Julie Vuong looks at our growing appetite for salt-based therapies
If there’s one superfood worth trying this year, make it salt. Yes, the humble ingredient, more commonly found gracing our tabletops, is experiencing a resurgence as more people discover its reputed health and beauty benefits.
Natural salt, which is laden with potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium, is a mineral essential to the human body and boasts a rich history in healing. For thousands of years many have heralded it as a ‘miracle cure’ for illness and disease.
It goes way back to ancient Chinese civilisations who found salt had a positive effect on health. Since then salt caves, salt rooms and salt-infused products have been popularised as a natural method to curing many common health concerns, especially respiratory problems.
Now the benefits of salt are being embraced by a whole new generation of beauty lovers, keen to try dedicated salt therapies that are springing up across the world.
So, how does it work? Reproduced or simulated salt caves – also called halotherapy – involve breathing in tiny particles of sodium chloride which is pumped into the room through a diffuser. The air clears out inflammation and bacteria and shifts mucus from the lungs and sinuses. Walls and floors are covered with salt, which helps to keep the environment sterile while absorbing moisture from the air.
More than folk tradition is behind the salt therapy resurgence. The positive effects of salt are backed up by serious clinical trials and papers. The New England Journal of Medicine in the United States, for example, recognised it to be an effective additional therapy for cystic fibrosis patients. What we’re seeing today though is a growing number of people using simulated salt rooms, or caves, as a complementary wellbeing method.
One convert is Sarah, a 30-year-old from Kent, who suffered from mild respiratory difficulties. “As soon as you walk in the cave you notice a difference. Any breathing discomfort is eliminated,” enthuses Sarah, who continues to take hour-long sessions at the Salt Cave in London. “Living in a city exacerbates my problem. But upon visiting salt caves, I have found a natural alternative to taking conventional medication, which I would normally have turned to. I can now fully breathe.”
Successful cases like Sarah’s can be heard up and down the country. In fact salt therapy has become so popular that it’s tipped to be one of the top spa and beauty trends to watch in 2011.
“The industry is booming,” says Cassandra Cavanagh, Executive Director of SpaFinder Europe, Middle East and Africa. “The health properties of salt first became noticed in the UK and beyond in 2006 when studies began to show that inhaling salt improvedlung function in people with cystic fibrosis and temporarily improved smoking-related symptoms such as coughing and mucus production.” Thanks to studies like these, news of salt’s health properties spread through word-of-mouth, leading to the birth of many dedicated centres, which are now flourishing.
“The first dedicated salt cave was opened in London in 2009 by Hungarian Sofia Benke,” Cavanagh continues, “who launched another site in Tunbridge Wells recently, and there are now salt therapy rooms, treatments and centres popping up all over the UK. The Chester Grosvenor Hotel has a salt grotto and Lifehouse, a new spa in Essex, also has a salt inhalation room.”
According to salt expert Sofia Benke, she launched the Salt Cave brand to tackle a surge in health problems in the UK. “By the end of the 20th century the number of cases involving asthma, allergies and other respiratory illnesses experienced an explosive growth, mainly due to the spreading of the ‘western lifestyle’,” she says. “As London is one of the most polluted cities in Europe, every one out of three people suffers from an allergy and one of 13 adults is diagnosed with asthma. This has huge financial as well as health costs. The NHS, for instance, spends £1,500 million on treating this each year.”
Salt is the cornerstone of many skincare philosophies. “Salts, and specifically Dead Sea salts, have a very high mineral content and have been renowned for centuries for their therapeutic benefits,” observes Kate Bunyan, marketing director of Spa Find, which supplies a wide range of natural-based beauty care products.
“Bathing in Dead Sea salt water has an amazing healing effect due to the antibacterial, antiseptic and anti-fungal properties of these minerals. For many years the only salt bathing options were travelling to the Dead Sea itself or one of the many health spas with healing waters across Europe. Nowadays salt comes in a variety of easy-to-use formats to recreate a healing spa experience in the comfort of your own home.”
“The composition of seawater, which is rich in salt, shows an incredible likeness with our own inner environment,” adds head trainer for Thalgo, Deborah Clarke. “In 1904, a biologist René Quinton proved the existence of physiological identity between sea water and human blood plasma. This discovery led him to say ‘our body is but a sea aquarium in which several billion cells bathe’.”
Salt – or sea salt in particular – is commonly used as an effective body exfoliator, bath soak, cosmetics and even deodorant. The difference with sea salt, as opposed to table salt, is it’s a natural mineral, not processed, therefore without any impurities. By simply running salts into a bath, it’s said to be a great stress reliever, helping to ease common aches and pains and reduce swelling. It does this by absorbing the natural minerals and vitamins, which in turn reduces fluid retention and increases blood circulation. What’s more, salt is also good for strengthening bones and nails, energising the body and bolstering the immune system.
Experience the power of salt with this trio of treatments
Salt Cave, London and Kent
Now the benefits of salt are being embraced by a new generation
Held in a speleoclimatic chamber (a simulated salt environment), you can relax for an hour in the microclimate dry-salt enriched air, which is dispersed into the room. Simply sit back and breathe normally while listening to a selection of soothing music – the results for overall health are said to be instant.
Thalgo Ocean Memory Ritual at Eden Hall Day Spa, Staffordshire
Based on the natural reserves of the sea, Thalgo Ocean Memory harnesses marine ingredients, including salt, to cleanse, tone and moisturise the skin. It’s a four-part ritual that mimics the evocative beauty of the sea through smell, taste and touch.
Pomegranate Salt Scrub at The Porchester Spa, London
At one of the country’s oldest spas you can experience a range of salt-based beauty therapies including a fruity pomegranate exfoliation. Laden with powerful antioxidants to fight skin damage, your body will also be soothed with anti-inflammatory oils of geranium.
The history of salt caves
Cassandra Cavanagh explains the rich heritage of immersive salt therapies.
“Salt-filled environments take their inspiration from the salt caves and spas that originated in Eastern Europe more than 200 years ago. There are more than 1,000 natural salt areas in Poland, Russia, the Dead Sea, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Romania, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Ukraine.
They have been used for years to cure chronic nasal and airway diseases. Patients with respiratory illnesses would routinely be sent to sit in the caves and inhale the saline vapours as part of their treatment. The salt’s antiinflammatory and antiseptic properties would cleanse and calm the chest and lungs.
Salt therapy can be used to alleviate the symptoms of asthma, emphysema and other bronchial diseases as well as skin complaints such as psoriasis and eczema. Expect to hear more about salt caves when the hayfever season hits – it is proving popular as an alternative to traditional antihistamines.”
Get a beauty boost from these seductive salt treats
Spa Find Dead Sea Bath Salts, £7.15 Dissolved in bath water, these hydrating and healing salts can help to improve conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and arthritis. The salts contain 21 beneficial minerals and are known for their curative and therapeutic properties. Ideal after long periods of fatigue, they are antiinflammatory, anti-bacterial and antiseptic.
Origins Salt Rub, £25 Featuring a combination of sea salts, macadamia oil, soybean oil, kukui nut oil and sweet almond oil, this scrub will bring new life to dry, dull skin. The invigorating aromas of spearmint and rosemary lift the spirits for an all-over glow.
Ahava Mineral Salt Soap, £5.40 Wash away grime and impurities with Ahava’s rich mineral bar. Made to work with the skin’s natural pH balance, it provides the dual-action benefits of cleansing and conditioning. Simply lather up liberally and wash off for smooth, clean, supple skin.
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