The popular saying “everything old is new again” has never been more apropos than when applied to salt and spa. Salt, a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride, was used by the ancient Egyptians for trade, medicinal, and religious purposes. But it’s equally impactful today and being “rediscovered” by consumers and spa practitioners alike. From salt rooms and caves to healing Himalayan salt crystals, tools, and beds to treatments and experiences that incorporate salt, this multitasking mineral is certainly having a magical spa moment.
“Salt therapy and salt rooms have been around for many years—as with so many developments in the salon and spa industry, trends like this seem to come in waves, each time bringing new findings, research, and ingredient technologies with them,” says Sue Harmsworth, founder and chairman of ESPA International.
When you consider its myriad benefits and functions, it’s not surprising this mineral has been rediscovered. “Basic physiological functions depend on a balance between salts and liquids in the body,” says Sofia Benke, owner of The Salt Cave. “If you have a sore, itchy throat or a toothache, just gargle with warm saltwater. If you have muscle pain, then have an Epsom salt bath. So what’s the magic? It is simple, affordable, and it is proven to work in any shape and form.”
Salt Rooms & Caves
One of the most noteworthy uses of salt nowadays comes in the form of salt rooms and caves that incorporate halotherapy, or dry salt therapy. While this type of service is not particularly new on the global stage, it is certainly creating buzz in America and beyond. “For decades, dry salt therapy has been a modality in Eastern Europe, used for a variety of respiratory and skin conditions, as well as for beauty rituals and improving athletic performance,” says Leo M. Tonkin, CEO of Salt Chamber and cofounder and chairman of the Salt Therapy Association. “In the U.S., we are seeing the pendulum swing toward a more health-conscious society, where wellness is playing a big role in everyday lives. The salt therapy industry is seeing accelerated growth, because more and more people are becoming aware of and benefiting from dry salt therapy.”
A halotherapy salt room generally incorporates untreated sodium chloride. According to Benke, a salt generator micronizes the salt and then releases it into the room. The particle size and concentration are then carefully monitored, and adjustments are made in real time to ensure maximum benefits. And the benefits are certainly plentiful, both internally and externally. “When it is inhaled, the dry salt acts like a sponge, absorbing all the mucus, pollen, allergens, and foreign toxins that may be in the respiratory system,” says Tonkin. “Dry salt therapy also impacts bacterial and viral infections that cause similar symptoms, such as coughing, inflammation, and fatigue—all of which are the ways the immune system tries to rid the body of infectious organisms. It is also anti-inflammatory, so people with restricted airways, such as those who experience symptoms of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), find tremendous relief.”
Benke says that sodium chloride particles have a beneficial influence not only on the respiratory system but also on the integumentary system (skin, hair, nails, glands, and nerves), providing healing and cosmetic effect. “Salt microparticles inhibit the growth or reproduction of bacteria, reduce swelling, and ease inflammation. The therapy results in pH normalization and better skin microcirculation.” Additionally, the salt penetrates deeply into the epidermal layers of the skin and absorbs any excess oils, which allows accelerated cellular growth of skin cells and improves skin rigidity, says Tonkin.
Also making mineral headlines is Himalayan salt, which is mined from the Khewra Salt Mines in Pakistan, situated at the foothills of the Himalayas, a mine that dates back to the 13th century. According to Benke, Himalayan salt includes transparent, white, pink, red, and dark red salt crystals and contains 84 minerals that are necessary for our health, including macrominerals and trace minerals.
“Himalayan salt, especially when heated, releases negative ions around its surface,” says Tonkin. “While we mostly are being bombarded with positive ions from computers, wifi, and electricity around us all of the time, it is the negative ions that alter the air around us to provide a more stress-free environment. That is why so many of today’s modern salt rooms utilize Himalayan salt for a decor and architectural element.” Plus, as Harmsworth points out, “its beautiful pink or reddish hue makes it especially attractive, which, along with the therapeutic benefits, is perfect for a spa environment.”
Soaks, Scrubs, and More
The story of salt goes well beyond the Himalayan variety. From head-to-toe, from sea salt to Epsom salt, and from scrubs to soaks, it’s an ideal ingredient for countless spa products. Harmsworth points out that adding Epsom salts to a warm bath soothes aching muscles while also removing impurities and toxins from the body and helping to rebalance and detoxify. Steaming skin with saltwater prior to exfoliating enhances the effects by opening pores, and salt-scrub exfoliation removes dead, dull skin cells to leave smooth, even-toned skin and a naturally healthy glow.
“Salt contains numerous beneficial minerals and nutrients that are easily absorbed into the skin,” says Janae J. Muzzy, vice president of research and development for Epicuren Discovery. “It can help the body to detoxify and draw out impurities; be used as an exfoliant to soften and remove dead skin; replenish vital nutrients; help balance the water content in the body; and evoke a sense of grounding. Salt is antibacterial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory. It has also been shown to play a role in supporting the body’s immune system. Salt can be integrated into all elements of the spa.”
One popular way to immerse yourself in salt is via soaks and thalassotherapy. According to Harmsworth, sea salt can boost the production of serotonin and melatonin, which aid in relaxation and improve sleep. It also helps to balance alkalinity in the body, counteracting high levels of acid, and aids healthy cellular function. As such, thalassotherapy pools, baths, and treatments are particularly effective. “Warm water immersion is believed to enable the absorption of seawater minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, calcium sulphates, and sodium, as well as the removal of toxins,” she says. “Thalassotherapy works well as a preparatory treatment before algae wraps and salt scrubs.”
Salt scrubs are also a great way to help achieve glowing, flawless skin on the face and the body. In fact, turning salt into a customized experience is becoming a lucrative way for spas to make an impression. As such, many spas are finding great success with custom-blended scrub bars, like those from Salt of the Earth that incorporate salt from the Great Salt Lake along with signature aromatherapy scents. “People have different tastes, and customization lets people feel special and gives them that experience,” says founder Paul Heslop. “It also lets them take home what they want.
Though salt is truly a universal ingredient, some care should be taken with salt-based services. Those with sunburns, open wounds, infections, or salt allergies should avoid salt-based products, as should pregnant women and those with sensitive skin who are trying to avoid stimulating services. When it comes to salt rooms, Harmsworth says the contraindications are similar to any heat experiences. Salt rooms should not be used by those who are pregnant or feverish; who are on certain medications; or who have an infection, high or low blood pressure, or a heart condition. As with any spa service, anyone who may be concerned should get approval from a doctor.
Still, according to Tonkin, salt therapy is a very safe, natural, and alternative modality for wellness and beauty. “There are no side effects, and it can be used on a daily and frequent basis,” he says. “Some people think that too much salt is bad for you, and while that is true for some digestive systems, dry salt therapy involves the respiratory system and does not affect low-sodium diets.”
via American Spa Magazine.