The weather is gorgeous, which can mean only one thing: My seasonal allergies are terrible. Combine that with the everyday stress of living in a big city, and I was in need of some assistance, stat. Which is how I found myself lying on a salt beach in the middle of New York City. Confused? Let me explain.
Too much salt with your dinner may be a big no-no, but when it comes to breathing it in, it seems the more, the better. Halotheraphy (aka salt therapy) is a treatment in which you breathe in tiny salt particles to help relieve respiratory and skin conditions like asthma and allergies.
But before you go ahead and take a big whiff of your French fries in the pursuit of health, we should mention that a halotherapy session involves sitting in a special room filled with grains of a specific type of rock salt (usually pink Himalayan) while even more salt crystals are pumped into the air by a special machine. (So it's not exactly something you can do at home, although pink salt lamps are a new decor trend.)
The idea comes from the many natural salt caves found all over Eastern Europe, where people have been using them to treat various ailments for centuries. But there’s no need to go overseas to reap the benefits, as cities across the country are re-creating these natural caves in serene, spa-like treatment rooms. Which is why I headed to Breathe Salt Rooms in NYC to check it out.
So, how does it work? The idea is that inhaling minuscule salt particles dissolves gunk and mucus in the airways and reduces inflammation in the sinuses. Proponents say that salt therapy can help treat everything from eczema and psoriasis to snoring and sleep apnea. Science says, well, not a whole lot. Researchers don’t necessarily agree with halotherapy claims but they don’t disagree either—mostly because there haven’t been many studies done on the topic.
So, what does sitting in a man-made salt cave feel like? Well, kicking back in a lounge chair, salty air around me and the familiar crunch beneath my bare feet—with my eyes closed, I could have been relaxing at the beach. But even with my eyes open, the dimly lit room and pinkish tones were pretty damn soothing.
I spent a few minutes chilling in the lounge chair (clothes on, but a towel to lie on is recommended since the salt can stain) before going to a bed that offers a more concentrated and private experience (for an extra $5). The bed-slash-glass-chamber felt pretty sci-fi (and kind of awesome), but if you’re claustrophobic, you might want to skip it. And while the droning of the salt-emitting fan was slightly off-putting at first, I quickly got used to the noise and found myself dozing off about halfway through my 30-minute session. When I woke up, my lips tasted slightly salty, but I felt happy and relaxed, which is pretty much what you would expect after napping in a room filled with salt.
Did my allergies disappear? Erm, no. But salt room owners are quick to point out that halotherapy is meant to increase wellness, not cure conditions or illnesses. Translation? Weekly trips should be used alongside other treatments. Personally, I felt ultra relaxed and my skin felt smoother, which was enough to convince me to try it again (even with the $40 price tag). But you know, take that with a pinch of salt.