Are barns about to take the place of luxury spas? Learn about the latest (and strangest) treatment claiming to help with pain relief and skin care.

By Renee Cherry
Updated: May 24, 2018
Photo: Westend61 / Getty Images

Trend forecasters at WGSN (World Global Style Network) have looked into their crystal ball to predict upcoming trends in the wellness space, and one trend it reported is a real head-scratcher. "Hay bathing" made it onto the list of emerging trends in the wellness space, reports Fashionista. Unlike more figurative "baths" such as forest baths or sound baths, hay bathing is just what it sounds like: taking a soak in a wet pile of hay. (FYI, WGSN also called out energy work, salt therapy, and CBD beauty.)

The Hotel Heubad spa in Italy has what it calls "the original hay bath," and says its treatment was inspired by a centuries-old practice. Farmers who cut hay in the Schlern Dolomites region used to sleep in hay to wake up feeling refreshed, says Elisabeth Kompatscher, the hotel's spa manager. The modern version involves spending 20 minutes wrapped in hay and herbs then resting on a lounger for 30 minutes. The aim is to ease joint pain with essential oils in the herbs, which has bonus skin benefits, says Kompatscher. Plus, soaking the hay prior to the treatment means it's not itchy, she says. (Still skeptical on that front, TBH.) She says the treatment is taking off locally with other spas in the region taking notice and offering it to clients. As of yet, it doesn't appear that hay bathing has made its U.S. debut, but it's only a matter of time.

Any evidence that hay bathing can relieve pain is anecdotal, says Scott Zashin, M.D., a rheumatologist and clinical professor at University of Texas Medical School Southwestern. "From what I've read, people think it does help, but as far as I know, there are no clinical studies showing benefits," says Dr. Zashin. Part of the relief people are experiencing could just be because of the warm water used to soak the hay, he adds. So is the doc giving you the go-ahead? Dr. Zashin says he neither recommends nor discourages hay bathing and, in general, he's not opposed to alternative treatments for rheumatic pain. "In conditions such as osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia, where there really aren't medications that slow down or prevent the damage, then we're more open to alternative therapies as a primary treatment modality," he says. (Related: Can an App Really "Cure" Your Chronic Pain?)

As for those skin benefits? Slim to none, according to dermatologist Jeanine Downie, M.D. A restful night's sleep can improve your circulation and boost your endorphins, benefiting your skin, but you're better off catching some zzz's sans hay, she says. If you have eczema or react to essential oils, all the more reason to steer clear, says Dr. Downie. "I would not recommend that people go and lie in wet hay trying to get rest or health benefits, ever," she says, directly.

As bizarre as hay bathing sounds, there is a possibility it can help ease pain, but just don't count on any skin perks. Not planning to hit up Italy any time soon? While you wait for the hay bathing trend to hit the U.S., you can try out myotherapy and infrared saunas for pain relief (and cool AF photos).

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