Is Salt Water the Ultimate Low-Key Beauty Hack?

by Maddy Sims · Updated August 1, 2022
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Is salt water good for your skin and hair? There are some beauty benefits to know about—but dermatologists caution against this trending claim. Here’s what you need to know.

There’s nothing quite like a vacation glow. Between the R&R and the sun, regardless of your skin tone, everyone comes back from a beachy vacation looking bronzed and balanced. You may notice that your hair and skin are absolutely thriving even after a quick getaway. After all, decreased stress can help hair growth and your skin’s overall appearance. And although you may be diligently applying your sunscreen, sun exposure can give you a subtle tan (which can also affect your complexion’s appearance). Plus, you may be skipping your typical daily makeup routine and heat styling. All of these factors can contribute to healthier-looking hair and skin.

Another factor? The ocean. Research shows being in the ocean is great for your mental health and proximity to the ocean can even improve your physical health (plus salt water is great to gargle with), but is it a lowkey beauty secret too? I’ve dealt with acne my whole life, and I’ve always been told that salt water can get rid of my pesky breakouts and give me super-soft beach waves. But is salt water actually good for your skin and hair? I spoke to board-certified dermatologists to find out.

Is Salt Water Good For Your Skin?

does salt water help with acne

After decades of people telling me that salt water can dry up my pesky pimples, I wanted to know the truth: Does salt water help with acne? According to experts, it can. “Salt water can help to dry up breakouts, but is not recommended as a sole treatment for acne as there is not enough data to suggest its overall efficacy and there are other treatment options available including retinoids,” says Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York. “It can also help to soothe inflammation as well as gently exfoliate, which can be helpful for those with acne.”

But as Dr. Garshick mentions, it’s not the ideal treatment long-term. As someone who suffers from extremely-dry, acne-prone skin and also spends a fair amount of time surfing, I can attest to the downsides of salt water for skin: dry and itchy skin, redness, white flakes, and irritation. “Too much salt water can contribute to skin dryness and irritation,” she says. “Salt water may be drying on the skin, so it is best to avoid prolonged or excessive exposure.” 

If your skin spends too much time in the salt water, it can actually disrupt your skin barrier (the outermost layer of the skin that helps retain moisture and keep irritants out). “If the skin gets too dry, small cracks can happen on the surface of the skin, and this can result in increased inflammation,” explains Purvisha Patel, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Tennessee and founder of Visha Skincare. In some cases, Dr. Patel adds, this dryness can cause the oil glands to overcompensate and actually produce more oil—leading to even more breakouts.

So, does salt water help with acne? A little bit, which is a great vacation bonus, but there are better ways to regularly treat your acne. “Breakouts should be treated with an exfoliating cleanser to loosen the dead skin cells and kill the microbes and/or a retinol to help with exfoliation and to decrease oil production,” Dr. Patel says. “[Look for] cleansers with salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, tea tree oil, and zinc to help with breakouts.” (She recommends the Visha Skincare Advanced Purifying Cleanser, which is formulated with all of these breakout-busting ingredients.)

If you’re not acne-prone or dealing with acne, the exfoliating effects of the salt water will leave you with a bright, beautiful glow. Still, all that seawater can be harsh on your skin. If you’ve spent the whole day soaking up the sun (and the salt water), the best thing you can do is wash your skin with regular water to dilute the effects of the salty solution on your skin. Then, use a moisturizing soap and a moisturizer right after you wash to ensure your skin stays hydrated.

Is Salt Water Good For Your Hair?

is salt water good for your hair

Wondering if salt water is good for your hair? Similar to salt water’s effect on skin, salt water for hair has mixed reviews. The good news? It does have some serious beauty benefits for your scalp and mane. “Because salt water is rich in minerals and vitamins, it can provide some added benefits to the hair,” says Dr. Garshick. So if you’re noticing some extra shine or softness after a dip in the ocean, it’s definitely not in your head.

The briny ocean water is also great for your scalp and works similarly to a scalp detox. “Salt is good for your scalp however, it is a good exfoliant for the dead skin cells on the scalp, and helps with dandruff by combatting the organism that causes it,” Dr. Patel says. It can also be helpful for people dealing with psoriasis on their scalp.

Dr. Garshick says the benefits don’t stop there. “Because salt water may also have some natural exfoliating properties, it may help to stimulate blood flow to the scalp to help stimulate circulation and overall hair and scalp health,” she says.

With these impressive pros come a few cons, though. Mainly—you guessed it—dryness. “When the hair cells, or keratin, get exposed to salt water, the salt creates osmosis and draws water out of the cells,” Dr. Patel says. “This dehydrates the hair shaft, creating dryer, more brittle hair.” When hair gets dry and brittle, it breaks at the shaft and can break unevenly. All of this dryness can also cause hair to look dull (the opposite of what you want in all those vacation Instas!).

That said, you can still reap the benefits of salt water for your hair without suffering the downsides? “Wash the hair soon after exposure to salt water, though other additional options include using a conditioning treatment before shampooing or using a leave-in conditioner or oil to help nourish the hairs,” Dr. Patel says. Another option? An overnight treatment, which your locks will soak up as you snooze.

The Takeaway

Is salt water good for your skin and hair? Yes and no. Ocean water can help exfoliate your skin and your scalp—leading to a brighter complexion and a healthier environment for your hair to grow. (Plus, clearing out any product buildup, sweat, and grime can help hair look more voluminous and shiny.) And the vitamins and minerals in the water can also give your locks a boost, making them look and feel better. And, yes, the salt water can potentially dry up your pesky breakouts, but it could also cause unwanted dryness, redness, and irritation. 

If you want to soak up the beauty benefits of the ocean, enjoy your time in the water and rinse the salty solution off your hair and skin ASAP. (Don’t forget to moisturize and condition!) And if you’re worried about your skin getting too dry, pack HUM Nutrition’s Glow Sweet Glow gummies—which are made with hyaluronic acid to help hydrate your complexion from the inside out—in your suitcase. You’ll take your vacation glow to the next level.


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