My grandmother always used to say that salty sea air could cure nearly any ailment. Those who frequent salt rooms would likely agree with her.
Because salt is a natural disinfectant with preserving and antibacterial properties, it has been used in medical practices for hundreds of years according to a review published in the Environmental Engineering and Management Journal. Even today, you probably participate in some form of wet salt therapy without knowing it. Whenever you gargle with salt water, use saline to clean your nose, or exfoliate with a salt scrub, you’re engaging in a form of wet salt therapy.
Dry salt therapy, which is also known as halotherapy, is a little less common—and less understood. It typically involves dispersing small particles of salt into the air, allowing people to breathe it in. The most common forms of halotherapy involve salt beds and salt rooms.
But why is halotherapy so popular? And is it even effective?
Where It All Began
Centuries ago, according to the same piece in the Environmental Engineering and Management Journal, people believed that natural salt caves in Eastern Europe had healing properties. Salt rooms first appeared in Eastern European countries and Russia where they were designed to serve as simulations of these salt caves. Over the past decade salt rooms (and salt therapy treatments), have been popping up in other parts of the world.
Salt rooms often feature salted floors, pretty salt crystals, and ambient lighting, but according to the Salt Therapy Association—a nonprofit that promotes salt therapy use, research, and standards—the real healing possibilities come from machines called halogenerators. Halogenerators crush salt into micro-particles and disperse them into the air, replicating the air quality and conditions of a natural salt cave.
You might come across salt rooms that don’t include halogenerators, though. These rooms may be decorated with Himalayan salts or Dead Sea salts. While these rooms are often relaxing and beautiful to the eye, many of the physical health benefits associated with dry salt therapy require halogenerators.
The bottom line: Salt rooms with halogenerators are more effective if you want to reap the full benefits of halotherapy.
Are the health claims legitimate?
Salt rooms are allegedly useful in treating a range of respiratory and skin conditions. This can include acne, eczema, psoriasis, asthma, allergies, persistent coughs, sinus issues, and lung diseases like emphysema and pneumonia.
That said, many people—including medical professionals—are skeptical about whether salt rooms are truly beneficial for people’s health. Although there’s controversy surrounding the evidence that supports the validity of salt therapy, there are a few studies that have shown promising results.
One study looked at the effects of halotherapy on patients with various respiratory diseases. It found that most participants’ symptoms improved after 10 to 20 one-hour salt therapy treatments. Another study suggests halotherapy can help those with chronic bronchitis, and another suggests it can help asthmatics who struggle with their symptoms during the night. A 2017 study noted that halotherapy seemed to help asthmatic children between the ages of 5 and 13, although the researchers also noted that more long-term studies would be helpful. Most of the studies indicate that benefits are only seen after multiple salt therapy sessions.
According to the Salt Therapy Association (STA), salt rooms are safe for children, but those who are pregnant or nursing should consult their doctors before trying halotherapy. The STA website also doesn’t recommend halotherapy for those who have “contagious diseases, fever, open wounds, cancer, severe hypertension, mental disorders [or] active tuberculosis.” That said, the available research doesn’t indicate that there are many side-effects associated with halotherapy.
Remember that salt therapy is meant to be a complementary practice. It’s not meant to replace medicine or medical attention, so if you’re trying to treat a specific condition it’s always best to talk to your doctor directly.
What to Know Before Your First Salt Therapy Session
If you’re keen to try out salt therapy, there are a number of wellness spas that offer salt rooms or salt beds.
Salt rooms include other participants while salt beds are private. Salt beds are specifically recommended for those who want to treat skin conditions, especially because you can strip down to your swimsuit, allowing the salt to come into contact with your skin. If you’re entering a salt room, comfortable clothes are ideal. While you’re usually not allowed to wear shoes in the salt room, you will be encouraged to wear socks or foot covers.
The price depends on the spa you visit, but most single sessions cost between $35 and $60. Many spas offer bundle packages for multiple therapy sessions.
Since the relaxation aspect of the salt rooms are often emphasized, participants are discouraged from bringing cellphones into the room. Most spas also prohibit you from bringing any food or water into the salt room, but you could keep a bottle of water in your backpack for hydration after the session.
During the session, you might sit back and relax in a comfortable chair. You’re encouraged to breathe deeply or meditate during this time. Some spas even offer meditation or yoga classes in their salt rooms.
Salt has been used by humans for a range of ailments for centuries, so it’s no surprise that we’d want to be surrounded by beautiful and potentially healing salt crystals. While more research into halotherapy is needed, it’s definitely a trend worth trying.