Sea spray is one of the largest natural aerosol sources and plays an important role in the Earth's radiative budget. These particles are inherently hygroscopic, that is, they take-up moisture from the air, which affects the extent to which they interact with solar radiation. We demonstrate that the hygroscopic growth of inorganic sea salt is 8-15% lower than pure sodium chloride, most likely due to the presence of hydrates. We observe an increase in hygroscopic growth with decreasing particle size (for particle diameters <150 nm) that is independent of the particle generation method. We vary the hygroscopic growth of the inorganic sea salt within a general circulation model and show that a reduced hygroscopicity leads to a reduction in aerosol-radiation interactions, manifested by a latitudinal-dependent reduction of the aerosol optical depth by up to 15%, while cloud-related parameters are unaffected. We propose that a value of κs=1.1 (at RH=90%) is used to represent the hygroscopicity of inorganic sea salt particles in numerical models. © The Author(s) 2017.