Can playing in the dirt make you healthier? Mud bath enthusiasts believe mud can be therapeutic for the skin, muscles, joints and mind. David Harvey, M.D., a dermatologist and Mohs Surgeon at Piedmont, weighs in.
“Mud baths have been around since ancient times,” he says. “Some people believe mud baths have spiritual properties. They are also thought to relieve stress, joint pain, rheumatoid arthritis and certain skin ailments. Some people use mud baths simply to unwind and relax.”
What is a mud bath?
Mud baths are treatments offered by spas and resorts. While it may look like the mud you would find in your backyard after a rain shower, therapeutic mud contains specific ingredients believed to have therapeutic properties.
Why mud baths are considered therapeutic
Mud baths may contain minerals like sulfur, zinc, magnesium, and bromine that are said to:
Draw out impurities from the skin
Exfoliate dead skin cells
Relax sore muscles and joints
Improve skin conditions, like eczema and psoriasis
Relieve pain from rheumatoid arthritis
Is mud actually therapeutic?
“It depends what is in the mud,” says Dr. Harvey. “The ingredients in a mud bath usually include warmed mineral water, volcanic ash, organic peat, lake mud or salt water. Each combination has variable effects.”
It is important to do your research and ask the facility which minerals are predominant in their mud. This will often vary based on the location of the spa and its proximity to various natural sources. For example, the ingredients of a mud bath in Miami will likely differ from that in Napa Valley.
The benefits of mud baths
Dr. Harvey believes that one of the biggest benefits of mud baths is that they can provide stress relief. Sitting in warm, soft mud can relax the muscles and soothe the mind, which may provide some skin benefits.
“As you reduce stress and calm your nerves, certain skin conditions may improve,” he says. “Stress causes a surge of cortisol in the body, which can lead to increased inflammation in the skin. Eczema, psoriasis and acne are all benefited, to some degree, by stress reduction.
“There are many ways to reduce stress, you just have to find the one that’s right for you,” he adds.
Mud bath safety
“Based on some limited research, mud baths are typically not harmful for healthy people as long as your skin is intact and you don’t ingest it,” says Dr. Harvey. “However, if you have broken skin from an injury or eczema, for example, you may be at risk for developing an infection.”
While mud baths are generally safe, try to avoid:
Getting mud in your eyes, nose, ears or mouth
Spas that doesn’t change their mud regularly
Dr. Harvey does not recommend mud baths if you:
Have been drinking alcohol excessively
Have many skin abrasions or cuts or suffer from a severe skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis
Have high blood pressure
Take certain medications
It is important to talk to your doctor before trying a spa treatment or therapy, especially when heat is involved.
When you go to a spa or resort that offers mud baths, ask:
How often they change the mud
How many people typically use the mud bath at one time
What type of ingredients they use
Are at-home mud baths or products effective?
“Many at-home mud baths and products have additives that can help clarify the skin, temporarily reduce oiliness, and decrease inflammation,” he says. “Check with your physician before using these at-home products to make sure they are right for you.”
Stress reduction for healthy skin
“I work with many of my patients to reduce their stress levels to improve their skin,” says Dr. Harvey.
To reduce stress, he recommends:
Getting enough sleep
Drinking plenty of water
Taking time for yourself through activities such as meditation or yoga, or indulge in a spa treatment like a mud bath, facial or massage (if approved by your doctor)
“When you focus on the basic fundamentals of self-care, you can also improve your skin’s appearance and health,” he says.