Sea salt water treatments are the latest skincare hack promising to clear acne and calm breakouts, but does it work?
We all know that TickTok is full of skincare tricks, some helpful, some dangerous, and some downright bizarre. As anyone would expect, the app recently unearthed yet another too-good-to-be-true tip for banishing acne and keeping it at bay for good. A user by the handle of @aubyrnjadeart has garnered four million views and counting for showing her dramatic clear-skin transformation, which she says she achieved with a sea salt water treatment.
Yeah — spraying a mixture of sea salt and water on her face twice per day apparently rid her adult acne after she'd tried "everything" to cure it. She learned this tip from another TikTok creator, @leacrylics, who started using a sea salt concoction after realising that her skin usually cleared up after swimming in the ocean. Both claim the remedy works because it balances skin pH and kills bacteria.
But you know us: Any time there's a viral beauty hack, we're going to ruin the party by asking the experts for their hard and honest opinions (sorry, but it's our job!). So, is sea salt water a viable acne treatment? According to dermatologists, it might work in theory, but it's definitely not a permanent fix for pimples or scars. Better put by Connecticut-based board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, "when it comes to the relationship status of dermatologists and the sun and sea, #itscomplicted."
She calls actual ocean water — specifically, magnesium-based ocean water — a "panacea," aka a cure-all remedy. "Acne can anecdotally benefit from the exfoliative, pore-cleansing effect of this little tincture," she explains. "The salt can theoretically draw out oils and dry out pimples." She notes, however, that water directly from the ocean and sea salt water mixed at home are two very different things. "No science here yet," she concludes. "I think there a lot of other options that work better, too."
And when it comes to something as important as your skin, many experts — like Shari Marchbein, a New York City board-certified dermatologist — will encourage you to avoid do-it-yourself solutions, period. She says that while this at-home remedy might work on a surface level, using it to replace other important parts of your routine could make matters worse in the long run.
"Sea salt water at best may help with mild skin inflammation and redness; I certainly do not consider this a viable treatment for acne nor would I recommend it," she warns. "I worry that those who do use this as treatment may end up delaying proper care from a board-certified dermatologist and get additional hyperpigmentation and potentially scarring as a result."
On a deeper level, those claims about pH balance and bacteria control aren't even true, according to cosmetic chemist Ginger King. "Sea water has an alkaline pH of 8. Acne-prone skin also has an alkaline pH," she explains. "If anything, you want to use an acidic pH to balance the skin, thus, we use glycolic acid and salicylic acid to help with skin issues." She adds that sea salt water does have an antimicrobial effect, but not one strong enough to kill acne.
So, while people might be seeing visible results from a sea salt water acne treatment, they aren't seeing those results for the reasons they think — it's mostly a matter of exfoliation and anti-inflammation, which you can achieve with plenty of actual skin-care products. That said, sadly, we have to consider this TikTok hack debunked.