inflammatory, making it a good choice for soothing eczema, psoriasis and even acne. That’s what Alison Carton, founder of the salt-infused anti-acne line Clarisea, found while spending a summer at the beach. “I swam in the ocean every day and my stubborn acne finally started to clear up,” she remembers. So she started experimenting with salt mixtures, finally hitting on the combination mineral-rich Himalayan pink sea salt with sodium chloride-heavy Pacific Ocean salt to dry out her oily acne prone skin just enough and help clear away acne-causing bacteria. “The right percentage of each really cleared up acne without irritating my sensitive skin,” she says.
The bottom line: You’ve just got to know when to pass the salt…and when to just pass on it.
Put Some Salt in Your Bathroom Cupboard
Ahava Liquid Dead Sea Salt ($22.50): Spiked with an intense blend of concentrated minerals, this detoxifying lotion leaves skin feeling silky-smooth.
Clairsea Clarifying Salt Treatment ($19.50): Green-minded beauty addicts will love this 100% organic, pore-cleansing facial soak.
Bliss Hot Salt Scrub ($36): This luxurious, self-heating exfoliator gently sloughs off rough, scaly skin on knees, elbows and feet.