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Is Salt Water Good For Your Skin? An Expert Weighs In

Salt water is often believed to help with acne. Kiehl’s spoke with a board-certified dermatologist to learn if that’s true. Find out the answer, ahead.

If your blemish-prone skin appears healthier in the summer, you may have wondered whether either the sun or salt water from the sea could be to thank. And you wouldn’t be alone: Just Google “why does my skin get clearer in the summer,” and you’ll be met with dozens of articles detailing the ways in which warm-weather habits like swimming may affect your skin. Some even claim a dip in the ocean can be supplemented with salt water cleansing—that is, washing your face with salt water rather than plain-old tap water. After all, unless you live in the tropics, it’s unlikely that you’re able to enjoy the ocean throughout the year.

To find out whether or not there’s actually any merit to salt water face cleansing, Kiehl’s spoke with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick. Here, learn about the potential benefits of cleansing with salt water, how salty water can affect your skin, and more.

Salt Water Cleansing, Explained

Salt water cleansing is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Using salt-spiked water to rinse or wash your face. Typically, it’s done with sea salt. As Dr. Garshick explains, the practice was born out of anecdotal evidence that bathing in “certain salt- or mineral-rich bodies of water” resulted in softer, smoother skin. Some skin concerns, she explains, “were thought to actually get better as a result of being exposed to this type of water.”

People ran with the idea that salt could be beneficial when used in skincare, and thus, salt water cleansing was born. She adds that the main benefits attributed to washing your face with salt water include “reducing breakouts [and] maybe helping to make the skin a little bit softer and smoother, as well.

Does Cleansing With Salt Water Help With Blemishes?

According to Dr. Garshick, the idea that cleansing with salt water could help reduce blemishes is mostly a myth. While certain types of sea salt may have “minerals that [may] be helpful for the skin,” Dr. Garshick says “it hasn’t been studied…in a controlled setting.” In other words, there’s no conclusive evidence to support the claim that salty water can help keep breakouts at bay.

How Should You Care For Blemish-Prone Skin?

In Dr. Garshick’s professional opinion, salt water cleansing probably isn’t the skin cure-all some make it out to be. Thankfully, there are plenty of other things you can do to help keep your skin looking clear and healthy, even if you’re blemish-prone.

Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment

Tip #1:

Keep It Clean

If breakouts are something you frequently struggle with, your best bet is to adopt a skincare routine specifically designed to help address blemishes. Using a cleanser designed for acne-prone skin, like Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment, is a great first step. This foaming face wash with salicylic acid helps purify pores and reduces the appearance of blackheads, whiteheads, and other types of blemishes. When used consistently, it also helps keep new breakouts at bay. If your skin isn’t in the midst of any major breakouts, reach for a gentle foaming cleanser, like Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash, instead. Made with calendula extract, this soothing gel-to-foam face wash gently lifts away impurities without drying out the skin. It helps calm and soothe the skin while keeping it feeling balanced for an instantly refreshed appearance.

Tip #2:

Don’t Skip Moisturizer

Moisturizing is a must, Dr. Garshick says, “even for those who have oily skin.” Look for lightweight formulas that hydrate without weighing down the skin, like Ultra Facial Oil-Free Moisturizer. Made specifically for oilier skin types, this ultra-light moisturizer absorbs quickly and provides long-lasting hydration. It also helps control shine and visibly reduces the appearance of enlarged pores over time. You can use it morning and night for skin that feels fresh, healthy, and balanced.

During breakouts, swap your usual moisturizer out for Breakout Control Acne Treatment Facial Lotion. It’s made with salicylic acid (an ingredient Dr. Garshick recommends for those with blemish-prone skin) and helps visibly diminish acne blemishes while helping to prevent new breakouts from forming. It also helps improve skin’s texture and tone for a clearer, more even appearance over time.

Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment

Tip #3:

Arm Yourself With a Kiehl’s Spot Treatment

When blemishes do pop up (it’s bound to happen occasionally), address them with a spot treatment, such as Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment. It contains mineral sulfur and vitamin B3—also known as niacinamide—and is clinically-demonstrated to rapidly reduce the appearance of acne blemishes.* The effective formula absorbs quickly and blends evenly into the skin, making it suitable for both day and nighttime use.

*Tested in a dermatologist-controlled clinical study.

Tip #4:

Go To a Dermatologist

Finally, if you’re struggling with acne and can’t seem to find relief, consider visiting a board-certified dermatologist. They can help you determine the cause of your breakouts and work with you to find a skincare routine that suits your skin’s unique needs (and doesn’t involve raiding the pantry for salt).

Are There Any Risks to Salt Water Cleansing?

So, by now we’ve established that salt water cleansing probably isn’t that beneficial. That doesn’t tell us whether or not it’s harmful—and the answer to that question is a bit more nuanced.

Salt, Dr. Garshick notes, can “function as [an] exfoliant and [help] to get rid of some dead skin” (which is partially why salt scrubs are so popular). In some cases, that may be a plus: Exfoliating, after all, is a key component of many effective skincare routines. But over-exfoliating (or using harsher exfoliants like salt) can be irritating, particularly if you have sensitive skin. Salt can also be drying, Dr. Garshick says, especially for those with already-dry skin. There are “other options that tend to be more effective,” she adds. If you want to exfoliate, stick with products carefully formulated for use on your face, such as face scrubs and exfoliating cleansers.

How Should You Wash Your Face?

Ultimately, at Kiehl’s, we recommend washing your face with a gentle cleanser designed for your skin type. Apply it either at the sink or while in the shower, lather, then rinse with lukewarm tap (not salt) water. For a more detailed explanation of how to wash your face, you can check out our article The Best Way To Wash Your Face: 6 Simple Steps.

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