Can I Take Magnesium Cream or Oil Instead of Pills?

Can I Take Magnesium Cream or Oil Instead of Pills?

19th Feb 2024

Does Topical Magnesium Actually Work?

We all know just how important magnesium is for the processes in our body (if interested, read more about that here).

But what about topical magnesium and is there scientific evidence behind its use?

We’re sure you’ve seen it touted on social media and in ads for its benefits of helping reduce muscle soreness and helping people sleep better. You’ve probably seen claims like ‘magnesium cream for sleep’ and ‘magnesium cream for pain.’

Oral magnesium supplementation, such as magnesium glycinate, has been studied in detail for its effectiveness. Transdermal magnesium, such as a magnesium topical spray, magnesium creams, magnesium flakes and magnesium salt baths, has recently been marketed as a replacement for oral magnesium, but currently, there is no significant evidence for this, so don’t fall for the ads!

What is Topical Magnesium Used For?

Topical magnesium is often used for magnesium to be absorbed directly into the skin and it’s marketed as having fewer side effects on the body as it doesn’t travel through our gut.

That being said, our skin has a protective barrier to protect it from ultraviolet radiation, chemicals, allergens and microorganisms, and to prevent moisture and nutrient loss. Due to this, what can be absorbed into our skin is limited. Our skin has multiple layers, once you bypass sweat glands and hair follicles, which means topical supplements must be lipophilic substances to bypass these.

It's similar to the topical collagen discussion — collagen needs to be in the form of collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen to be absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract or our skin’s upper layers as it’s too large of a molecule. Even then, it cannot penetrate fully.

Which Magnesium is Best for Topical Use?

Magnesium chloride is the type of magnesium often found in topical magnesium, with, topical magnesium oil made from mixing magnesium chloride flakes and water that result in a liquid that feels oily (it’s not actually an oil).

A review of topical magnesium studies actually found that you should not take magnesium chloride solution as topical magnesium as the magnesium is in an ionized form, meaning it cannot penetrate the lipophilic layer of our skin.

One small study found that topical magnesium chloride on the arms and legs of those with fibromyalgia reduced symptoms, such as pain, but more research is needed to replicate these results.

Topical Magnesium Benefits

Topical magnesium is touted as being more effective and faster absorbing than oral magnesium, but there is no scientific evidence to back up these claims. While they may seem like a better form to take for those who struggle to swallow pills, at this stage, if you’re low in magnesium, a tablet or eating more foods high in magnesium is what your doctor will recommend.

If you experience stomach problems and diarrhoea from magnesium, try taking gentler forms, such as magnesium glycinate, magnesium malate and magnesium taurate. Magnesium oxide, the most common form found in stores, is one you should not take due to the body being unable to absorb it well and it having laxative effects.

Further Reading:The Different Forms of Magnesium

Where is the Best Place to Apply Topical Magnesium?

As dead cells of our upper skin layer are not great for magnesium to absorb through, magnesium absorption may only be possible through sweat glands and hair follicles, so if you want to know where to spray magnesium oil for anxiety, start here. Keep in mind that these areas only make up 0.1 to 1 per cent of the skin’s surface and the amount needed to be absorbed is difficult to achieve through these areas.

Can You Use Too Much Topical Magnesium?

There is no dosage for topical magnesium, just simply don’t exceed the upper limit of magnesium daily, which is 400 to 420mg for men and 320 to 360mg for women. Topical magnesium isn’t harmful, but it probably won’t do much for you.

To test whether you will experience topical magnesium side effects, test it out on a small patch of skin to see if you have a reaction. For example, if you experience a stinging or a burning sensation, don’t use it further. A skin irritation is the most common side effect found.

End Note

Larger studies of topical magnesium still need to be made to determine whether this form of magnesium can improve magnesium levels in the body. At this stage, there is no significant evidence to suggest magnesium creams or oils are better than oral magnesium to improve magnesium levels.

Talk with your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet.