“I’m not getting paid by the ocean to tell you this…” sea salt for acne works, says TikTok’s @leacrylics.
I praise my lucky stars I’m not tea drinking as I watch because this line gets me one big wave of giggles.
Did you see the clip?
Inside @leacrylics tells us;
“I washed my face, I sprayed the sea salt, like a generous amount and I just went to bed. Like it itched a little bit and it felt you know, sea-salty, but erm I was like we’ll just see if this works. I woke up in the morning, all my big ones that were deep came to a head so they were like whiteheads now which never happens, they usually stay under the skin for a long period of time.”
Big question – does it work?
Is sea salt for acne an acne cure?
I’m a scientist, award-winning cosmetic formulator and skincare expert and this my beautiful friend is what the science says…
Sea Salt Kills Off Acne Bacteria – True or False?
Inside TikTok’s viral sea salt for acne clips, there are 2 key claims about why it could work for you.
- Sea salt is antimicrobial and can kill off acne bacteria – wahoo, we like the sound of that eh
- Sea salt balances your skin pH – which means ditto to the above – acne bacteria die
@leacrylics tells us she tries sea salt for acne because, “I noticed every single time I swim at the beach and go into the ocean, my skin clears completely.”
Okay, so when I hear this my mind races to a sneak peek of a published paper I got to read a few years back now.
It got published – August 2019.
I know – science-gooky eh.
So let me give you a quick blow by blow. This paper shows us;
- Your skin’s bacteria balance changes instantly after swimming
- When you go swimming in the ocean, bacteria from the sea get left on your skin – aka ocean swimming changes your skin’s bacteria balance (us scientists call this your skin’s microbiome)
- Sea salt water washes off your skin’s normal bacteria (psst this includes happy, healthy bacteria too)
- Both of these changes can last for over 24 hours
- Some ocean bacteria can be very bad for your skin leading to skin infections
The very same research group from the University of California then went on to show this summer – June 2021 in a paper titled, “Acquisition of antibiotic resistance genes on human skin after swimming in the ocean“… that after swimming your skin has a higher risk of picking up a skin infection and that after ocean swimming your skin’s also a heck load more resistant to antibiotics.
The paper tells us on average the antibiotic-resistant genes found on skin increase by over 70% after swimming. Plus (!) – something called virulence factor genes also rises like the tide 😉
Psst – virulence factor genes make it easier for bad bacteria to take over your skin.
It’s not looking so good on the sea salt for acne front eh.
Is Salt Water Anti-Microbial?
But consider this.
Yes – sea salt can be anti-microbial.
Some research groups are even using sea salt in air filters because of its antimicrobial benefits.
And a big part of why you get spots, breakouts and acne is because of a majorly upset bacteria balance.
This is why sea salt for acne can make acne better. It can feel like an acne cure.
Because temporarily a sea salt spray could kill off acne bacteria – which means – boom – fewer breakouts.
However… if you’ve been a reader of my blog since the beginning days you know what’s coming eh;
Your skin has a super special balance of good and bad bacteria.
These good bacteria are like ‘acne police’ – they keep the small amounts of bad bacteria that naturally live on your skin, in check.
Kind of like how, when I see a police car about I always find myself driving as if I’m taking my learner’s test 😂
Does this happen to you too?
I absolutely have the potential to be an ‘excited to reach my destination driver‘ – my partner’s going to LOL as he reads this blog – but those police cars, they keep me on the straight and narrow 😉
Can you see why therefore using sea salt water to cure your acne could be a bad thing long term?
It wipes out the acne police too.
Sea salt water sprays can kill off good and bad skin bacteria. Which down the road leads to dry, dehydrated, tight, itchy feeling skin that eventually gets rebound acne breakouts.
Psst – this is the very same reason why I do not recommend antibiotics for acne and why instead I recommend you start by following a science-proven acne diet – you can download your copy of my free acne diet cheatsheet here to get started now 😀
Sea Salt Balances Your Skin pH – true or false?
Okay, okay so let’s look at reason number two for why sea salt for acne might work.
Those claims it also balances your skin pH.
This could be a very, very good thing as an off-balance skin pH encourages acne bacteria to thrive.
It basically makes your skin a comfy couch for acne bacteria. Like those iconic TOGO sofas – oh gosh I wish I had me one of those.
Some published science studies even show acne can be directly related to a higher skin pH;
…acne occurrences in the case group were related to high skin pH.J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017 Jul; 10(7): 33–39.
Psst – when your skin’s at its healthiest your skin pH is somewhere between 4.2-5.
I bet you’re asking me already eh – so what’s the pH of sea salt water? What’s the pH of ocean water?
You’re always one step ahead of me 😉
Well my friend I want to draw your attention to a specific bit of @leacrylics TikTok video.
The bit where she says, ” I washed my face, I sprayed the sea salt, like a generous amount and I just went to bed. Like it itched a little bit and it felt you know, sea-salty…”
Do you see the bit I bolded? “It itched a bit”.
Boom – alert, alert, alert.
Skin itching is a sign of skin barrier disruption and skin barrier disruption aka your skin barrier being upset is a sign your skin’s pH level is too high aka too alkaline.
Because here’s the deal;
Your skin pH at its happiest = 4.2-5.
The pH of tap water = from 6.5ish in a soft water area to >8.5 in a hard water area.
pH of ocean water = about 8.1.
pH of sea salt spray = this will change based on the amount of salt you use, plus the type of salt you use.
In the acne cure TikTok experiments it’s a sea salt spray.
Does Salt Water Balance Your Skin pH?
Sea salt is ocean water evaporated – what’s left behind – that’s your ‘sea salt’.
There are about 3.5grams of sea salt in 100grams of sea water.
So if you add 3.5grams of sea salt to 96.5grams of water, you’re likely going to have a pH of around 8.1.
That’s tipping your skin’s pH see-saw heavily away from its ideal 4.2-5.
And remember how high pH levels cause acne bacteria to thrive?
Sea salt doesn’t balance your skin pH – it could actually do the opposite.
So why are TikTokers seeing such great results?
Here’s my take…
When your skin gets alkaline, your skin gets drier. It’s why when you wash your hands loads, your hands get dry and peely. Drying your skin temporarily removes some of your skin’s oiliness (a key cause of acne) and can help temporarily make acne and breakouts clear up.
It’s defo not an acne cure though.
Just like I tell all the wonderful ladies I work with inside The Acne Clinic our aim is to get you clear skin that’s comfortable, calm, happy and acne resisting. Because there’s no one cure for acne, acne can happen to anyone with the right explosion of acne triggers. An ‘acne cure’ is identifying your acne triggers and healing them long-term.
Bottom Line: Does Sea Salt Get Rid of Acne?
I know exactly what it feels like to be struggling with acne, you’re willing to try anything. Literally anything. And it plays with your emotions big time when you see a sea salt spray clearing acne up overnight.
Bottom line – there’s no science to show sea salt can cure acne. In fact, there’s a fair amount of science to show actually sea salt sprays could make your skin prone to breakouts long term.
It’s why I don’t recommend you use sea salt for acne.
In our world of a million acne cures – isn’t it a relief to know you can park one to the side?
What’s the wackiest acne cure you’ve heard of? Come tell me in the comments below. Oh and will you use that big green sharing button to send on to a friend who loves a TikTok debunking? You’re the best 💛
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.