Skin-healing powers of the Dead Sea

May 1, 2005

National report — Ironically, the very properties of the Dead Sea that kill fish and other wildlife offer psoriasis suffers and people with other chronic health conditions significant healing powers.

Nestled between Jordan and Israel, the Dead Sea has about 10 times the salinity of the oceans. People from around the world travel to the Dead Sea to bathe in its water and to cover themselves with its mud to relieve symptoms of skin conditions, including psoriasis and eczema, as well as rheumatoid arthritis, cardiac disease, respiratory illnesses and more.

Of all the diseases, the Dead Sea's therapeutic effects are most studied in the area of psoriasis, says Jeffrey Altman, M.D., assistant professor at Rush Medical College in the department of dermatology and a practicing dermatologist in Arlington Heights, Ill.

The Dead Sea difference The sea's water is about 40 percent magnesium chloride salt.

"The water is very pure of contamination because of its isolated location with minimal sources of input," Dr. Altman says. "We know that bathing in the Dead Sea works for psoriasis, from both modern and ancient experience. It was known in the time of Cleopatra that it had healing properties. And throughout the ages, people with psoriasis knew they could get better from a stay at the Dead Sea."

Theoretical evidence also suggests that the higher atmospheric pressure in the Dead Sea has almost the effect of hyperbaric oxygen, Dr. Altman says.

"We know that phototherapy has a variety of effects on inhibiting inflammation in the skin and affects the epidermis by minimizing excessive proliferation of the skin that occurs in psoriasis," he says. "There are a variety of theories about the Dead Sea salt bathing; namely, its inhibitory effects on neutrophils and an immunomodulatory effect on lymphocytes. The high salt concentration of the Dead Sea can also make the skin more photosensitive, so that the phototherapy is more effective."

Even the UV therapy on the beaches surrounding the Dead Sea has special properties associated with being more than 1,300 feet below sea level.

"The ultraviolet," Dr. Altman says, "gets 'tweaked' through more layers of atmosphere by being well below sea level. The Dead Sea is at the lowest spot on earth. We know that helps to filter some of the shorter UV bands. So you tend to have a more pure spectral array of UV - just about the right mix of UV that's ideal for psoriasis treatment.

"The beneficial effect of Dead Sea climatotherapy for dermatological diseases, such as psoriasis, eczema, lichen planus and vitiligo has been documented in a multitude of publications and presentations at international meetings over the last 40 years," says Michael David, M.D., clinical professor, Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, and head of the department of dermatology at Rabin Medical Center, Beilinson Campus, in Israel.

"As result of these studies," he says, "it was established that the solar component is strikingly more important than the immersion into the Dead Sea water in the climatotherapeutic effect on psoriasis."

Climatotherapy for psoriasis Dr. David has authored several papers supported by the Dead Sea Medical Research Center. In terms of the effect of Dead Sea climatotherapy on the pathogenesis of psoriasis, Dr. David and colleagues published in 2003 (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology) a study examining the effect of Dead Sea climatotherapy on the pathological changes and immunological activation in psoriatic skin. Twenty-seven patients with psoriasis were treated at the Dead Sea for 28 days. The overall improvement was 81.5 percent. Complete clearance was achieved in 48 percent of the patients, and moderate to marked improvement in 41 percent. There was reversal of both pathological abnormalities and immunological activation, according to Dr. David.