Who hasn't heard of the "magical healing powers" of Epsom salt? Your grandmother made you bathe in it when you were sunburned or had poison ivy. She mixed a little with warm water for constipation. She called it an Epsom salt cleanse. Mom still makes it into a paste to draw out that nasty boil or splinter. Now you're the parent, and your kid is soaking his ingrown toenail.

Humans have used Epsom salt for hundreds of years. It has a long and storied history of curing a plethora of common, annoying little ailments. You'll find a bag of Epsom salt in just about any modern bathroom closet. It is as common as any household item or first aid supply. But, how much do you know about it?

What Is Epsom Salt?

epsom salt on wood board

The Epsom salt cleanse, of course, starts with Epsom salt. But, what is it? First and foremost: Epsom is a place, and nothing about the mineral found there is a "salt." Epsom salt is the common name for magnesium sulfate, a naturally occurring combination of minerals. People have used, tested, packaged, bottled, marketed, sold, and shipped magnesium sulfate around the world since first discovering it in the 17th century.

History of Epsom Salt

epsom salt

The history of Epsom salt and the Epsom salt cleanse begins with a story that sounds like it belongs in a children's book. The man who discovered the mineral turned a hoofprint filled with water into a worldwide phenomenon. The parish of Epsom, where the original well was born, is a bustling city on the road to London.

Sometime around 1618, a man named Henry Wicker was caring for some cows at Epsom common. At the time, there was nothing in Epsom but a common -- and Henry with his cows. As the story goes, Henry looked down and saw a hoofprint filled with water. He dug "a square hole about it" and scurried home for the night.

The next day, the hole was full and overflowing with clear water, but the cows wouldn't drink it. Henry Wicker tasted the bitter water and -- as the history of the Epsom Well goes -- immediately began promoting its "healing powers."

The story then jumps ahead 40 years, and Epsom isn't just a spa town but a megaplex of entertainment. Even after "sea-bathing" took all of the hype out of Epsom like Facebook ruined MySpace, the town remained a hub for more affluent people to gather, gamble and watched the races.

Epsom is still alive and well, and its history very well preserved. The original assembly houses in which people gathered for their Epsom salt cleanse as well as their social needs are still there. The racetrack, which has hosted the world-famous Epsom Derby since 1927. The Epsom salt cleanse, therefore, while designed as a homeopathic cure for all sorts of ailments, has always been more about relaxation and stress relief than anything else.

What Is an Epsom Salt Cleanse?

soaking in water with epsom salt

That depends on who you ask. As a homeopathic remedy for aches, pains, rashes and other minor ailments that don't require medical treatment, an Epsom salt cleanse is a relaxing, warm soak in the tub. As a medicine, the Physicians Desk Reference lists a magnesium sulfate and potassium-based laxative as the only use for the mineral in modern medicine.

Then, of course, there are the fringe believers who use the Epsom salt cleanse to "detox" the liver, colon or other organs. There is no evidence, however, that using Epsom salts for these purposes has any effect at all. On the other hand, magnesium sulfate taken internally in high doses is dangerous -- and sometimes fatal.

That doesn't mean that a traditional Epsom salt cleanse bath won't do you wonders. According to a 2004 study, soaking in Epsom salt will help increase your magnesium and sulfate levels. Other studies show that when applied to specific symptoms, like achy muscles, that the warm water is more effective than the minerals themselves. Regardless of the science, magnesium sulfate has stood the test of time as a remedy for all sorts of things.

As you read, keep in mind that nothing can replace the advice of your doctor. Before you try anything new, homeopathic or not, always make sure it is safe for you. Drug interactions and unexpected side-effects are never any fun. Nothing listed here is meant to be considered "medical advice."

Uses and Benefits of an Epsom Salt Cleanse

According to the Epsom Salt Council, there are numerous uses for magnesium sulfate. While none are doctor-prescribed, these homeopathic remedies can help people deal with symptoms of common, minor ailments. We have listed some of those ailments below.

Magnesium Deficiency

Fight off Colds and Flu

Skin Problems

Soothe your Feet and Fight the Fungus

Alleviate Hormonal Problems

Ease Muscle and Joint Pain

Improve Sleep

Reduce Stress

Exfoliate and Condition

How Not to Use Epsom Salt

Epsom salt is a fantastic mineral for your skin and the outside of your body in general. Barring an allergic reaction, using Epsom salt in a bath a couple of times a week is okay. There are, however, some things for which you should never use it.

You're not going to find an effective Epsom salt cleanse that you take internally unless a doctor prescribes one for you. Magnesium sulfate pulls the moisture from your gut into your stomach when ingested. That will soften stool and create more volume for a bowel movement. In excess, however, it can dehydrate you and cause intense pain.

Magnesium Sulfate is not an antibiotic. People use it regularly to make a paste to draw infections to the surface where they can drain naturally and heal. Soaking in Epsom salt or applying Epsom salt to infection is not a cure. Painful boils, deep splinters, and pus-dripping ingrown toenails need medical attention, not Henry Wicker's miracle medicine.

A Comfortable Outcome

Epsom salt is in so many homes because It is useful. Whether you believe it's a miracle cure for all that ails you, or you bought a bag because you saw it and a bath sounded nice, there it sits. It's best not to let it go to waste. Have yourself a nice hot soak and relax. Give your skin a few minutes to enjoy the minerals and let your body absorb that much-needed magnesium.


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