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Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Saturday, August 8, 2015
I lie completely naked under a plastic dome while a tiny machine pumps microscopic particles of pharmaceutical-grade salt into the air. I can't see it or smell it—it's only when I lick my hand and taste the salt film that I'm sure something is happening. It's my first time on a dry-salt bed, but I may be hooked.
While nutritionists pepper us with dire warnings about the health risks of eating too much salt, salt aficionados of an entirely different breed are touting the little crystals as a cure for asthma and allergies, a boost to the immune system, and a way to increase athletic endurance and even to add a glow to your complexion. The secret? Skip the shaker in favor of inhaling the "Salt has incredible qualities," says Ulle Pukk, a cofounder of the Salt Therapy Association. "It's antiviral, antimicrobial, and antifungal." Pukk is at the forefront of a movement that's bringing halotherapy, also known as dry-salt therapy, to America. Already popular in Europe, the treatment utilizes a machine called a halo-generator, which grinds warm salt into breathable particles and dispenses dry-salt aerosol into the air of enclosed rooms, or a salt chamber. "Dry salt goes deep into the recesses of your lungs," she explains. "It absorbs impurities from your body and helps break up mucus so you can cough out toxins. When you have clean lungs, you get more oxygen, which gives you more energy, impacts every organ in your body, and improves overall well-being." There are now more than 150 salt rooms in the U.S. "It's holistic, there are no side affects, and it can address so many different issues," says Ellen Patrick of Breathe Easy spas, which feature salt rooms and salt beds. (Former football pro Tiki Barber salted up at one before running the New York City Marathon.)
Even mainstream doctors see potential benefits. "A lot of patients say it increases exercise tolerance," says pulmonologist Denise Harrison, an assistant professor of environmental medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. She adds, however, that more research is needed to substantiate halotherapy's claims. At Breath Easy's location on Manhattan's Park Avenue, the salt chamber is more luxe waiting room than grotto, with plush lounge chairs for group salting. Each session lasts 45 minutes ($40), and no disrobing is required. "The salt emits negative ions that promote the relaxation response, unlike the positive ions we're exposed to through our cell phones and computers, which agitate the nervous system," says Patrick, The dome-covered salt beds offer a faster, more intense option and expose a lot more skin to salt's exfoliant and antibacterial qualities. After 20 minutes ($40), my skin was indeed lightly salted-and soft. "Benefits have been seen for eczema and acne, and it gives an instant glow," says New York ologist Dendy Engelman.
At New York's La Casa Day Spa, the hot sauna is lined with blocks of Himalayan salt that "strengthen the barrier function of the skin, and the heat helps the negative ions penetrate into your lungs," says owner Jane G, Goldberg. She also recommends an hour in the flotation tub filled with 800 pounds of Epsom salts. "They're a phenomenal healing agent," says Goldberg. "One house in there is like five hours of sleep" ($80 for 60 minutes). Engelman agrees; "Epsom baths help eliminate toxins by pulling them out of the skin and also help relax muscles and relieve pain." After just a couple of minutes in this mini Dead Sea, I found it hard to tell where my body ended and the water began, and even a nagging hamstring began to loosen up. Unfortunately my deep relaxation was marred by an obsessive worry that the salt was detoxing my new highlights. Luckily all I ended up with was major beach hair to go with the just-back-from-vacay calm and a craving for a salted margarita.
This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Harper's BAZAAR.
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