• Salt Water and Acne

Salt Water and Acne

I have been asked the question on my blog if seawater has a positive effect on acne. I’d like to go further into this. In spite of the stories that circulate on this subject, I haven’t been able to find any research which suggests that salt water improves acne. Long exposure to seawater breaks down the barrier functioning of the skin, and as a result it becomes dried out. This drying out leads to a higher production of sebum which eventually aggravates the acne.

What I did find out is that salt water can have a beneficial effect on certain skin conditions (such as psoriasis). Salt can increase the water retaining (hydrous) capacity of the skin; the salt water makes sure that the outermost layer of the skin (stratum corneum) doesn’t lose too much water. This sounds good but here are a couple of comments. With psoriasis, a daily treatment of 20 minutes has shown to be too long and the opposite effect occurs (Skinresearch and Technology – Yoshizawa et al. – 2003 Feb;9(1):31-3/ Marzulli and Maibach’s dermatotoxicology p.416). Furthermore unfortunately it is not the case that the positive effect salt water has on certain skin conditions automatically means that it can improve acne. Sun is also good for certain skin conditions, but certainly not for healthy skin or acne! Don’t take this to mean that if you go to the beach that you only have to worry about the salt water. You are also exposed to the sun and the wind. Both of these can reduce the barrier functioning of the skin and just aggravate acne again.

What I will say is that the salt in sea water can to some extent kill bacteria. Anyway, it depends where you decide to go for a swim. A lot of sea water is of course badly polluted.

How then can you treat acne?

All in all, my advice is that if you do suffer with acne then go and enjoy a swim in the sea. If you have more severe acne on your body then just make sure that you go for around 10 minutes and no more than 20 minutes in the sea. If you have facial acne you don’t have to worry as much about the length of time in the sea as your face is not constantly submerged. If you really want to improve your acne then it’s best not to experiment with sea water at all. There are much better alternatives for killing the bacteria which play a part in the oncoming of acne. Besides, disinfecting plays just a part in the treatment; do nothing about the thickened epidermis and the sebum production and the problem remains. Begin immediately with mild cleansing products, apply just a light cream to the dry areas of the skin only, use Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide. If this isn’t enough then you can get Vitamin A Acid, such as Differin, from the Dermatologist or in some instances an oral antibiotic. It can also be useful to have a top layer peeling or laser treatment by a skin therapist now and again.


(Dr. Jetske Ultee-Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology)

Read also:
‘Spots. Should I Go to the Doctor or Not?
‘Acne Improves in the Sun; A Myth’
The Effect of Smoking on Your Skin; Twins
A Sun Protection Factor in Your Make-Up. Is It Useful?

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