Is the Salt Room Therapy Trend Really Worth the Hype?

By Lauren Lipton

Everyone concerned about their health knows to avoid eating too much salt. But what about breathing it?

A new therapy treatment is recommending just that — and promising a host of health benefits in return.

Salt therapy, also known as halotherapy, is a practice that has been around for hundreds of years, beginning in parts of Eastern Europe where people visit natural salt caves and mines to help with everything from asthma and allergies to cellulite and acne. Now, this treatment method has come stateside with a host of salt-spa hybrids.

Even mainstream doctors see potential benefits. “A lot of patients say it increases exercise tolerance,” says pulmonologist Denise Harrison, an assistant professor of environmental medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. She adds, however, that more research is needed to substantiate halotherapy's claims. At Breath Easy's location on Manhattan's Park Avenue, the salt chamber is more luxe waiting room than grotto, with plush lounge chairs for group salting. Each session lasts 45 minutes ($40), and no disrobing is required. “The salt emits negative ions that promote the relaxation response, unlike the positive ions we're exposed to through our cell phones and computers, which agitate the nervous system,” says Patrick, The dome-covered salt beds offer a faster, more intense option and expose a lot more skin to salt's exfoliant and antibacterial qualities. After 20 minutes ($40), my skin was indeed lightly salted-and soft. “Benefits have been seen for eczema and acne, and it gives an instant glow,” says New York dermatologist Dendy Engelman.

Halo/Air Salt Rooms has just opened in New York City, and the spalike center is built from Ukrainian salt mined from nearly 1,000 feet below ground.

Dr. Richard Leinhardt, an ENT specialist and medical director of Halo/Air, tells Marie Claire that the sodium and chloride within salt make it a magic mineral that “can be either ingested, applied topically, or inhaled in the proper quality-controlled concentrations.”

So, how does it work?

You simply relax in one of the salt-covered treatment rooms — the walls and floor are made of sandlike salt, and every few moments, a burst of ionized salt particles is added to the air — for an hour at a time. According to Leinhardt, after just a handful of sessions (they cost $100 each), the salt therapy will improve people's skin by acting like an exfoliant, shedding dead cells and helping to promote healthy oil production. “It's like being at the beach all year long without having to worry about the sun,” he says.

No U.S. studies have been conducted to test the promised benefits, but anecdotal trials suggest that long-term exposure — 10 to 14 sessions a year — can improve existing dermatological disorders, enhance respiratory cleansing, and eliminate the damages of smoking.

Although Halo/Air is planning to open 10 more locations across the nation, those wanting to test the organic beauty benefits of salt can do it in the comfort of their own home.

Carmindy — the makeup artist on What Not to Wear and author of the new book Crazy Busy Beautiful — recommends using salt as a body scrub to eliminate dry, dead skin.

“It's a great antibacterial for acne and can be used in a bath to relax muscles,” she tells Marie Claire, adding that Epsom salt, which contains magnesium chloride, is the perfect natural muscle relaxer. “Just be sure you always moisturize after using a salt scrub or treatment to ensure soft skin that does not get dehydrated.”

This article originally appeared in Marie Claire May 19, 2010