The ocean can be anti-inflammatory and exfoliating, experts say.
Healing, detoxifying and cleansing are all words you’ve probably heard to describe the ocean.
Now, many people tout the benefits of ocean water when it comes to skin and health issues — you can find TikTok videos that claim seawater clears acne and is healing, overall. What’s more, brands are in on the trend, too Lush sells an ocean salt scrub and Osea has a seaweed-infused ocean cleanser that aims to make your skin look its best.
But, is the ocean really helping your skin? Yes and no, experts say.
“So, there’s actually not a lot of evidence-based medicine ... evidence-based studies that are going to be looking at ocean water and the skin,” said Dr. Jennifer Holman, a dermatologist with U.S. Dermatology Partners Tyler in Texas.
“However, anecdotally, I have a lot of folks with inflammatory skin conditions, acne and things like that, that do see some improvement when they take trips to the beach and spend time in the ocean,” Holman said.
Why might the ocean benefit your skin? And when can it be a problem for some people? We spoke with dermatologists and break down their answers below:
There are minerals in ocean water that could benefit the skin.
“So, I will say ocean water can be great for your skin. There can be several therapeutic benefits — but it does depend on your individual skin type as well as the condition of the ocean water,” said Dr. Elizabeth K. Jones, an assistant professor of dermatology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.
“Ocean water, specifically, contains a number of minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium and zinc among others, and so these can have some benefits,” she said.
In fact, some of these minerals — particularly, magnesium — could help reduce inflammation, said Dr. Marisa Garshick, a dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology: Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery, which has locations in New York and New Jersey.
“For this reason, it may be helpful for certain skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis,” Garshick said.
Holman pointed out a 2016 study that looked into the benefits of deep seawater, which, indeed, found that it can decrease inflammation.
“Probably they attribute that to some of the nutrients that are found in deep seawater,” Holman said.
Plus, it’s exfoliating.
Jones noted that the salt in ocean water can exfoliate skin, too.
It can “get rid of the rough skin that builds up over time, removes those dead skin cells and then gives you this fresh, new skin underneath,” Jones said.
This will leave you with brighter and smoother skin, added Garshick.
And the sand at the beach acts as an exfoliator as well, Jones said.
Lower stress levels, along with light therapy, could be at play, too.
Skin health benefits may not be all focused on the saltwater.
According to Holman, “The other thing is, when you’re visiting the ocean, typically you’re less stressed because you’re on vacation.”
She noted that stress can worsen a lot of skin conditions. In fact, studies show that stress is one of the factors behind psoriasis flare-ups.
Beyond lower stress, the sun could be beneficial too. “You’re also getting some UV exposure,” she said, “and we do know that light therapy helps a lot of skin conditions as well, such as eczema and psoriasis.”
Both things may be at play if you see any skin improvements after a beach day.
“Sometimes it is not clear if it is the decreased stress or UV rays which are helping a skin condition,” added Dr. Angela Lamb, the director of the Westside Mount Sinai Dermatology Faculty Practice and associate professor in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Health System in New York.
But, it isn’t all good news when it comes to saltwater and your skin.
“If left on the skin surface without washing it off, it can be irritating,” Lamb said.
The combination of sun, wind, salt and sand can be problematic for some folks — particularly if you have sensitive skin, Jones said.
Additionally, it can be drying, Jones noted. Just think back to the last time you left the beach — was your skin feeling dry and tight? This is why.
To combat these issues, Jones said you should rinse the salt residue off after you spend time in the ocean “so that it’s not left on there to cause irritation problems.”
After you shower, she said, moisturizing is important. “That helps lock in some of the moisture that you’ve achieved by being in the water itself,” Jones noted.
It's important that you go to a dermatologist for any skin problems — don't rely on the ocean for healing.
And, the ocean can be dirty.
“Pollution is something we do have to be aware of,” Jones said.
Ocean water can have runoff from untreated sewage, can contain high levels of algae, and can be polluted with bacteria that increase your risk of skin infections and other issues, she stated.
“When it comes to using saltwater therapeutically, there are those risks of contamination from ocean water just in its natural state,” Jones said.
In other words, you should not expect a swim at the beach to cure your skin problems.
“You shouldn’t also confuse the benefits of ocean water from first-line medical therapies or medical-grade saline soaks or solutions,” Jones stated.
There are major differences between pure ocean water and saline soaks, which are intended for wound or eczema treatment — not the least of which is that saline solutions are tested for safety, she said. Ocean water is not.
All in all, for any skin problems, you should see a dermatologist.
The sun’s strong — and harmful — rays can’t be ignored.
“You have to be protected [and] mindful of not only the UV coming down from the sun but also the reflection off the water while you’re in the ocean water,” said Jones.
So, be sure to wear sunscreen on your beach days. The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen, which will protect against UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF of 30 or above.
And, you should reapply your sunscreen every 80 or 90 minutes, Holman said.