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Despite the fact that winter’s on its way out, cold, tumultuous weather usually means dry, itchy skin. While moisturizing lotions and body butters help, an exfoliating scrub is still a must for sloughing off dead cells and revitalizing skin first.
And even though sugar is great at polishing away dry skin, the benefits of sea salt scrubs go far beyond exfoliation. They’re loaded with vitamins and minerals that actually replenish the skin and nourish it from the outside in.
Here’s everything you need to know about salt scrubs to get healthy, happy skin just in time for spring.
The Benefits of Salt for Skin
Fun fact: it’s believed that somewhere during the course of evolution, we emerged from the ocean to become land dwellers. And some people have said that this is why our bodies contain the same concentration of minerals and nutrients as the sea itself.
That means that those same minerals that are so prevalent in natural sea salt can also help balance and restore the body when we’re feeling dry, achy, or run down. And those benefits are most noticeable in our skin.
When your skin’s out of balance, things like dryness and irritation can be hard to get rid of. But adding sea salt to your beauty regimen can help boost hydration, strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier, and kick-start the cell-to-cell communication that slows down with age, making you feel, and possibly even look, younger [source].
Sea salt has been utilized in various cultural practices for generations for the treatment of skin rashes, including eczema, fungal rashes, and psoriasis [source], and as therapy for aging skin and rheumatic conditions [source].
There are various ways you can use salt therapeutically: take a dip in the ocean, soak in a salt-infused bath, or, my personal favorite, apply salt directly to the skin in the form of a body scrub. Salt is a wonderful exfoliant that softens skin, gets rid of flakiness, and infuses the upper layers of skin with vitamins and minerals.
You can even add other ingredients like aloe vera to heal and protect, lavender to soothe redness, and a slew of skin-soothing oils to balance moisture, leaving you with a well-rounded scrub that does it all.
The Difference Between Salt and Sugar Scrubs
Sugar scrubs have a lot of the same benefits as salt scrubs, but there are a couple of important differences. The first is in the size of the exfoliating granule. Sugar is typically a finer grain than salt, so it’s better suited for use on the sensitive skin of the face and neck.
Salt scrubs, on the other hand, are often more abrasive, meaning they do a better job at smoothing out rough patches on the body.
In addition, sugar doesn’t contain the nutrients salt does. So, while it makes for a great exfoliant, it doesn’t nourish skin as well as the all-natural sea salt.
When to Use Salt Scrubs
Most of us are used to exfoliating our faces, but the skin on our bodies needs to be exfoliated too. Because they can be so abrasive, salt scrubs should only be used two to three times a week at most. If using coarse salt, stick to removing dead skin on areas like feet, elbows, knees, and any stubborn patches on the legs and arms (gently, of course!).
If you’re using a finer grain, go ahead and apply it to the whole body (minus the face), and use a light touch so as not to cause skin irritation. Always remember to rub in a gentle circular motion to help free ingrown hairs and gently polish away dead skin.
Salt scrubs can also be used much like a dry brush to encourage circulation and aid skin detoxification. Gently massage the salt granules into wet skin like you normally would with a dry brush. But instead of focusing solely on dry patches, start at the feet and gently swipe upward over the entire body, ending at the heart.
Salt Scrub Ingredients
Obviously, natural sea salt is a must. While you might be tempted to use table salt, it doesn’t contain minerals like sea salt does, so it’s not nearly as beneficial.
Next up, add your oils. A quality carrier oil like fractionated coconut (so it stays liquid at room temperature), jojoba, sweet almond, or argan oil are super nourishing and have anti-inflammatory properties. It also helps the scrubs glide easily over skin without snagging or irritating sensitive areas.
Lastly, I love adding things like aloe vera, bentonite clay, ground almonds, and flower petals because they look pretty and contain added vitamins and minerals that can further soothe away flakes and irritation.
Types of Sea Salt
Not all salts are created equal. The best, most natural sea salts have added benefits in the form of essential minerals and nutrients leached from the sea. Here are some of the most nutrient-rich salts to use for beauty purposes.
Finely ground sea salt
Generally speaking, sea salt is a natural detoxifier that helps absorb toxins from the skin. Most sea salt is high in magnesium, a mineral known to improve the moisture content in skin, soothe redness, and improve the overall appearance of skin, along with other minerals such as potassium iron and calcium [source].
Since most sea salt is coarsely ground, it’s not ideal for sensitive skin or large areas that get angry and red quickly. While not technically a type of sea salt, more like a type of grind, finely ground sea salt is gentler than its coarse cousins. That means it’s well suited for more sensitive areas like the stomach, backs of the arms, and even the chest if you use a light hand.
Try it in: Exfoliating Sea Salt Hand Scrub
Dead sea salt
I’m a huge fan of Dead Sea Salt. One of the most nutrient-rich salts on the planet, Dead Sea Salt contains around 20 minerals and trace elements that are found in the body and often lost throughout the day.
Try it in: Citrus Zest Scrub
Black lava salt
Black lava salt, also known as Hawaiian Salt, gets it pitch-black color from charcoal. The activated charcoal in lava salt is effective at cleansing and removing toxins from your body.
It may also help to ease joint and muscle pain, reduce water retention, and soothe cramps. Overall, it makes an excellent cleanser for skin, helping to reduce acne while leaving skin feeling refreshed.
Himalayan pink salt
Himalayan salt is one of the purest salts on Earth. It mostly consists of dried remnants from the original, primal sea found hundreds of millions of years ago. These pink salts are also one of the easiest kinds of sea salt to find in stores, making it ideal for whipping up large batches of scrub.
It’s also one of the more coarsely ground salts on the market, so it’s best used to improve circulation (like dry brushing) or finely ground in a coffee grinder to use as a scrub. It’s said to have anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe skin and calm irritation and breakouts.
Try it in: Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub
Gray sea salt
Gray sea salt is typically hand-harvested using the same traditional methods as those found in Ancient Rome. It’s then dried in the sun, leaving the salt gray and wet.
This process ensures that the 82 vital trace minerals, which promote optimum biological function and cellular maintenance in the body, stay intact. Because it’s so pure, this kind of salt helps replenish the body’s electrolytes, improves immunity, balances pH levels, and detoxifies.
Named for the British town they’re found in, Epsom salts are famously muscle-soothing, in part because of the high levels of magnesium they contain. Epsom salt is helpful for those with thick dry skin on their knees and elbows, especially those with eczema or psoriasis. Try this Epsom salt infused with lavender essential oil.
How to Use a Salt Scrub
I recommend shutting the bathroom door and cranking the shower to hot to create a steam room-like effect. After a few minutes, turn the temperature down so the water is warm, but not hot—thus helping to keep skin from drying out and getting irritated even further.
Next, shower as usual before applying your scrub, that way you don’t run the risk of washing off the oils and minerals.
If you made your salt scrub in advance, give it a little stir to blend the oils that may have risen to the top. Scoop out a little with your hand, and gently scrub your skin. Pay special attention to extra dry areas, such as feet and elbows, then rinse off and pat skin dry.
Since salt is naturally antibacterial, a simple scrub with just sea salt and oil should last for up to a year. If it contains things like flower petals, aloe vera, or water, use within a month.
How to Make a Salt Scrub
There are a ton of different sea salt scrub recipes out there, but the basics are all the same. Once you have the basic recipe down pat, try experimenting with your own add-ins like flower petals, clay, coffee grounds, or essential oils.
How to Make Salt Scrub
All you need are 3 ingredients for a nourishing, skin-soothing salt scrub. This recipe shows you how to make your own using ingredients you already have on hand. But once you get the hang of it, try experimenting with your own essential oils and additional ingredients.
Yield: 1 cup
- 1 cup sea salt any natural sea salt will do
- 1/3 cup almond oil jojoba is also good for all skin types
- 15 drops lavender essential oil can also choose rosehip, carrot seed, or any oil you have on hand
- 1 teaspoon bentonite clay optional – or use dried flower petals, grated citrus rinds, coffee grounds, etc.
Ingredients in your salt scrub may separate over time, so always stir before using.
This post was medically reviewed by Dr. Rina Mary Allawh, M.D., a dermatologist who practices adult and pediatric medical dermatology, cosmetic dermatology, and provides skin cancer treatment. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical review board here. As always, this is not personal medical advice, and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.