Saline Solution

Could a dietary no-no be the one thing that soothes dry, sensitive skin?

Most of us tend to have somewhat negative associations with salt, however—from the dehydrating discomfort (thirst, bloating) we experience after we’ve eaten too much of it, to the long-term health dangers of a sodium-heavy diet, to the filmy, sticky feeling that inevitably punctuates longdays at the beach. It’s certainly not something that springs to mind when thinking about hydration—even though certain salts have the unique ability to attract and hold water, making them a valuable ingredient in moisturizer formulation. Sodium hyaluron, the form of hyaluronic acid used in many face creams, is technically a salt. “Sodium hyaluron is a very vicious substance that increases the water-holding capacity of skin,” says New York dermatologist Francesca Fusco, MD, “so it has an almost immediate plumping effect.” (Reps for the brand Kinerase, for instance, claim that its presence in the company’s new C8 Intensive Treatment multiplies the skin’s water content by 1,000.) Whether or not a salt is drying, Fusco explains, comes down to its composition: “ordinary salt is largely sodium chloride, which is very dehydrating,” she says, “but mineral salt, such as Dead Sea salt, is rich in magnesium and calcium, which improve hydration by strengthening the barrier function of the skin.” Indeed, those minerals—in addition to zinc and potassium, other components of unrefined salt— are classified by scientists as “natural moisturization factors” for the way they support the skin’s water balance. “An example I give my patients is that when you sit in a non-salt bath, your skin wrinkles and prunes,” Fusco says. “But that doesn’t happen in salt water because salt reproduces an environment in balance with your skin in which your skin doesn’t leak out moisture.”

When the skin’s mineral quotient is out of whack, we all know it. Telltale signs such as “dryness, irritation, dullness, and blotchiness” begin to emerge, Fusco says.“Moisturizers containing salts are better than plain old occlusives because they allow moisture to be absorbed and to bind to skin more efficiently.”

Source: Elle. January, 2012.