An Ode to the Lowly Epsom Salt (And Why It’s My Number One 'Home Remedy')

By Patty Khuly, DVM on Jun. 30, 2010
An Ode to the Lowly Epsom Salt (And Why It’s My Number One 'Home Remedy')

Last reviewed on November 11, 2015

Thank God for Wikipedia. Without it I might have searched longer for this definition:

"Magnesium sulfate (or magnesium sulphate) is a chemical compound containing magnesium, sulfur and oxygen, with the formula MgSO4...

...In its hydrated form, the pH is 6.0 (5.5 to 6.5). It is often encountered as the heptahydrate, MgSO4·7H2O, commonly called Epsom salt."

In case the title didn’t give it away, I adore the humble Epsom salt for its use in all kinds of superficial inflammatory issues. It is the ultimate do-no-harm remedy for many simple wounds and swellings. In fact, it’s so effective I’ll often use it as an adjunct to, or even in lieu of, medications given to counter side-effect prone therapies (antibiotics, for example).

Here’s my favorite veterinary application:

1. Dissolve 1 cup of Epsom salt in a couple quarts of comfortably hot water.
2. Add solution to footbath.
3. Take off shoes.
4. Soak feet until water cools.

For the record, this works on non-veterinarian feet, too. When you stand your dog in a tub filled with a similar solution after a long day of running around you may not see her go, "Ahhhhhh" like I do, but I can promise you she’ll feel better within five minutes (sporting dog owners take note).

For more medical applications, I tend to apply Epsom salt in soaks like the one described above, in either a tub or small basin (size dependent on the target area), or as a "hot pack," for which I’ll make a poultice by soaking a clean washcloth or sturdy paper towels in the solution for direct application to the affected area — as for head wounds or other areas not amenable to soaking. Five to ten minutes, two or three times a day is what I tend to recommend, depending on the lesion.

Note: All wounds that fully penetrate the skin should be evaluated by a veterinarian since many are much more serious than they seem. Similarly, many swellings are more than what they appear to be on the surface. Be sure to judiciously apply this or any other "home remedy" with this in mind.

How does Epsom salt work? Not sure, though studies show that magnesium sulfate can be  absorbed through the skin while bathing. As such, it serves to dehydrate the infected tissue and draw the nasties out without macerating it (that "pruning" effect we all know so well).

And there’s more… so much more than I ever knew. According to Wikipedia, its human medical uses are many:

Indications for its internal use are:

  • Replacement therapy for hypomagnesemia
  • Magnesium sulfate is the first-line antiarrhythmic agent for torsades de pointes in cardiac arrest under the 2005 ECC guidelines and for managing quinidine-induced arrhythmias
  • As a bronchodilator after beta-agonist and anticholinergic agents have been tried, e.g. in severe exacerbations of asthma. Recent studies have revealed that magnesium sulfate can be nebulized to reduce the symptoms of acute asthma. It is commonly administered via the intravenous route for the management of severe asthma attacks
  • A 2004 research study showed that both magnesium and sulfate are absorbed through the skin when bathing in 1% w/v solution
  • Magnesium sulfate can be used to treat eclampsia in pregnant women
  • Magnesium sulfate can also delay labor in the case of premature labor, to delay preterm birth
  • Intravenous magnesium sulfate may be able to prevent cerebral palsy in preterm babies
  • Solutions of sulfate salts such as Epsom salt may be given as first aid for barium chloride poisoning

Indications for topical use are:

  • Magnesium sulfate paste has been used as an agent for dehydrating (drawing) boils, carbuncles, and abscesses
  • Magnesium sulfate solution has also been shown to be an effective aid in the fight against blemishes and acne when applied directly to problematic areas, usually in poultice form. If combined with water and made into a cream, it can be applied to the face to remove blackheads
  • Magnesium sulfate, when used through soaking, can soothe muscle pains and help improve rough patches in the skin
  • Soaking in a warm bath containing Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) can be beneficial to soothe, relax,and relieve herpes outbreak symptoms, such as itching and lesions relating to genital herpes and shingles"

Who knew?

OK, your turn: What do you use Epsom salts for?


Dr. Patty Khuly


Patty Khuly, DVM


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