Is a Salt Spa the Secret to Breathing Easier This Cold Season?
By Lauren Lipton
Last week, just before my stuffy head had a chance to graduate into a full-on cold, I headed to the Park Avenue spa where I go for massages. This time, though, I checked into a room with salt-coated walls and floor, lay back on a chaise, and took a briny inhale.
Halotherapy, the practice of breathing dry, salt-saturated air, is undergoing a revival, with fans claiming it can soothe inflammation, calm allergies, and flush away germs. Jaycee Gossett, an instructor at the Tribeca exercise studio The Class, has recently become a convert. “It draws out anything that is an irritant to the body,” she says. “You walk out of a session and you think, ‘Wow. This is what it’s like to take a full breath.’ ” Last summer, visitors to the new Montauk Salt Cave in the Hamptons, made of salmon-colored Himalayan salt imported from Pakistan, included Debra Messing. “I definitely felt different afterward,” the actress says. “My breathing was clearer. I was relaxed.”
The wellness-promoting power of a salty room dates to the mid-19th century, when a physician in Kraków, Poland, noted the respiratory health of workers in a nearby salt mine. The flowering of salt-chamber treatment centers that followed remains alive in Eastern Europe. Here, new facilities are opening across the country, from Breathe Easy in Manhattan to the Los Angeles Athletic Club to Canyon Ranch in Las Vegas.
Salt caves themselves have not been reliably studied in the U.S., though medical research shows that inhaling salt can improve the lung function of people with cystic fibrosis, as well as ease smoking-related symptoms such as coughing. The treatment rooms rely on a halo generator, a machine that grinds salt into a superfine powder and wafts it into the air. Norman H. Edelman, M.D., the American Lung Association’s senior scientific adviser, suggests that the salty air draws moisture from the bloodstream into the airways, temporarily thinning any mucus, so you breathe easier for a time. (Still, people with medical conditions such as heart problems or high blood pressure should skip it, Edelman warns.)
As for my burgeoning cold, I spent 25 minutes breathing (and dozing) in a high-salinity environment—and sure enough, that cold never materialized