How does a mud bath improve the quality of your skin?

A tourist at the Dead Sea covers herself in rejuvenating mud before taking a dip in the famous waters.
A tourist at the Dead Sea covers herself in rejuvenating mud before taking a dip in the famous waters.
David Silverman/Getty Images

Sink naked into a tub of hot, thick, slightly stinky mud and you'll discover what every child knows so well: Getting dirty can be a joy.

Like most spa treatments, a mud bath can relieve stress, ease the body and calm the mind, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at. But the mud bath has something else going for it, too: It can improve the condition of your skin. The results can be dramatic enough that some dermatologists recommend it to their patients as complementary therapy.

So, how can a mud bath help?

While no one is entirely certain why a mud bath can be therapeutic, it seems to be strongly tied to the anti-inflammatory effects of certain fancy-mud ingredients.

Mud Bath Anti-inflammatory Properties

People have been taking mud baths for centuries, not just for stress reduction but also as a form of skin therapy, and some modern researchers have begun to explore the "why" behind the benefits.

Results haven't been definitive, but there is some clinical evidence that mud baths can improve the symptoms of certain skin conditions, and it seems to be related to one particularly notable property of spa mud: It can reduce inflammation.

Inflammation is a common component of many skin problems, including psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, rosacea, eczema and acne. It can lead to plain-old dry skin, too. And while mud-bath ingredients vary widely by geographic location (and between local spas), they do have a lot in common, and the anti-inflammatory effects might be related to these common ingredients.

A typical therapeutic mud bath contains some combination of mineral water, clay, peat moss and volcanic ash. The anti-inflammatory property appears to result at least partly from the high mineral content of these components.

Minerals like sulfur, magnesium and zinc have been used in dermatology and naturopathy for years. The human body requires an adequate supply of zinc to heal inflammation. Magnesium salts are a primary component in Dead Sea water, which is used to alleviate inflammatory disorders of skin and joints. You can find sulfur compounds on the ingredient lists of many anti-inflammatory lotions and creams.

Of course, inflammation isn't the only problem drawing people to the mud, and those minerals with anti-inflammatory properties aren't the only ones in a mud bath. There's plenty of other good stuff to be found in high-quality spa mud.

Minerals Found In Mud Baths

When you soak in a mud bath, you're not soaking in the stuff on the side of the road after the rain. The mud in a "mud bath" is special. For one thing, it's highly refined to be exceptionally smooth; it also has a higher mineral content than your standard wet dirt.

Sulfur, as we already discussed, can have anti-inflammatory effects, but it can also be antibacterial, anti-fungal (both useful in treating acne), and keratolytic (removing dry, flaky skin). Just a couple of the other minerals you might find in therapeutic mud include calcium, which can increase cell-turnover rates in the skin; and iron, which is crucial for oxygen-distribution throughout the body. Well-oxygenated skin cells are happy skin cells.

Whether applying these minerals to your skin can achieve the desired effects is still uncertain, but the potential benefits of mineral-rich mud are enough to get many people to the nearest spa -- and there's another one that will probably get even more people there. The stress-reducing qualities of spa treatments in general are practically impossible to argue with, as is the connection between skin quality and stress hormones. You might be able to improve your skin by the simple act of sinking in, breathing deep and getting thoughtlessly, unabashedly dirty.

For more information on mud baths, spa treatments and skin care, check out the links on the next page.

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More Great Links

Sources

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  • Mud Bath at the Totumo Volcano. Tour in Cartagena. (May 15, 2012) http://www.tourincartagena.com/pages/mud-bath-at-the-totumo_volcano.htm
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