A Grain of Salt

Salt, a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride, was used by the ancient Egyptians for trade.The popular saying “everything old is new again” has never been more apropos than when applied to salt and spa. Salt, a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride, was used by the ancient Egyptians for trade, medicinal, and religious purposes. But it’s equally impactful today and being “rediscovered” by consumers and spa practitioners alike. From salt rooms and caves to healing Himalayan salt crystals, tools, and beds to treatments and experiences that incorporate salt, this multitasking mineral is certainly having a magical spa moment.

“Salt therapy and salt rooms have been around for many years—as with so many developments in our industry, trends like this seem to come in waves, each time bringing new findings, research, and ingredient technologies with them,” says Sue Harmsworth, founder and chairman of ESPA International.

When you consider its myriad benefits and functions, it’s not surprising this mineral has been rediscovered. “Basic physiological functions depend on a balance between salts and liquids in the body,” says Sofia Benke, owner of The Salt Cave. “If you have a sore, itchy throat or a toothache, just gargle with warm saltwater. If you have muscle pain, then have an Epsom salt bath. So what’s the magic? It is simple, affordable, and it is proven to work in any shape and form.”Salt therapy and salt rooms have been around for many years.

Salt Rooms & Caves

One of the most noteworthy uses of salt nowadays comes in the form of salt rooms and caves that incorporate halotherapy, or dry salt therapy. While this type of service is not particularly new on the global stage, it is certainly creating buzz in America and beyond. “For decades, dry salt therapy has been a modality in Eastern Europe, used for a variety of respiratory and skin conditions, as well as for beauty rituals and improving athletic performance,” says Leo M. Tonkin, CEO of Salt Chamber and cofounder and chairman of the Salt Therapy Association. “In the U.S., we are seeing the pendulum swing toward a more health-conscious society, where wellness is playing a big role in everyday lives. The salt therapy industry is seeing accelerated growth, because more and more people are becoming aware of and benefiting from dry salt therapy.”

A halotherapy salt room generally incorporates untreated sodium chloride. According to Benke, a salt generator micronizes the salt and then releases it into the room. The particle size and concentration are then carefully monitored, and adjustments are made in real time to ensure maximum benefits. And the benefits are certainly plentiful, both internally and externally. “When it is inhaled, the dry salt acts like a sponge, absorbing all the mucus, pollen, allergens, and foreign toxins that may be in the respiratory system,” says Tonkin. “Dry salt therapy also impacts bacterial and viral infections that cause similar symptoms, such as coughing, inflammation, and fatigue—all of which are the ways the immune system tries to rid the body of infectious organisms. It is also anti-inflammatory, so people with restricted airways, such as those who experience symptoms of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), find tremendous relief.” 

Benke says that sodium chloride particles have a beneficial influence not only on the respiratory system but also on the integumentary system (skin, hair, nails, glands, and nerves), providing healing and cosmetic effect. “Salt microparticles inhibit the growth or reproduction of bacteria, reduce swelling, and ease inflammation. The therapy results in pH normalization and better skin microcirculation.” Additionally, the salt penetrates deeply into the epidermal layers of the skin and absorbs any excess oils, which allows accelerated cellular growth of skin cells and improves skin rigidity, says Tonkin.

Health-conscious clients aren’t the only ones embracing salt rooms and caves. Spa owners can also benefit financially from incorporating a salt room or cave into their offerings. And the addition is generally not a difficult one, as these rooms are ideal for small or unused spaces. “Spas can convert their existing relaxation areas, steam rooms, or saunas into salt rooms,” says Benke. According to her, a room as small as 80 square feet can be used as a salt VIP room or massage room, whereas a large 500-square-foot space can be used for relaxation or as a yoga room.

Tonkin says that many spas are incorporating a salt room as an amenity and building a salt room on both the men’s and women’s sides of the spa or converting under-utilized treatment rooms or saunas into salt rooms, while some spas are incorporating salt rooms in new designs and renovation projects. He says pricing can range from $7,500 for the conversion of a small treatment room to $15,000 to $25,000 for a medium-sized room and up to $75,000 for a very elaborate salt room. But once they are built, he says, they are easy to maintain and require very little salt to operate. “Plus, they do not require special licensing or need any additional staff, so the return on investment is great,” he says.

And spas are getting creative with this therapy. Along with dedicated salt rooms, Benke says some spas are putting salt devices, like her company’s Breeze Tronic Pro salt generator, in massage rooms so that clients can reap the benefits while receiving services. “We also had a client who set up a salt room for children in the spa as part of the kids club, so while mom was having treatments, the child was playing in the salt room,” she says. Some spas are also adding stand-alone salt spaces near pools or other unexpected or unused spots. ISO Italia Group, for example, has created a Salis Salt Cabin, which consists of a series of modular components that can be custom built for the current space available. According to CEO Valentino Astolfi, this self-supporting structure, which also features music, chromotherapy, and aromatherapy, can be installed anywhere.

No matter how it’s done, salt rooms and caves are starting to abound across the globe. The Salt Cave opened its first salt room in 2008 in London and now runs 14 salt rooms in the U.K. Two U.S. locations are on the horizon, with one opening in Miami at the end of the year and one in New York City in early 2016. In the past two years, Salt Chamber has worked with more than 100 customers and facilities worldwide in starting or adding salt therapy, including Salt This Way (Ft. Lauderdale, FL). Recently introduced, this facility is the country’s largest salt facility, incorporating a children’s salt room, a private salt room, an adult relaxation room, and a multipurpose salt room featuring Salted Yoga.

Himalayan Salt

Also making mineral headlines is Himalayan salt, which is mined from the Khewra Salt Mines in Pakistan, situated at the foothills of the Himalayas, a mine that dates back to the 13th century. According to Benke, Himalayan salt includes transparent, white, pink, red, and dark red salt crystals and contains 84 minerals that are necessary for our health, including macrominerals and trace minerals.

As a design element, in salt caves and throughout any spa, its particular benefits are multi-fold. “Himalayan salt, especially when heated, releases negative ions around its surface,” says Tonkin. “While we mostly are being bombarded with positive ions from computers, wifi, and electricity around us all of the time, it is the negative ions that alter the air around us to provide a more stress-free environment. That is why so many of today’s modern salt rooms utilize Himalayan salt for a decor and architectural element.” Plus, as Harmsworth points out, “its beautiful pink or reddish hue makes it especially attractive, which, along with the therapeutic benefits, is perfect for a spa environment.” Among the spas that have created Himalayan salt rooms are Breathe Easy Wellness Center located within Oasis Day Spa (New York City), The Spa at the Linq Hotel (Las Vegas), and Spa Castle Premier 57 (New York City), just to name a few.

Used in the treatment room, Himalayan salt is also a spectacular healer. In fact, one line, Saltabilty, was created entirely around Himalayan salt. Offerings include salt massage stones and warmers that can be incorporated into treatments, bath salts, salt lamps and cubes, retail items, and more. CEO Ann Brown says the salt is intriguing because it is so versatile and can be used cooled or heated, wet or dry, and is beneficial through touch but also through simple proximity. “By adding Himalayan salt to a full-body massage, clients get additional heat to allow the organic trace minerals to penetrate into the skin and body, which in turn allows their body to rest, repair, and relax,” she says. “It detoxifies, restores energy levels, improves skin conditions, purifies and remineralizes, provides relaxation, and increases alkalinity in the body.”

At Spa Montage at Montage Laguna Beach, the Salt and Stone Kur ($335, 90 minutes; $425, 2 hours) includes a saltwater soak and Himalayan Salt Stone Massage using heated Saltability stones. Sagestone Spa at Red Mountain Resort (Ivins, UT) also offers a Himalayan Salt Stone Massage ($160, 80 minutes), and Marci Howard-May, director of spa and wellness, says both guests and therapists are raving about the treatment. “The salt stones bring such an incredible balancing, calming, and invigorating quality to the warm stone massage,” she says. “The benefit of the remineralization of the muscle tissue is very evident, as all tension and soreness are removed.” The team at the Healing Arts Center & Spa at Cavallo Point (Sausalito, CA), which offers Himalayan Salt Stone Massage ($170, 60 minutes; $255, 90 minutes), is also a fan. “Hearing our massage therapists talk about how they are re-inspired to do hot stone massage is such a refreshing change,” says Shaw Coté, spa treatment manager and lead massage therapist.

Another unique Himalayan salt offering involves personal salt therapy concepts, like the Salt Chamber S.A.L.T. Bed Spa Table manufactured in partnership with Gharieni. It uses heated Himalayan salt crystals within a multi-positionable massage and treatment table, along with a halogenerator, to create the ultimate dry salt therapy experience. The ISO Italia Group’s Crystal Wellness Bed involves a tub filled with 330 pounds of Himalayan salt that can be heated to a temperature of between 90 and 104 degrees, surrounded by 30 bricks of Himalayan salt that rest on a system of high-intensity LED lights. The bricks of crystalline salt neutralize the electromagnetic frequencies present in the environment, and the air acquires a positive charge with beneficial effects against nervous tension, insomnia, concentration difficulties, and free radicals. “Himalayan salt, which is totally natural, free from additives and pollutants, and is rich in natural substances, has extremely high bioenergetic values and contains all the minerals and trace elements the human body needs,” says Astolfi.

Soaks, Scrubs, and More

The story of salt goes well beyond the Himalayan variety. From head-to-toe, from sea salt to Epsom salt, and from scrubs to soaks, it’s an ideal ingredient for countless spa services. Harmsworth points out that adding Epsom salts to a warm bath soothes aching muscles while also removing impurities and toxins from the body and helping to rebalance and detoxify. Steaming skin with saltwater prior to exfoliating enhances the effects by opening pores, and salt-scrub exfoliation removes dead, dull skin cells to leave smooth, even-toned skin and a naturally healthy glow.

“Salt contains numerous beneficial minerals and nutrients that are easily absorbed into the skin,” says Janae J. Muzzy, vice president of research and development for Epicuren Discovery. “It can help the body to detoxify and draw out impurities; be used as an exfoliant to soften and remove dead skin; replenish vital nutrients; help balance the water content in the body; and evoke a sense of grounding. Salt is antibacterial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory. It has also been shown to play a role in supporting the body’s immune system. Salt can be integrated into all elements of the spa.”

One popular way to immerse clients in salt is via soaks and thalassotherapy. According to Harmsworth, sea salt can boost the production of serotonin and melatonin, which aid in relaxation and improve sleep. It also helps to balance alkalinity in the body, counteracting high levels of acid, and aids healthy cellular function. As such, thalassotherapy pools, baths, and treatments are particularly effective. “Warm water immersion is believed to enable the absorption of seawater minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, calcium sulphates, and sodium, as well as the removal of toxins,” she says. “Thalassotherapy works well as a preparatory treatment before algae wraps and salt scrubs.”

Salt scrubs are also a great way to help clients achieve glowing, flawless skin on the face and the body. In fact, turning salt into a customized experience is becoming a lucrative way for spas to make an impression. As such, many spas are finding great success with custom-blended scrub bars, like those from Salt of the Earth that incorporate salt from the Great Salt Lake along with signature aromatherapy scents. “People have different tastes, and customization lets people feel special and gives them that experience,” says founder Paul Heslop. “It also lets them take home what they want. For us, customization is not something we consider a trend but something that is here to stay. It’s something people get really excited about all the time.”

Contraindications

Though salt is truly a universal ingredient, some care should be taken with salt-based services. Those with sunburns, open wounds, infections, or salt allergies should avoid salt-based products, as should pregnant clients and those with sensitive skin who are trying to avoid stimulating services. When it comes to salt rooms, Harmsworth says the contraindications are similar to any heat experiences. Salt rooms should not be used by those who are pregnant or feverish; who are on certain medications; or who have an infection, high or low blood pressure, or a heart condition. As with any spa service, anyone who may be concerned should get approval from a doctor.

Still, according to Tonkin, salt therapy is a very safe, natural, and alternative modality for wellness and beauty. “There are no side effects, and it can be used on a daily and frequent basis,” he says. “Some people think that too much salt is bad for you, and while that is true for some digestive systems, dry salt therapy involves the respiratory system and does not affect low-sodium diets.”

Creative Retail

The versatility of salt offerings makes it easy and fun to market them to clients. Harmsworth says that the services are excellent year-round—freshly scrubbed skin helps tans last longer, which is enticing to clients in the summer and before they go on holiday, while the detoxifying benefits of a salt soak can be enjoyed 365 days a year. Meanwhile, salt crystals and Himalayan salt lamps and stones are attractive and enticing retail options, adding a colorful flair to your spa’s shelves and immediately attracting clients. From salt rooms to treatments to retail, no matter how you shake it, salt truly is a multipurpose ingredient, making it a superb way to spice up any spa.

Help clients revitalize their skin with these naturally exfoliating salt-based products.

1. Amala Detoxifying Bath Crystals: Cleansing sea salt crystals, myrtle, and witch hazel soften skin, even tone, and awaken the senses in an aromatic bath. www.amalabeauty.com

2. Amber Products Vanilla Lemongrass Salt Glow: Dead Sea salts and ultra-hydrating oils renew and prepare skin for mask and serum applications, allowing for more effective nutrient absorption. www.store.amberproducts.com

3. Bon Vital’ Salt Glow: Targeted to remedy flaky, dry, and dull skin, this stimulating formula contains jojoba, olive, and safflower oils to soften and moisturize skin while Dead Sea salt removes impurities and dead skin cells. www.bonvital.com

4. Cuccio Naturalé Sea Salt Moisturizing Exfoliant: Magnesium sulfate crystals and sea salts provide a double exfoliation that scrubs away flaky skin. www.cuccio.com

5. ESPA Detoxifying Salt Scrub: An invigorating mixture of cypress, eucalyptus, grapefruit, and sweet almond oil melts into skin for pure hydration as salt reveals a glowing complexion. www.us.espaskincare.com

6. EzFlow Spa Elements Crystal Mineral Scrub: Mineral salts slough away dry, rough areas while emollient avocado, jojoba oil, and shea butter nourish skin. www.ezflow.com

7. FarmHouse Fresh Sweet Cream Fine Grain Salt Scrub: A warm, buttery sweet cream scent and silky rice bran oil combine with fine salt grains to reveal radiant skin. www.farmhousefreshgoods.com

8. Nature Pure Labs Dead Sea Salt Crystal Peel: This professional-strength customizable peel is enhanced with Dead Sea salt, which crystalizes to remove dead skin cells and aids in overall skin vitality. www.naturepure.com

9. Pevonia De-Aging Saltmousse in Papaya-Pineapple: Skin is rejuvenated and nourished with this antioxidant-rich exfoliator formulated to repair sun damage and brighten and smooth skin. The sea salt also releases negative ions and mineralizes. www.pevonia.com

10. Phytomer Oligomer Pure Lyophilized Sea Water Bath: This freeze-dried seawater, which contains 104 trace elements essential to cellular balance and vitality, is scientifically proven to relieve stress and reduce fatigue. www.lespausa.com

11. Privai Mineral Body Mist: This uplifting spray helps tone the skin and calms the mind with Epsom salt and lavender and lemon verbena essential oils. www.privai.com

12. Repêchage Sea Spa Glow: An all-over body exfoliant composed of Dead Sea salts revives, purifies, and tones skin while seaweed and olive oil replenish and moisturize. www.repechage.com

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