Why Does Topical Magnesium Sting!

Why Does Topical Magnesium Sting? - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Magnesium is one of the most important minerals when it comes to sport performance. It plays a fundamental role in optimal muscle contraction, skeletal strength and energy production, as well as helping to sustain the high oxygen consumption that we need to perform. A growing number of studies suggest that magnesium is most effectively absorbed when applied to the skin (something called transdermal absorption) in comparison to taking it in pill or capsule form orally. That sounds really nerdy doesn’t it! Well let’s put it this way, applying a magnesium oil or gel to your legs will help you recover more quickly that popping a magnesium supplement each day. But there is one major drawback…IT STINGS LIKE HELL.

Why Does Topical Magnesium Sting? - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

For ages I thought that it was just me who felt like their legs were on fire after applying magnesium, but chatting with other runners (which is pretty much all I do these days) I discovered that a lot of people have had the same experience, and it’s really putting them off doing something that’ll really benefit their bodies. Being someone whose job is essentially to ask ‘why’ a lot I really wanted to understand why topical magnesium stings so much, and whether there was anything I could do to stop the stinging, so I reached out to the team at BetterYou to ask some questions.

Why Does Topical Magnesium Sting? - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

According to NPD Executive and Nutritional Expert, Keeley Berry, high dose magnesium can sting because it’s highly concentrated salt and it’s absorbed super quickly. While this has huge benefits when it comes to helping you recover, it can also mean that you’re left with a bit of residue on your skin which can cause some itching, especially if you’ve got sensitive skin (hands up!). Stinging or burning could also be a sign of magnesium deficiency, and when the skin is exposed to topical magnesium it can cause the blood vessels underneath the skin to dilate very quickly. This is because magnesium is a natural vasodilator and can cause the capillaries to increase in blood flow, also causing a tingling warming effect.

So that’s the science explaining why topical magnesium can sting, but what can you do about it? Here’s a few suggestions:

  • it’s always better to apply little and often to a larger surface area, especially if you’re just starting out with a magnesium oil.

  • the best way to avoid itchy residue to to apply gel or oil onto wet skin straight out of the shower. Warm water (not too hot!) helps open up the pores and allows the product to be absorbed more efficiently, especially when massaged into the skin. After a few minutes towel off any residual oil, which should help minimise any itching.

  • Noushii (the bad ass manager at City Athletic) suggests starting with the sensitive oil from BetterYou, it’s just a bit kinder if you have sensitive skin.

  • Try adding magnesium flakes to your bath, I’ve never experienced stinging, and who doesn’t like a good soak?! I like to add a couple of drops of essential oils too, just to make things a bit more lux.

Do you use topical magnesium? Do you find it stings? Any tips I’ve missed to stop the sting?!

* I reached out to BetterYou for comment, I have not received payment and the products features I purchased myself. My shoes were a gift from 361 Europe.

** images: Anna Rachel Photography


The Art of Recovery

I've mentioned before that one of the highlights of So Let's Go Running's fun day was a talk by Ben from Performance Physiotherapy on the art of recovery (and not just because it meant I got to have a sit down post bootcamp!). 

Running is a rough sport, each step you take you load your leg with up to three times your body weight (in my case nearly 170kg!), post run your muscles need to deal with oxygen debt micro traumas, bleeds and blood pooling. Oh and your bones need to go through a rest and repair cycle which reduces the risk of fractures. With all of this going on it shouldn't be a surprise to hear that your body needs time to recover and heal itself to minimise injury and maximise training!

With some new challenges lined up over the next year and a history of minor injury, I want to make sure that I really look after myself so these tips from Ben are invaluable -


Try not to chug your drinks down, go slow and steady and keep drinking regularly in the hours after your race. Water is a great option (I like to add a Nuun tab) and milk is just as good as any of the commercial recovery drinks and is a good option if you can't stomach eating in the golden window (the first 20-40 minutes) post race. 

Ben mentioned that drinking Cherry Active can support recovery. High in antioxidants apparently it can help to reduce soreness and aid recovery. I've not tried Cherry Active, but it sounds like an interesting option, and definitely something I will explore further. 


Immediately post race it doesn't matter so much what you eat as long as you get some calories in you. Of course, you should aim for a good mix of protein/carbs/fats, but ultimately you just need to get something down you. If you really can't face solids milk or hot chocolate are great options.

ice baths

Loved by some, feared by others (me), an ice bath can help deal with micro tears and bleeds and speed up recovery. Ben's advice was to aim for 10 minutes at around 10 degrees Celsius and to fill the bath around you because that it slightly less unpleasant than stepping in to a freezing bath! Maria, the lovely sports massage therapist who heals my legs, advises keeping your top half as warm as possible (jumper, hat etc) and drinking a hot drink while in the bath...I've not tried it, but when I do it should be entertaining!


Popping on compression gear post run can help reduce muscle swelling and pain, speeding up recovery and making life a little more comfortable! Ben's tip was to try and sleep in your compression gear the night after a race (if you can), and not to forget your arms! Again, this isn't something I've tried yet, but I think it could be worth investigating.

sleep and rest

My preferred recovery method! Apparently I am on to something with my fondness for napping - aim for at least 8 hours a night to help your body recovery and limit your running for at least two days after any race over 10k.

limb drainage

Sounds gory, but it's actually getting your legs up in the air (or at least elevated on some cushions) to dissipate blood pooling...i find it pretty relaxing, and it definitely helps my legs to feel lighter!

active recovery

Ben's suggestion was to try and get in 20-30 minutes of light exercise with 24 hours of your race that isn't running - cycling and swimming are great options. This is one I swear by - I know that when I stop moving I seize up and stay that way for days, a shake out makes all the difference! 

So, I am no expert, and while Ben is an expert, these are just generalised tips that might or might not work for you....how do you recover post run?