Dried salt covers the floor and walls of the Salt Suite treatment room. Photo provided
By Paula Detwiller
What do the words “salt therapy” bring to mind? A handful of salty chips? An exfoliating foot scrub? A salt-rimmed margarita at the end of a trying day?
All valid interpretations. But if you follow health and fitness trends, you might also recognize salt therapy as a nonmedical treatment for easing respiratory and skin conditions — one that’s been practiced for centuries in eastern Europe and is now catching on in the U.S.
Salt therapy, also known as halotherapy, involves breathing air infused with microscopic particles of mineral-rich salt. It’s based on early European observations that people who spent time in salt mines and natural salt caves suffered fewer respiratory problems than the general population. Today, doctors in Europe send patients to natural salt caves — or salt rooms designed to mimic the caves — for relief from asthma, bronchitis and allergies, as well as skin ailments such as eczema.
South Florida’s first salt therapy spa, the Salt Suite, opens this month at 3100 S. Federal Highway in Delray Beach. Owners Elliot and Jessica Helmer of coastal Delray were kind enough to give me a tour and a trial session. It would be a good test; I was recovering from a head cold that had plugged up my sinuses.
My first question for the Helmers: How is this different from sitting at the beach?
“Salt air at the beach has a lot of moisture, so the salt can only reach your upper airways,” Elliot says. “Our salt room is dry, so the salt penetrates deep into your lungs. Also, we use Dead Sea salt, which has healing minerals in addition to sodium chloride.”
They show me the machine that grinds the salt to the size of 1 to 5 micrometers and gently blows it into the salt room. “This makes the room three times more sterile than an operating room,” says Jessica. “The dry salt aerosol is pulled across the room and out. Never recycled. It’s a pure, anti-bacterial environment.”
She opens the door. I step into a white salt “sandbox” with salt-coated walls, white leather recliners, dim lights and meditative music. Settling into a recliner, I close my eyes and inhale deeply. The air has no smell or taste.
I sense a mild stinging in the back of my throat, like when a little ocean water gets up your nose. I decide it’s a good thing. I ponder what Elliot told me about cyclists in Canada who visit salt rooms to clear out their lungs the day before a big race. And how insurance companies in Russia cover the cost of salt therapy — unlike U.S. health insurers.
A 45-minute session at the Salt Suite costs $45 for adults and $35 for children, who use a smaller, toy-filled salt room. The facility also has a dry-salt-aerosolized yoga room.
“We’re not doctors,” Elliot says. “We’re here to provide an alternative treatment that will give people relief from their symptoms.” Because salt therapy can boost the immune system, the couple hopes their new business will help people save money on costly prescription medications.
Driving home, I realize my sinuses are clear for the first time in a week. I can breathe easily and fully. The dry salt air seems to have nudged my cold away.
Paula Detwiller is a freelance writer and lifelong fitness junkie. Find her at www.pdwrites.com.