Get Salty: The Benefits of Halotherapy
Imagine entering a candle-lit chamber that’s comfortably cool and humidity-free—how you wish your house could be in the summer. A backlit wall of Himalayan salt bricks bathes you in a warm, serene glow. In fact, there’s salt on the ground, on the ceiling—and in the air.
You recline in a zero-gravity chair and fill your lungs with that refreshing, salty air, feeling completely relaxed and even euphoric as your body is cleansed, inside and out. No, this isn’t a sacred Tibetan ritual, its halotherapy, a spa treatment that harnesses the medicinal properties of salt to enhance respiratory wellness, heal the skin and improve mood.
Before you reach for that canister of table salt and try to turn your bedroom into your personal salt sanctuary, read on to learn how this alternative treatment works, where it came from and where you can go to experience it for yourself.
What is Halotherapy, Anyway?
Halotherapy is salt therapy (from the Greek word halo, meaning salt). It’s a natural remedy that involves inhaling pharmaceutical-grade dry salt in a comfortable, controlled environment, and is offered at many spas and wellness clinics.
The magic happens in a salt room, which recreates the microclimate of a cave or salt mine. Some even mimic an actual cave or grotto aesthetic. Salt—99.99% sodium chloride, to be specific—is ground by a halogenerator into microparticles and released into this room. You just sit back, relax and breathe it all in for about 30–45 minutes.
Proponents of halotherapy view it as an alternative treatment for:
- Respiratory issues such as allergies, cough, asthma, chronic bronchitis, COPD & cystic fibrosis.
- Skin conditions such as acne, dermatitis, psoriasis & eczema.
- Mood disorders such as depression, anxiety & chronic stress
How Does Halotherapy Actually Work?
We know what you’re thinking: How do fancy salt particles do all that? Well…
Dry salt absorbs allergens, toxins and other unwanted irritants from the respiratory system. It is said to break up and thin out mucus, reduce inflammation and clear the airways while potentially killing bacteria and viruses in the process.
Dry salt particles absorb impurities on the skin in much the same way, regulate its pH level, reduce inflammation and encourage natural exfoliation & regeneration.
Sodium chloride can also convert positive ions into negative ions, which theoretically increases the body’s production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness. Who knew that turning a positive into a negative would feel so…positive?
Where Does Halotherapy Come From?
People have used salts for their anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and immunity boosting properties for centuries. But halotherapy is a modern take on its older cousin, speleotherapy. The main difference between the two is the environment: Speleotherapy (from the Greek word spelaion, which means, cave) takes place underground.
A (very) brief history: In the 1840s, a Polish physician observed that the salt mine workers in the town of Wieliczka had fewer respiratory issues than many of their peers. He attributed this to the salt particles they breathed each day.
Over the next century, underground speleotherapy resorts and even hospitals began popping up all over Eastern Europe. Several exist to this day. The invention of the halogenerator in the early 1980s enabled people to recreate that subterranean climate above ground. Halotherapy, as we now know it, was born.
Dry Methods Vs. Wet Methods
So far, we’ve covered dry halotherapy types—specifically salt rooms—but wet halotherapy methods exist as well. They involve, as you may have guessed, mixing salt with water.
Common Wet Halotherapy Methods:
- Saltwater Gargling: Maybe the simplest of the wet salt methods, and the one your grandpa probably still uses when his allergies act up.
- Nasal Irrigation: Nothing like a stream of salt water shot right into the nasal cavity to clear your sinuses! This is usually done with the aid of a Neti Pot, or similar device.
- Salt Baths & Salt Scrubs: These use specialty bath salts to mimic the properties of natural mineral baths or hot springs.
- Salt Floats: Also called sensory deprivation therapy, salt floats help reduce stress, anxiety & pain, and can also improve sleep.
Some Other Dry Halotherapy Methods:
- Salt Yoga & Meditation: The best of two worlds! Imagine meditating and then hitting that warrior pose, surrounded by Himalayan salt crystals, while dry salt vapor is pumped into the air.
- Himalayan Salt Massage: Himalayan salt massage stones are said to contain 84 different minerals that help exfoliate, hydrate and detoxify the skin.
- Himalayan Salt Saunas: Sweat out those impurities while reducing stress, stimulating your respiratory system and strengthening your immune system.
Are There Risks Associated With Halotherapy?
Doctors say that too much salt is never a good thing, but does the medical wisdom attached to ingesting salt apply to inhaling it, too?
Well, doctors and researchers have only recently begun studying the benefits and potential consequences of halotherapy. Generally, inhaling salt:
- Sometimes irritates the airways—especially of asthma patients
- Can cause cough, shortness of breath and mucus buildup
- Causes headaches for some people
- Is not a replacement for actual medication
Overall, halotherapy is a safe practice. However, if you’re considering it specifically to help treat a chronic health condition, like asthma or cystic fibrosis, consult your doctor first.
Halotherapy is a natural, relaxing and centuries-old therapy method with many benefits. Many view it as an alternative remedy for various conditions, though evidence supporting this is largely anecdotal. Like many wellness methods, halotherapy seems best when used as a complement to a healthy lifestyle and any necessary medications.
So, is living that salt life for you? Only one way to find out.
Quick disclaimer: Licking the walls of a salt room is universally frowned upon.