I investigated whether breathing in a room full of Himalayan rock salt can actually boost your mood, clear your stuffy nose, and give your skin a healthy glow.
Photo: beronb/Getty Images
You might think you have it all down pat when it comes to relieving everyday body issues. Headache? Pop an over-the-counter pain pill. Stuffy nose? Slurp some hot soup. But what if there were one thing that could solve all those problems at once?
Halotherapy, also called salt therapy, claims to do all that and more. The treatment essentially involves sitting in a room (often referred to as a salt cave, house, or bath) filled with rock salt and inhaling salty air that's being pumped in by a halogenerator.
While the natural-healing practice has a history rooted in Europe, with some of the earliest known salt caves in Poland, these salt-filled spaces are now popping up in spas and yoga studios. They tout benefits like curing the common cold, decreasing allergy symptoms, detoxifying the lymphatic systems, improving sleep, and alleviating some skin conditions.
Unlike table salt, which is stripped of most of its natural minerals and fortified with iodine, the Himalayan rock salt you'd find in these caves is rich in minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, iodine, bromine, and copper. So, in theory, you absorb these minerals when you breathe the salty air.
Additionally, the negative ions in salt have been said to improve mental health conditions like depression, stress, and anxiety, according to a report published in BMC Psychiatry. These negative ions may also combat the positive ions emitted by computers, TVs, and cell phones, Ellen Patrick, a salt cave yoga instructor previously told us.
Proven science behind salt rooms is a bit lacking. But in an effort to see what the fuss was all about—and hopefully, leave feeling refreshed, breathing deeper, with my skin glowing and energy recharged—I decided to check out a salt cave for myself. So I went to Salt Cave Santa Barbara in California, which boasts 45 tons of pure Himalayan salt covering the walls, ceilings, and floors.
The first thing I noticed when I walked in was that salt caves are *really* pretty. So pretty you might be tempted to disrupt everyone relaxing in there with a flash-on photo. I resisted.
The ground was made up of loose Himalayan salt rocks, the surrounding walls were stacked with Himalayan salt bricks, and salt lamps of varying sizes were tucked into corners and crevices to create an orange glow as the heat from their bulbs encouraged salt microparticles to release into the air. Zero-gravity chairs were set up in a large semicircle allowing you to truly sit back and relax. Blankets were available, but on the 90-degree day that I was there, being in the cool cave felt healing in itself.
The typical salt cave experience is customizable in the sense that when you enter, you are free to roam the space freely, sitting, standing, meditating as you wish. I decided to bury my feet in the salt like sand at the beach and simply enjoy the beauty of the salt bricks. I was definitely enjoying the blissful silence—it was a contemplative experience—but I was also invited to take my salt cave exploration up a notch.
I was offered a private massage in a separate space, which incorporated all of the amenities as the main room—a salt floor, the orange glow from the lamps, and the pretty salt bricks—and I gladly hopped up on the table for a 60-minute deep tissue massage. Altogether, I would say I was in the cave, inhaling the negative ions of Himalayan salt, for almost two hours.
When I left, I felt similar to how I do after a yoga class—a sort of dazed peacefulness. I also noticed that, with it being the day after Thanksgiving and me feeling bloated and drowsy when I first arrived, I now felt lighter on my feet and more awake. The next day, I zipped up the mountain for my morning hike quicker than usual. My breathing felt more natural, and my skin felt squeaky clean and ready to sweat.
Now was this extra pep in my step a coincidence? I mean, self-care after the holidays is sure to make you feel rejuvenated, so it could be that I just needed a nice massage and a zippy hike in the fresh air. But I'm intrigued enough to try it again, because adding salt to the typical pampering tricks, like guided meditation or hot stone massage, seemed to give me the extra boost of relaxation and revitalization I needed.