I love salt. Like, I love, love salt to the point where I’ll put it on just about anything—popcorn, margaritas, fruit, you name it (yes, my sodium levels are probably crazy high, but hey). I’m such a staunch salt supporter in the sweet or salty debate that I’d gladly swim in a pile of salt if given the chance. So when I heard about dry salt therapy, the beauty treatment that literally immerses you in a salt-filled room to give you perfect skin, I immediately volunteered to try it.
The treatment basically involves you sitting in a climate-controlled room that has pink salt covering the ceiling, walls, and floors (think: a cave of salt), while a special machine pumps micro-salt particles through the air. The goal is to use salt’s natural antibacterial properties to “cleanse” your skin and respiratory system, giving you relief from sinus issues, acne, eczema, and asthma. At least, that’s what the claims say.
Yes, salt therapy sounds like one of those crazy holistic spa treatments that you hear about on Reddit at 3 a.m., but it’s not as out-of-this-world as you’d think, especially considering the history of dry salt therapy stems back to the salt mines and caves in Europe and Russia in the 1800s. As miners hammered the salt, micro-sized salt particles dispersed into the air, improving the miners’ skin and respiratory performances. Allegedly, of course; I haven’t managed to track down any salt-mine workers from the 19th century, unfortunately, but I’ll take the anecdotal evidence if there’s even a chance it’ll make my oily skin look better.
So I went and tested the therapy out. But instead of inhaling chiseled salt particles found Eastern European caves, I sat in a room at Breathe Salt Rooms in New York City, inhaling pharmaceutical-grade sodium chloride that was ground into particles smaller than hair follicles using a device called a halogenerator. Sexy, right?
But despite my love of bizarre wellness treatments (go ahead; ask me about my chakra healing and love of mushroom coffee), I was still skeptical as I waited for my appointment. Would salt-infused air really be a game-changer for my skin, or was the whole thing just an overhyped gimmick? If you ask Leo Tonkin, the (totally biased) CEO of Salt Chamber Inc, then yes, salt therapy really was about to change my life. “Dry salt is super absorbent, so the small particles can sink into your skin’s epidermis and absorb the oils that cause acne, as well as reduce the frequency of psoriasis and eczema outbreaks that are often caused by inflammation,” he says.
Uh, all of that sounds excellent…if it’s true. So I got a second opinion from Jane Guiltinan, ND, the (unbiased) dean of the School of Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, for her take on the salt-therapy trend, and, to my surprise, she actually echoed Tonkin’s facts. According to Guiltinan, the pure sodium chloride used in modern dry salt therapy acts like an astringent and anti-inflammatory, meaning it pulls gunk from the skin’s protective layer while alleviating some skin conditions.
That was enough proof for me. So I headed off to Breathe Salt Rooms, where owner Ellen Patrick guided me through the whole process, which wasn’t really a process at all since you basically just relax in a room for 30 minutes doing absolutely nothing except marveling at the walls, ceiling, and floor, which are made entirely out pink salt. If that sounds overwhelming, know that it’s not like you’re standing in a salty snow globe with flakes flying at your eyes. Though my black pants and shirt got a nice white dusting, and I could taste traces of salt in the air, the halogenerator grinds the salt so finely that I didn’t even notice a difference until I left the treatment room. Plus, any of the initial weirdness was worth it, since walking barefoot on a beach of salt was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
Though I didn’t test them out, there are also special salt beds at Breathe Salt Rooms that are used to address specific skin concerns, like acne and dry patches. Unlike in the treatment room, where guests stay clothed, the individual salt chambers allow guests to lie partially naked while being treated with a stronger, more concentrated dose of sodium chloride. I felt a little too claustrophobic inside the chamber, though, so I stuck to the salt room.
Even though you only get to sit in the salt room for 30 minutes (which felt way too short, in my opinion), I was surprised to find that even in that small amount of time, my skin looked noticably better after I emerged. Not only did the oily patches around my nose disappear by the end of my session, but my face also felt way smoother than before, which is surprising, since I didn’t even touch it.
As fun as it was, though, I’ll admit that the results weren’t anything to brag about. The whole experience made me feel like I had discovered some secret underground beach in New York City, which always feels cool, but I can’t say it would be worth the $35 it costs for a single room session—especially since I could have gotten the same results from a few blotting sheets and a face mask.
Of course, this is one of those times where I feel the need to point out that every person is different, results may vary, try it at your own risk, etc. Patrick (of course) agrees. “Some people notice a difference after one session, while others may take multiple sessions to feel the benefits,” she says. “For those with serious symptoms and issues, multiple treatments may be required for long-term results.”
Still, salt-therapy enthusiasts do swear by salt treatments for curing their skin conditions, and even dermatologists admit to salt-therapy’s non-invasive appeal. “Dry salt therapy has no serious side effects, whereas some medications for skin conditions can cause unwanted issues for some patients,” says Brian Zelickson, dermatologist and founder of MD Complete. Basically, salt-therapy treatments could be an ideal natural approach for you, especially if you’ve been struggling with troublesome skin with no noticeable results.
And, hey, even if you don’t notice any major, magical skin changes from a few sessions, at least you’ll get a really cool Instagram out of it, right? That’s pretty much all we can ask for in 2016, anyway.