Does TikTok’s Salt Water Acne Treatment Work? A Doctor Weighs in

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You’ve probably seen a TikTok video floating around in which a person uses salt water to treat their acne and the results look extremely promising. The TikTok creator notes how she came to realise the impact of salt water on acne as her skin always improved after spending time at the beach. “I’ve been struggling (with acne) since I was eleven,” said TikTok creator Leenis.

To mimic the effect of seawater, Leenis bought regular old sea salt and mixed a teaspoon of the salt with half a cup of warm water. “[I] made the exact same ratio as the ocean is,” she said. “I’ve been spraying it on my face every night and you can see, I’m about the start my period and I don’t have any breakouts and the ones I did have completely went away.”

While we love the results of this super simple and cost-effective acne treatment, we wanted an expert to weigh in to see whether there was any scientific evidence to back this up, so we turned to Dr Michele Squire, a PhD-qualified scientist, former Registered Nurse, and founder of Qr8 and Qr8 MediSkin. Dr Squire is a skincare expert and is super passionate about breaking down misinformation in the beauty industry.

Here’s what Dr Squire had to say.

Why does salt water seem to improve acne?

“Salt water is said to help with reducing inflammation, which is just one of the factors responsible for acne (the others are: increased oil/sebum production, sticky skin cells that form clumps inside pores, and acne bacteria),” said Dr Squire. “It can also be mildly antibacterial.

“This is why thermal water healing baths, dressings and wraps have been used since ancient times to treat a multitude of chronic diseases — a treatment known as ‘balneotherapy’ [1]. But here’s the thing: whilst there is some evidence that bathing in thermal water can have positive effects on atopic dermatitis and psoriasis, there isn’t a shred of scientific evidence that balneotherapy has any effect on acne.

“And even if it did, thermal and sea waters are a complex solution of minerals along with the sodium and chloride that makes up salt, and this mixture differs depending on where you are in the world. So, depending on the type of salt you use, spraying salt water on your face isn’t the same as bathing in thermal or seawater — even if they both have the same salinity (salt concentration). And that antibacterial effect? It’s way too mild to deal with acne bacteria.

“Why are these DIY acne hacks so popular? A recent study [2] showed that 85% of acne sufferers had tried home remedies to treat their acne, and 1/3 had never sought medical treatment. This suggests that there is a lack of understanding that acne is a medical condition, and can be easily managed with medical treatment.”

Are there any downsides to this DIY treatment?

“In the absence of any evidence that balneotherapy works as an acne treatment, skincare experts and doctors rely on the more tried and true (read: evidence-based) methods to treat acne. These will address all the factors responsible for acne: inflammation, increased oil/sebum production, sticky skin cells that form clumps inside pores, and acne bacteria (it sounds complicated, but it’s not — read more here).

“On the upside, spraying salt water on your face is inexpensive, and unlike many TikTok DIY skin treatments, it won’t harm your skin. So if you want to use it in conjunction with proven acne treatments then go for it. And an ocean swim will definitely make you feel better about, well, everything.”

What are your evidence-based recommendations for acne?

“Acne affects more than your skin. More than 60 percent of acne sufferers feel that they are treated differently and not as productive when they have an acne flare-up, and 70 percent are afraid to date due to acne or acne scarring [2].

“So if you have acne, it’s time to move on from the DIY social media tips (they don’t work and some of them are downright dangerous) and seek help from an understanding and empathetic medical practitioner (the kind we have at Qr8 MediSkin!) to treat your acne once and for all.”

So there you have it! While we love a good TikTok hack, those that dole out beauty or health advice are often more fiction than fact. If you’re experiencing acne and would like a treatment that is tailored to your individual needs, Qr8 Mediskin is the place to go as it offers personalised treatments created for you by doctors.

1. Cacciapuoti S, et al. The Role of Thermal Water in Chronic Skin Diseases Management: A Review of the Literature. J Clin Med. 2020. PMID: 32971735.
2. Tan J et al. Concerns, Expectations, and Management Gaps Relating to Acne and Associated
Scarring Identified from Survey Data. J Drugs Dermatol. 2021. PMID: 34076398.

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