Given the option, I'll take salty over sweet any day. I routinely over-salt my cooking, have been scolded by my mother for salting food at a restaurant before even tasting it and know all too well what it feels like to have to rub olive oil (and butter in a pinch) on my hands to get a suddenly-too-small ring off after a salt binge. All this is to say I know salt and what it can do to the body when you overdo it.
So when I first read that salt therapy was "the next big thing" in wellness, to say I was skeptical is putting it lightly. We've got sodium warnings on food labels and I'll be damned if I don't read a beauty story every few weeks about how salt is your skin's nemesis when it comes to puffiness and "glow." How could sitting in a room full of salty air possibly be good for anyone?
What is salt therapy, you ask? Basically it's you, sitting in a dimly lit room for an hour, breathing in salt-infused air and letting those salt particles settle on your skin and hair. (Fun fact: Its technical name is halotherapy, which comes from the Greek word halo, meaning "salt.")
Why would anyone do this, you ask? Basically because it promises to detoxify your lungs and nasal passages for easier breathing, purify your skin and alleviate the symptoms of allergies, asthma, and a host of other ailments. Why did I do this, you ask? Basically because it sounded just weird enough to be worth a shot ... and I really like salt.
(Disclaimer: There is very little research to back up the health claims of salt therapy. A 2006 study did find that inhaling salt-infused vapors improved the breathing of cystic fibrosis patients, but as far as recreational use of halotherapy, the evidence is slim.)
Off I went to Breathe Easy in New York City, down a flight of stairs into a subterranean salt wonderland. After being instructed to remove my shoes, I was quietly led into the "salt cave."
A faint pink glow emanated from the dozen Himalayan salt lamps placed around the floor, which, I should note, was covered in pink salt crystals. The walls were made of salt blocks and the vent above my recliner pumped a steady stream of salt air into the room.
I quickly got over the weirdness of sitting in a room made of salt beneath Park Avenue, and started to focus on the crisp, cool, slightly tangy air. If I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, I could almost pretend I was on a beach. After all, isn't ocean air just salt-filled oxygen?
So I sat and I breathed ... and breathed and breathed. Through my nose, through my mouth, through my pores (though not intentionally). Ten minutes in, my nose started to run in a way it hasn't since I was kid who stubbornly refused to blow her nose (a story for another time).
From what I'd read, though, that meant this was working. Those healthy salt ions were getting up into my nasal passages and opening the floodgates of backed-up allergy mucus I'd been sniffling back up for months. A little unpleasant? Sure. But I was breathing better than I had in a long, long time.
After wiping the errant snot off my upper lip, I tentatively stuck my tongue out. In a surprise to no one, the air tasted salty. I licked my lips and off came a thin film of salt. I touched my bare arms and felt a light coating of salt on my skin. Even my phone wasn't spared: The salt particles found their way into my bag and left the screen a little gritty.
When my time was up, I tiptoed out across the salt floor, gave my nose one serious blow and emerged back into the non-ionized daylight air. Naturally, my nose continued to run for another few hours, but I can't say I hated the feeling — I got the sense that it was experiencing its own version of a carwash at the hands of the salt air.
I stared really hard at myself in the mirror trying to see if my pores looked any smaller or the pimple trying to push its way out of my cheek was being subdued, but I couldn't see a marked difference.
The verdict is still out on whether my hour in the salt caves did anything for my skin or hair. Maybe if I was a regular visitor, I'd notice a change bigger than temporarily cleared nostrils. But I will say this: Between the mood lighting, sitar music and reclining chair, salt therapy was undeniably relaxing ... And really, what's better for your health than utter relaxation?
Photo Credit: Stocksy, courtesy of Breathe Easy