You’re sitting in a dimly lit room whose walls are lined with backlit chunks of 250,000-year-old pink Himalayan salt rocks from Pakistan. The floor is coated with a layer of crushed white salt with the texture of fine sand. You lean back in a zero-gravity chair as the soothing music drives the day’s worries from your head, and breathe in a fine mist of pure, pharmaceutical-grade salt particles that is being gently blown into the room . . . No, you’re not dreaming. This is what you’ll experience in the salt cave at The Saltz Medical Spa in Greenville, and for many, it’s the ultimate in relaxation.
Salt caves, or rooms, are becoming increasingly popular in the United States, though they have existed in Eastern Europe for more than 150 years. In 1843, Polish doctor Felix Boczkowski was the first to discover the healing effect that the dry, salt-saturated air in the Wieliczka salt mine had on the human respiratory system. As a result, speleotherapy, exposing people to the air in a natural underground salt cave, became the rage in Eastern Europe.
After concluding that dry salt aerosol was the main therapeutic factor in natural salt mines, scientists soon learned to re-create a similar microclimate above ground. They devised machines called halogenerators to blow therapeutic amounts of finely ground salt into a closed room.
“In a natural salt cave, like the one in Salzburg, Austria, there is a constant breeze that blows through the cavern,” explains André Canipe, owner of The Saltz Medical Spa, which he opened with his sister in 2013. The halogenerator at his spa replicates this effect during each 45-minute session.
“There are no blueprints for building a salt cave,” claims Canipe, who spent six months building the cave in his medical spa. Here, the rocks are not glued to the walls with toxic epoxy. Instead, Canipe, with the help of a master carpenter friend, devised a J-channel tracking system to lock the salt rocks securely on the eight-foot-high walls.
Salt reduces inflammation of the respiratory system when it is inhaled. For this reason, halotherapy, using salt vapor, is used to treat asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, allergies, sinusitis, and other respiratory conditions in everyone from infants to adults. Salt’s anti-inflammatory properties also work to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, while the mineral’s negative ions elevate serotonin levels to help relieve stress and headaches. As an added plus, the antibacterial properties of salt render the room sterile.
Anecdotal evidence suggests how well halotherapy works. One gentleman who had been treated for COPD in the hospital claimed he was able to breathe better after several salt-cave sessions at The Saltz spa than he could after oxygen treatments in the hospital. A woman with bronchitis attested that the night after her first treatment in the same salt cave was the first night she hadn’t woken up coughing in three weeks.
Are salt caves a cure? “No,” says Canipe, “but they are certainly a good treatment for a variety of ailments.” Guess that makes halotherapy well worth its salt.