Detox baths are a popular recommendation. Is this a valid practice? Here I share my own experience, what research there is, and other possible reasons they are soothing and helpful regardless of whether they are pulling toxins out of your body.
In the past, I viewed detox baths as a way to have a relaxing moment. I wasn’t particularly concerned whether they were drawing toxins from my body. When I got sick from Lyme disease and mold exposure, I found that one of the few things that seemed to give me a boost, as we started my protocol, was taking magnesium, salt, or clay baths. They were wonderfully relaxing and one of the key practices for helping me through some painful weeks and months. In fact, I’ve had a daily warm bath for the last six months. If I skip it, I don’t feel as well and also get more achy and sore.
I’ve talked to other people with similar results.
After my positive experience, I questioned why exactly I had found them so helpful. Was the warm bath simply soothing? Was it because I also was using my bath time to practice mindfulness meditation (a topic for another post)? Or was there something particular about using the Epsom salts, salt, and clay that helped make them especially healing?
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of studies on baths and detox baths. An important aspect of research to remember is that most of our funding for research goes to developing new drugs. Over the 100 billion dollars spent annually on biomedical research, 60% of that is directly funded by pharmaceutical companies.Only a tiny amount goes to studying more natural, non-drug related options. It is therefore unsurprising that it can be hard to answer specific questions about common alternative recommendations – such as detox baths.
A lack of evidence doesn’t mean anything other than we just haven’t thoroughly studied it yet. That is one reason that I continue basic common sense practices – like eating a clean diet, taking time to relax, and yes, even bathing in soothing mineral baths if they seem to help me feel better. Yet, there are many recommendations made in the alternative world that are made on pretty shaky ground. I questioned whether they were truly “detoxing” me, or if there was another explanation for their helpful effects.
So I wondered what studies were out there, and whether they would be helpful. This is what I found.
Warm water is soothing
We should note from the first that warm water is soothing to achy bodies and sore muscles. I do believe that a big reason why I felt so refreshed after a hot bath was the bath water itself. In fact, there is a name for it – warm water therapy. Warm water without anything added to it can help reduce pain. The biggest hospital in my area now offers tubs for birthing mothers for this very reason. (I’ve tried them. It helps.)
Warm baths make you sweat (which could be detoxing)
People argue about how significant this research is, but I found it fascinating that there is research showing that we do detox through our sweat. Many traditional societies induced sweating on a regular basis, specifically for healthier bodies. Studies have found that sweating does excrete heavy metals and chemicals. While we have other pathways that are likely more important for detoxing (via the kidneys and liver and colon), opening up another detox pathway by sweating certainly doesn’t hurt. Here is some of the research: 1, 2, 3.
I do see changes in my sweating patterns when I’m ill or after I started getting treated for mold exposure, so this was something I especially wanted to research.
(Please note, before taking hot baths, or inducing sweating, you should make sure you don’t have any health conditions that could make this unsafe for you. Anyone who sweats a lot should also be replacing electrolytes and liquids.)
Clay – For beauty or health, or both?
Clay is often used in beauty baths, and have also become popular in detox baths. It may soften our skin, but does it provide any “detoxing support?” I think that one reason that clay is considered detoxing is because it’s a traditional remedy for dealing with bacterial and toxin exposure (you can read about that here). However, it’s far different to be consuming clay than pouring some into the bath. This study doesn’t answer our question directly but did study one healing aspect of external clay. They used French green clay packs to treat a Buruli ulcer (an infectious disease with is hard to treat with antibiotics) with very positive results.
I haven’t come across any studies so far about it pulling toxins through your skin, as is so often claimed. But I did find the Buruli ulcer study of interest, as it shows how it can treat bacterial infections of the skin. Buruli ulcers are in the same family as leprosy and very serious. That clay packs could help them heal it is pretty amazing! Read the whole study for why they think it worked.
Salt water Baths
Another traditional remedy is salt water bathing. Victorians used to “take the waters” for a variety of health complaints, and I’ve heard of it being helpful for certain skin conditions. One study carried out at the University of Manchester studied external applications of salt solutions. They found that it brought inflammation down. High inflammation levels bring up your risk for many diseases, and also increases body pain.
“The team also looked at the benefits of hypertonic solutions when used outside of the body. They soaked bandages in the solution before using them on the legs of mice. They also tested bathing the inflamed area in a hypertonic solution and in both cases the inflammation was reduced.
It appears the hypertonic solution produces an osmotic gradient through the skin, which explains why hot springs, which have a hypertonic make up, can ease the pain of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Vincent Compan worked with Dr Pelegrin on this research in the Faculty of Life Sciences. He says: “This research opens up exciting opportunities for the use of hypertonic solution as a treatment for inflammatory illnesses such as arthritis. What we’ve identified has the potential to be used to help so many patients.”
I found this pretty exciting! I don’t have arthritis, but I do have inflammation issues and Lyme related aches. This could help explain why salt baths were helpful for me. I did find that my symptoms likely caused by inflammation are reduced by salt or magnesium baths.
Similarly, Epsom salt is a form of magnesium used in baths and has long been used to soothe sore muscles. It certainly seems to help mine. I find baths with Epsom salts in them particularly soothing when I am sore. One question is whether we absorb magnesium well through the skin. There are small studies, such as this one, that suggest that we do, at least somewhat. However, if you read this study that looks at most of the available research so far, it’s not clear that we do absorb significant amounts of magnesium through our skin.
While I find it helpful for pain relief and sore muscles, I wouldn’t use it instead of a magnesium supplement. If you have low blood pressure, take note that magnesium can lower it even more.
My honest take on detox baths? I find them soothing, helpful for reducing pain, and they give me a big boost because of that. There is some promising research, but nothing that can prove that they detox you – at least in the way often claimed. I find it an excellent addition, but not a primary treatment in itself. But as a helpful piece of the puzzle? Absolutely.
Finally, it’s important to note that any activity that helps you rest, relax, and reduces stress is a vital part of a holistic plan for a healthy life. Stress reduction is key for a healthy life and not to be scoffed at. Warm baths can certainly be healthy and helpful simply on that fact alone.
What I use:
- Epsom salt
- Dead Sea Salt
- Also consider something like this to filter out chlorine
- I love using these activated charcoal coconut oil soaps.
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