All the Benefits of Bathing in Salt: Thalassotherapy Explained

“The sea is health,” was my mother’s favorite thing to say each summer of my childhood. She’d use it to encourage me to swim and float in the sea—especially during my teenager years when all I wanted to do was sulk under an umbrella on the beach with my Walkman and magazines. It was her mantra, her unending belief: “The sea is health,” she’d repeat.

Of course, I know now that my mother was right. Though her eternal faith in the healing powers of the sea was based on generational wisdom, there’s now a whole therapeutic philosophy based on the age-old belief. It’s the basis for treatments at coastal spas and even has a special name: thalassotherapy, which comes from the ancient Greek word thalassa, meaning both “ocean” and “primordial goddess of the sea.”

The Marabella Club Hotel in Málaga, Spain is one wellness resort that embraces this philosophy, with a full program of seawater-inspired rituals at their spa, Thalasso. “The nature of our bodies mirrors our marine origin,” explains the team. “Chemical analysis verifies that the same salts—potassium, calcium, magnesium—are found in equal proportions in sea water and the blood plasma of human beings.”

But not all seawater therapy is created equally—like many age-old traditions, there are secrets to reaping the maximum benefits of bathing in salt. Below, a peek into thalassotherapy and the best ways to apply the timeless wisdom of “the sea is health” to your daily routine.

The magic of magnesium

Magnesium has been a popular wellness topic lately—and not just because many of us don’t get sufficient amounts of the all-important mineral. Magnesium has been shown to affect approximately 80% of our metabolic functions, helping to regulate everything from sleep to blood sugar to mood.

But magnesium needn’t be merely consumed in order for us to reap its benefits—magnesium can also be absorbed directly through the skin. This is where thalassotherapy comes in. When magnesium is absorbed transdermally—and specifically, via our hair follicles—it can quickly relax our nervous system, improve our mood, and soothe the skin.

“Magnesium may help protect the skin’s barrier and offer antioxidant benefits that protect the skin against free radicals,” the pharmacists at Marta Masi explain. “In addition, it helps with muscle and joint pain, promotes muscle relaxation and improves rest. Salt baths have been used for hundreds of years to treat skin pathologies.”

For optimal absorption to occur, it is best for the water to be a specific temperature. “For osmotic absorption to take place and the minerals present in the marine environment to penetrate the skin, a water temperature of between 95 and 98 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. This is the same as body temperature, so the process happens naturally,” the team at Thalasso explains.

However, it is important to note that cold water baths—or a luxurious float in the sea—will also provide plenty of advantages. “They can improve blood circulation and our well-being,” notes the team at Marta Masi.

How to take a salt bath

Speaking of luxurious floats, experts say that while a quick dip is nice, it won’t do the whole trick—regardless of the temperature of the water. In order to fully absorb the healthy minerals and trace elements that salty seawater provides, it’s best to aim for a minimum of 12 minutes of soaking time. “Ideally, you want to soak for 18 to 20 minutes, though,” the team at Thalasso explains. “This helps balance the fluids in the body and increases osmotic absorption.”

Can’t make it to a seaside spa resort? No need to miss out—it’s entirely possible to create a thalassotherapy experience at home using a mix of readily available minerals: magnesium- and sulfate-rich epsom salts, baking soda, and Dead Sea salts, Himalayan pink salt, or Celtic salt. Simply mix them together and add to your bath; aim for equal proportions and a total of ¼ to 1 cup. (Just avoid iodized table salt, which can cause skin irritation.)

Permission granted to embrace your own inner sea goddess and soak your cares away—coastal vacation or not.

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