Is Dead Sea Salt An Effective Psoriasis Treatment?

It has been known for centuries that people with skin conditions, including psoriasis, can benefit from bathing in the Dead Sea in eastern Israel, where the water is 10 times as salty as the ocean.

“It goes back to ancient times,” says Mark Lebwohl, MD, chairman emeritus of the National Psoriasis Foundation Medical Board and professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York City. “[In the Bible,] people talk about soaking in water for leprosy, and they were probably talking about psoriasis. The Hebrew word for leprosy is tzaarat, which kind of sounds like psoriasis.”

You can buy mineral-rich sea salts to add to your bath water, but can they help relieve pain and itching from psoriasis? “The sea salt products they’re selling might have some slight benefit,” says Dr. Lebwohl. “The best you can say is they might be of limited benefit as a psoriasis treatment.”

On the other hand, Lebwohl says, making a pilgrimage to the Dead Sea and spending at least two weeks there can be a very helpful psoriasis treatment.

“While the minimum is two weeks, people who stay four to six weeks get a tremendous amount of benefit,” Lebwohl adds. “I had a patient with very bad psoriasis who found it cleared for the first time in his life.”

How long the benefits of being at the Dead Sea last will vary from patient to patient.

“I have had patients say to me that on the airplane ride back they felt their psoriasis return. Other patients have had very long remissions,” Lebwohl says. Some patients return to the Dead Sea annually.

Lebwohl and other researchers believe it’s a combination of factors that makes psoriasis treatments at the Dead Sea so effective.

What’s Different About the Dead Sea

“The light at the Dead Sea is very unique. The mineral content of the water is very unique,” Lebwohl says. The evaporating air or thick haze around the Dead Sea contains chloride salts — magnesium, sodium, potassium, calcium — in concentrations that are 20 times greater than anywhere else in the world. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, the salts help break down thick plaques and allow sunlight to target the inflammation underneath.

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth, more than 400 meters (m) below sea level. The sun’s rays must pass through not only these extra 400 m (about 1,300 feet), but also the haze. The haze helps to filter out the shorter of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which are the most damaging to the skin.

“It turns out that the rays that are left are the peak effective wavelength of ultraviolet light for treating psoriasis,” Lebwohl explains. Sunbathers still are advised to use caution and wear sunscreen if they will be exposed for a long time.

It’s also a pleasant experience to relax in the thermo-mineral pools while being exposed to the sunlight at the Dead Sea, which can break the well-known link between stress and psoriasis flares. “So there could be a psychological component contributing to the success of the treatments at the Dead Sea as well,” Lebwohl says.

What the Research Shows

Lebwohl says a well-known study done back in 1989 by Israeli dermatologist Zvi Even-Paz, MD, found that the greatest benefit comes from actually visiting the Dead Sea. Dr. Even-Paz compared psoriasis patients who received treatments of light and water at the Dead Sea with those who received similar treatments in Jerusalem, which is at a higher elevation. He also had a group that was treated with the Dead Sea water alone.

Even-Paz found the patients who improved the most were those who received the light and water at the Dead Sea. Those in Jerusalem improved, but not as much as those at the Dead Sea, while only a small percentage of those who were treated with the Dead Sea water alone showed improvement.

“It really does seem like the combination of the two — the light and the water — is ideal, but it is the sunlight at the Dead Sea that causes the overwhelming effect,” Lebwohl says. Over the years, researchers have continued to study the effects of the Dead Sea as a psoriasis cure, and their conclusions have been similar.

Other Psoriasis Treatment Destinations

Besides the Dead Sea, other bodies of mineral-rich water where people travel for a psoriasis cure include Kangal in Turkey and the Blue Lagoon spa in Grindavik, Iceland.

In the United States, there’s Berkeley Springs in West Virginia, which is about two hours from Washington, DC, and has a fountainhead of warm mineral waters, Warm Mineral Springs near Sarasota, Florida, and Soap Lake in eastern Washington, known for its mineral water and creamy black mud.

If you can’t travel for psoriasis treatment, you may get a bit of relief by adding sea salts to your bath. At the very least, a relaxing soak won’t hurt.

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