Health & Wellness

The Benefits Of Salt Caves [The Complete Guide]

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Over the last few years, you may have seen that more and more spas, gyms and other wellness facilities are offering salt caves. Salt caves are rooms similar to a sauna where you can sit and enjoy the supposed healing benefits of being surrounded by salt (and this isn’t your average table salt, either).

But what exactly is a salt cave and salt therapy, and is it truly beneficial? Here’s everything you need to know about this new form of treatment.

What Exactly is Halotherapy?

No, it has nothing to do with halos or angels. Halotherapy is just a fancy name for salt therapy and is the type of therapy that salt caves are based around.

Halotherapy generally refers to salt therapy in a human-made environment; you can also find speleotherapy, which relates to salt therapy in a real, totally-natural salt cave underground (though speleotherapy is much rarer). Both are based on the theory that salt can balance out the ions in our bodies in their most basic form, leading to physical and spiritual benefits.

Halotherapy isn’t that new, though, even if it’s relatively new in the United States; it’s been popular throughout Europe for a while.

The history of halotherapy

Halotherapy first came about in the 19th century, when a Polish doctor took a look at salt miners and realized that they had better respiratory function than miners in other types of caves (not to mention great skin). As salt miners throughout Eastern Europe worked, they disturbed minuscule salt particles, sending them into the air, where they could be breathed and absorbed into the skin. The underground caves’ humidity levels and temperatures only added to the benefits.

The Polish doctor started a health resort at the same salt mine he was studying, so those not in the mining business could experience the same benefits.

In the 20th century, another doctor realized that those sheltered in salt mines during World War II also experienced similar benefits. He decided to create a replicated salt cave to study the effects of underground salt caves further.

Eastern Europeans were soon heading to the salt caves in droves to enjoy all of the halotherapy benefits for themselves — albeit in much cleaner caves than the ones where the salt miners worked.

Salt therapy continued to take off in the 20th century and has only recently become popular in the United States. 

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What Does a Salt Cave Session Entail?

So you sign up for a salt cave session at your local spa (reservations are usually encouraged, as most spas have a limit to the number of people who can use a salt cave at one time). What can you expect?

If you visit a salt cave at a traditional spa, you’ll find your experience very similar to what you’d expect during any spa visit. You’ll likely put on a plush robe, slip into sandals or slippers and escape from your worries (and your phone!).

From there, it’s a lot of sitting, for around 30 minutes to an hour. You’ll get to cozy up, kick back and relax in a room filled with salt at every turn — the floor, the walls and the air are filled with it, usually via dry salt aerosol and halogenerators. There’s typically some mood lighting and some plush chairs, making for an all-around relaxing environment. The cave’s door is shut and remains shut throughout the session to avoid disturbing the experience (or the salt particles produced by the in-cave generator).

Some claim that you won’t feel halotherapy’s full effects unless a generator is present. Salt caves that do not include a generator are known as passive salt caves and are used more for mental benefits than physical.

What makes the generator so important? The generator actively grinds up salt (the type of salt used is a special blend that contains healthy minerals like calcium and manganese) and releases the microscopic particles into the air. The salt particles supposedly remove irritants as you breathe them in and absorb them into your skin. The dense concentration of salt particles in the air also produces negative ions, helping to balance out the ions in your body while also encouraging your brain to release serotonin.

The salt cave temperature is typically set to around 65 degrees Fahrenheit to best mimic a real cave, but don’t worry — the spa will usually outfit you with a cozy robe or blanket before sending you inside. Some allow you to bring your own blanket to use.

Don’t think that you can stand sitting around for an hour doing nothing but looking at some salt walls? Your spa may outfit you with some headphones or something to keep you occupied during your short tech detox. Don’t expect to be listening to today’s Top 40 hits, though; the soundtrack is usually more on the relaxing side — think ocean waves and white noise. Some spas likewise offer treatments while you sit in the salt cave, like massages, so you can enjoy further relaxation while getting all the benefits of being in the cave. Others offer activities like yoga or meditation.

Both before and after your session, you’ll be told to drink lots of water to prevent dehydration since you typically can’t bring water into the salt cave.

As for the cost, regardless of where you’re located in the country, an hour-long session usually runs around $40–$50. Some providers offer bulk packages for multiple sessions, with regular practitioners choosing to visit a salt cave up to four times per week if looking to treat a chronic condition. For those just looking for halotherapy’s overall benefits, though, a weekly session is usually enough to see a difference.

What is a salt bed session versus a salt cave session?

Some spas offer salt beds in addition to salt caves. What’s the difference?

When you book a salt cave session, you’ll be entering a large cavernous space along with other people, either clothed or robed.

On the other hand, a salt bed treatment is a private experience in which you wear a swimsuit and lay on a salt slab throughout your session to soak up as much of the salt’s benefits as possible via skin-to-salt contact.

While a salt cave session is usually recommended for those seeking halotherapy’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial respiratory benefits, a salt bed session is recommended for the skin benefits.

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What are the Benefits of Visiting a Salt Cave?

Halotherapy is claimed to:

  • Improve overall respiratory function
  • Boost your immune system
  • Decrease bacteria and other nasty things throughout your respiratory system
  • Alleviate some skin conditions (like acne, eczema and psoriasis)

Halotherapy is popular with endurance athletes looking to increase lung function and those suffering from particular respiratory-related issues.

Researchers and those who’ve experienced salt therapy for themselves have claimed that halotherapy helps with specific issues such as:

  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Allergies
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cough
  • The common cold
  • Bronchitis
  • Adenotonsillar syndrome
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • And even COVID-19!

Asmat Khan of Fitness Volt shared some health and wellness insights about the benefits of visiting a salt cave, stating, “Research and studies have proven the beneficial value of salt caves in shielding our bodies against viral infections. It gives benefits for stress and anxiety and they are effective in treating adults plus it works fantastically for children, too.”

“Another benefit of salt is that it is an anti-inflammatory. It means that it helps to reduce swelling if you have been injured which in turn can aid recovery,” Khan continues.

Unfortunately, there’s not much hard-hitting evidence about halotherapy truly helping with any of these issues. But, the research is promising, and there’s enough anecdotal proof that it’s a therapy worth trying out if you’re interested.

Salt cave benefits include more than just the physical

While a lot of focus is put on the physical benefits of visiting a salt cave, especially the benefits for those with respiratory conditions, there’s a whole other side to salt caves: the mental and spiritual benefits you can enjoy from a session. Some say that salt cave sessions have even helped alleviate depression and anxiety.

If you think about the experience most individuals have when visiting a spa for a salt cave session, it’s easy to see why this might be the case. You’re essentially getting a break from the real world for an hour or so and thoroughly enjoying the present moment and sitting in a dim, quiet, relaxing space. Some even say they fall asleep in their local salt cave because the environment is so comfortable!

What are the Risks to Visiting a Salt Cave?

Unfortunately, the main side effect that some users experience after visiting a salt cave is the very same issue that you’d expect a salt cave to alleviate: coughing. Some note, however, that while visiting a salt cave can result in more coughing, it might be a good thing, as more productive coughs mean you’re clearing out phlegm that might’ve been hanging around in your respiratory system for a while.

Other side effects include headaches and dehydration if you’re not careful to drink enough water before and after your treatments, as well as eye irritation from the salt.

Halotherapy isn’t advised for those with asthma unless you’ve spoken to your doctor about the risks and benefits first. At the same time, some say halotherapy alleviates asthma while others find that it worsens their condition.

Halotherapy isn’t advised for those suffering from fever, tuberculosis, respiratory system cancers, cardiac disease or severe hypertension.

The verdict is still out on whether or not halotherapy is entirely safe for pregnant women and children, but some spas have specific salt cave rooms for families with kids, outfitted with toys and other entertainment.

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How to Get the Benefits of Halotherapy Without a Salt Cave

If you want to experience some of the benefits of halotherapy without visiting a salt cave — whether you’re just not sure about all the hype or don’t have access to a salt cave in your area — you can do so on a small scale at home.

Many already turn to saline sprays and neti pots for respiratory relief, especially during cold and flu season; you can also get similar benefits from air salinizers, gargling salt water or taking a saltwater bath.

For some of the mental benefits that salt caves offer, some find similar benefits via flotation tanks. You’ve likely also seen Himalayan salt lamps available at just about every big box store, used primarily as decoration, but which also are meant to offer minimal health benefits.

However, a salt cave’s full-scale benefits can’t be replicated at home. Sure, you can use wet salt treatments that benefit one part of your respiratory system, and you can use Himalayan salt lamps to create a moody and relaxing environment, but that’ll only take you so far. (Some loyal halotherapy fans go so far as to install their own at-home salt therapy booths, with built-in generators, but that’s both a technically complicated and costly endeavor.)

To find the nearest salt cave to you, look to the Salt Therapy Association’s directory of providers.

How to Prepare for Your First Salt Cave Experience

Remember, there are a few things you can do before your first salt cave experience to ensure you get the most out of it:

  • Drink plenty of water before your session and bring some additional water with you for drinking afterward.
  • If your spa or local salt cave does not provide robes for use during the treatment, dress in comfortable clothing (preferably not in black, which can retain some discoloration from the salt).
  • Don’t wear any perfumes or lotions to your treatment, as the scents can interfere with the experience.
  • Don’t smoke before coming to your treatment, as the scent can likewise interfere.
  • If you’re worried about the salt cave resulting in any negative side effects related to any current condition, you should talk to your doctor ahead of your appointment.

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Sit Back, Relax and Enjoy the Cave

Even if you don’t see wildly increased lung capacity or your acne isn’t miraculously healed just by sitting in a salt cave, you can still greatly benefit from the salt cave experience, especially mentally. It’s an excellent chance to relax, rejuvenate and be present in the moment. A salt cave session will leave you, if not wholly breathing free, at least a little more clear-headed.

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The Benefits Of Salt Caves:

  • Improve overall respiratory function
  • Boost your immune system
  • Decrease bacteria and other nasty things throughout your respiratory system
  • Alleviate some skin conditions (like acne, eczema and psoriasis)

Holly Riddle

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