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This is not the salt room in this story.
This is not the salt room in this story.
Anya Semenoff/Getty

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Salt Rooms Are Fine, I Guess

Salt rooms are meant to help with skin and lung issues, but are they just a fad?

As a Midwesterner, born and bred, I have a special relationship with salt. I grew up eating only corn and french fries and prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella, and I added salt to everything. Once, when I had an undiagnosed intestinal parasite while studying abroad in college, I existed only on salted raw onion chunks for three months straight.

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I now carry a little baggie of Maldon sea salt in my backpack, hoping its European nature will offer a quick zing to the $12 shrinkwrapped hummus sandwiches I and everyone else I know eat for lunch at least four days a week. I love the stuff, plus my parents taught me under the grey Chicago sky that to be a fundamentally good person, one must be salt of the earth.

That’s why when I found myself lying naked in a plexiglass coffin as a sophisticated machine sputtered out microparticles of salt, I thought I’d find the cure to everything that ails me. I couldn’t stop licking my arms.

I thought I’d find the cure to everything that ails me. I couldn’t stop licking my arms.

I went to a salt room, and then a few days later a salt bed inside that salt room, because I suffer from all sorts of mildly troubling stuff: anxiety, seasonal depression, arm eczema, dry skin, acne, compulsive checking behaviors, a sodium-rich diet, excess vanity, addiction to luxury services, propensity for cucumber water, and lack of plans on a Saturday afternoon. I thought salt therapy might take care of some if not all of those problems. I’ll try anything twice.

Salt rooms with salt beds like Breathe Easy, the spa I visited, have been quietly popping up around the country for the past few years. A few trend pieces have called them out as a fad, but people with skin or lung issues have sworn by the miracles of dry salt caves for hundreds of thousands of years. Salt is a naturally anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-infIammatory mineral. Inhaling salt works to clear out lungs for people with illnesses like cystic fibrosis and mitigates colds and seasonal allergies. A halogenerator, or a machine that grinds salt into microparticles, helps with skin issue like psoriasis, eczema and acne. Salt therapy beds like the one I tried have the same function as salt rooms, but allow more privacy in case a customer wants to disrobe to treat skin conditions acutely.

Salt room proponents also claim the salt emits net negative ions, which counteract positive ions emitted from electronics like cell phones and computers. I didn’t completely understand this, and admittedly I did Instagram from inside the salt bed twice in a row using my iPhone. But Lorey Giblin, Breathe Easy’s manager, told me the salt room has the same calming effects as a waterfall, which also emits negative ions. "When you’re at a waterfall you’re serene and relaxed. It’s the same feeling in our salt room," she said. "And yes, it’s probably also because the lights are turned off and you don’t have to worry about anything, but the salts gives that added relaxation."

it's ya girl reporting live from a medium-terrifying coffin-shaped device filled with salt #saltlife

A photo posted by clairey claire Claire Clar (@clocarus) on

Some spas build facsimiles of caves in their salt rooms, but the one I went to was nothing much to look at. It was normal rooms with several inches of imported pink Himalayan sea salt covering the floor, some pink salt blocks affixed to the walls, a partitioned area for the salt bed, and a whirring halogenerator in the corner. I sat in a nylon pool chair and listened to boring Chakra-core music on a borrowed iPod Nano. I felt calm enough, even though I secretly kept checking my phone because I was expecting an email from an Amazon vendor.

During my first time at Breathe Easy, I sat in the salt room for 25 minutes with a blanket over my lap. I tried to recline, but the chair’s feet kept getting stuck in salt. When the concierge came back in the room I thought, "That was it?" Nothing happened.

Giblin said that in the winter, some people come to the salt room two to three times a week for eczema exacerbated by dry air. People fighting colds might come in three to four times a week. I thought I probably needed to try it a second time.

I felt calm enough, even though I secretly kept checking my phone because I was expecting an email from an Amazon vendor.

The next day, as I poured high sodium soy sauce all over some beef and chive dumplings, my colleague told me to go back to the salt room, but this time try the salt therapy bed. Since I’ve never been one to take an underwhelming experience and synthesize it accordingly, I went back the next day. Sessions are typically 20 minutes, but I was the last client of the night and I was told I could take my time. So I did. I quarter-turned my naked body every five minutes so every inch of me reaped the salty benefits. I put my face up to the bed’s mini halogenerator near my feet because salt, while not effective at fighting cystic hormonal acne, fights infections in topical acne. The salt therapy bed also utilizes chromotherapy (or color therapy) technology, which is really just a light bulb that change colors.

When my session was up, I lifted the top of my glass casket, left the salt room, sat in the spa’s complimentary sauna, and took a shower. It was the coldest night since the winter before, and I tried to assess how I was feeling. My face looked as clear and pink as a dry-cured ham, my seasonal sniffles seemed to have dried up, and I could feel my toes for the first time that day.

By the time I got home, I had already looked on Amazon to procure myself a dry salt therapy inhaler for the home. I thought about where I might put it and landed on the windowsill next to my bed, already cluttered with a humidifier and a blue light SAD lamp I’d bought in previous winters with similar hopes for a life change. I went to bed without first participating in my nightly Tinder/Twitter/Instagram scroll parade for the first time in months, in fear of my probably negative ions becoming positive once again. I slept well, only getting up to pee once.

I woke up the same girl, sniffling, blackheaded, and devoted to the internet. I salted the eggs I made for breakfast and checked the weather on my phone, and thought to myself, well, it’s probably too cold to get all the way back to the salt room for the next few months.

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