Consuming too much salt may not be good for your health, but sea salt is the next big thing in skincare, writes Geeta Padmanabhan

The Ahava lab is a mandatory stop for tourists to the Dead Sea. You first watch smart, white-coated technicians working among machines behind a glass partition, then tour a shop filled with an amazing array of products. Dream merchants! The creams, pills and solutions — all made from the “magnificent” minerals of the shrinking sea nearby — promise spotless skin, flawless complexion, and an ageless body. Later, you enter the sea after a dip in black, gooey mud enriched with these mineral salts.

Salt, it would seem, is the next big beauty ingredient. The mineral may get a bad rap with food, but “in its raw, crystal form, salt stimulates skin renewal and boosts radiance,” Youbeauty.com quotes Idit Gandelman, Ahava. “The minerals activate ‘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.” A handful of coarsely ground sea salt, mixed with skin-nourishing grapeseed oil can slough off dead skin cells, while the oil replenishes moisture, says the website. Sea salt may cause dryness, but it's a wonderful exfoliant, it adds. Mineral-dense Dead Sea salts bring water into the skin, and prevent fine lines and wrinkles. Cleopatra used it!

Works as an exfoliator

Incorporating sea salt into your beauty regimen may do you a world of good, says GlamNatural. “Used with almond / coconut / mint oil, it exfoliates, invigorates, and nourishes the skin. Fill a spray bottle with lukewarm water and a teaspoon sea-salt, spritz it on your face and blot it dry. The salt should dry out any troublesome acne, but remember to moisturise afterwards. Create a paste with salt, baking soda and water, and scrub your teeth with it every other day. You’ll quickly notice your teeth sparking!”

Alison Carton launched the salt-infused line Clarisea because “her stubborn acne started to clear up when she swam regularly in the sea.” Convinced that the minerals in salt are anti-inflammatory and can soothe skin problems, she began experimenting with salt mixtures, and came up with a combo of “mineral-rich” Himalayan pink salt and the “sodium chloride-heavy” Pacific Ocean salt to “clear up acne without irritating sensitive skin.” Add salt to shampoo for a scalp massage before washing as “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,” says Julie Ebner, owner of JuJu Salon & Organics.

Is this true, I asked a couple of experts. Salt, because it is crystalline, can be rubbed on the skin to act as an exfoliator, a skin polish, says Dr. Jayanthy Ravindran, Apollo Cosmetic Clinic. It does mechanical, micro-dermabrasion. You can do it with sodium chloride or aluminium hydroxide — it's like having a sand, mud or clay-paste pack. But don’t let it get into the body, she warns. In a thermogenic effect, the chemicals get absorbed. Salt retains water and may precipitate kidney problems.

May be Dead Sea salts are lighter and smoother; use them only if they don’t harm you.

No good, says Dr. Murlidhar Rajagopalan, dermatologist, Apollo Hospitals. Our skins have sensitive cells, which are channels for absorption and excretion. When too much of sodium (in salt) is pushed in, these die, he says. Using salt on facial skin is not a physiological method for anti-ageing, he says, firmly. Yes, beauty products advertise the presence of mineral salts (Avene claims its products contain water from a spring in France, Ahava has Dead Sea salts), but these are in minuscule quantities. “Beauty products cannot prevent ageing; for that you need to consider sunlight, skin elasticity, collagen breakdown, essential vitamins and blood flow. These are not available in cosmetology.”

The flipside

Dermatology treats individual skin type, a specific problem, they say. When you get your skin treated, you have to use prescribed creams, not over-the-counter ones. Our medicines are those approved by the FDA. One needs a medical base, a license to prescribe them. There is no “rejuvenating salt”. We can only go by “published evidence”. The product must have gone through proper trials like double-blinding and evidence-grading, says Dr. Murlidhar. Products made abroad go through rigorous tests and mandatorily publish their composition. Here we see “conditions apply”. Even when we use aloe vera-based products, we recommend compositions that contain emollients to balance their alkaloid effect on the skin.

“A dip in the Dead Sea is supposed to cure psoriasis,” Dr. Murlidhar says. “But it could be ultra-violet-B rays (photo-therapy) and the relaxation. Psoriasis responds beautifully to both. But back at home it returns and the patient returns to us.”