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Spa Trends: Salt

Spa Trends: Salt

From cave to clinic.

Hippocrates treated bronchial and lung disorders with saltwater inhalation. Pilgrims to the Dead Sea have been bobbing in its mineral-rich, super-saturated expanse since biblical times. But the trend of salt spas—entire rooms caked in the stuff—is just taking off, riffing on Eastern European salt caves where microclimates devoid of fungi, bacteria, and allergens and suffused with minerals have been used therapeutically for hundreds of years. The most famous is Wieliczka Salt Mine outside Krakow in Poland. Noticing that miners had markedly fewer lung diseases, a physician founded a spa in the caverns in 1843. Visitors can still book seven-day packages where everything—eating, sleeping, relaxing, physiotherapy—is done 443 feet underground. There?s even a salt cathedral. Known as speleotherapy, it?s been used to treat cystic fibrosis (salt helps dry extra mucus and prevent infections in the lungs), allergies, and asthma, plus skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.

Stateside, the cave concept gets a (sub)urban makeover at Salt Chalet with a doctor?s office?like approach called halotherapy. Founded in Encino, Calif., with franchises popping up in Beverly Hills and Phoenix, Salt Chalet?s rooms feature six-inch-deep crunchy Dead Sea salt floors and crystal-spackled walls, with saltcicles lending an imagineered ice-cave vibe (sans yeti). Crisp, briny air replicates underground temperatures and humidity levels. Patients book 45-minute sessions, strip down to a swimsuit for skin conditions or stay clothed for respiratory ones (booties protect your feet), settle into a lounger, and chill. Watch some TV, read a book, chat, relax, doze. Every few minutes a nebulizer spritzes a cloud of salt. Supposedly salt?s negative ions also bind to excess positive ones in our body, reducing stress. (Go with it.)

Although some doctors recommend you take the claims with a grain of salt, it?s a countrywide phenomenon. Galos Caves, in a staunchly Polish neighborhood of Chicago, goes full-on with faux stalactites and Technicolor illumination, plus thick accents for authenticity. Farther south, Williamsburg Salt Spa in Virginia imported Polish and Pakistani rock salt to turn a brick colonial home into a candlelit pink grotto, while The Salt Room keeps it clinical in Orlando. In Las Vegas, Spa at Aria takes a mod Japanese bent in its Shio salt room, all illuminated salt bricks, salt lamps (those negative ions again), and curvy recliners vibrating in time to world music.

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