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What Is Salt Cave Therapy, And Does It Have Any Real Health Benefits?

Inquiring sinuses want to know.

10/17/2017 12:38 EDT | Updated 10/17/2017 12:38 EDT

You've likely seen those chunky pink salt lamps in your yoga studio, or lately on the shelves at your local HomeSense, but the healing powers of Himalayan or Polish sea salt are believed to be so beneficial, some spas are devoting entire rooms to salt cave therapy.

Salt caves are generally constructed with sea salt bricks lining the walls, and a looser grain of salt on the floor. It's common to have salt lamps within the space, sometimes clustered in a salt "fireplace" where the lamps collectively emit a soothing glow.

Earlier on HuffPost:

The salt therapy trend is growing here in Canada, although Europe is far ahead of the game with thousands of salt rooms to speak of, while the U.S. boasts more than 200 options.

So what exactly are the benefits of surrounding oneself with floor-to-ceiling slabs of sea salt? Salt-cave, or halotherapy supporters claim that as a result of salt's proven drying effects, salt caves can help with respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and asthma, as well as common coughs and colds.

Sea salt ions possess strong antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.Future Healing, Toronto

Toronto's Future Healing, which lists salt cave therapy among its services, notes on its website that "sea salt ions possess strong antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties," and recommends using halotherapy as a way to strengthen the immune system.

Saltcave Solana in Oakville champions similar benefits, explaining that halotherapy works by creating a hypo-allergenic and allergen-free environment (with controlled temperature and humidity), where salt particles diffuse naturally from the walls into the air.

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John Montgomery relaxes in the Galos Caves salt cave in Chicago, Illinois. Sessions are purported to help with a host of medical issues, including sinus and respiratory problems, allergies, and high blood pressure. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

According to the proprietors, inhaling the salt sends it through the respiratory tract, where it cleanses and kills bacteria and germs. Aurelia Grela, the owner of Solana, proudly confides to HuffPost that she "has not experienced one cold" in her five years running the salt caves.

The effect is apparently similar to how rejuvenated you feel after spending time near an ocean. Although the opportunity to step away and connect with nature is beneficial in and of itself, the salt that we breathe oceanside helps boost immunity, clear skin, and relieve respiratory conditions, reports Reader's Digest.

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And so the theory goes for an hour in a salt cave, though the results are intensified; one hour in the salt cave is said to equal about a day at the beach, though some experts contend it equals three times as much.

Breathing in salt particles might also help reduce inflammation in the lungs and clear mucus, as well as potentially increases lung capacity.

Ulle Pukk, founder of Salt Chamber Inc., explained it this way to Organic Spa magazine: "Kinetically activated dry salt particles are like an army of janitors helping to detox the respiratory system."

Health professionals who specialize in respiratory conditions tend not to be convinced by the technique.

Though a very small study that was released last year noted an improvement in mild asthma for children with the condition after being exposed to salt therapy, health professionals who specialize in respiratory conditions tend not to be convinced by the technique.

"If you're looking for a natural way to treat your asthma, halotherapy is not what you're looking for. It has not been rigorously studied, despite claims from 'experts,'" the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America notes on its site.

But if you still want to go, particularly for the relaxation or sinus-clearing benefits, here's what to expect.

boggy22 via Getty Images

Generally sessions are about an hour, although several facilities offer shorter sessions combined with other treatments. The atmosphere is a zen-like experience, with low lighting and soothing music, while guests lounge in chairs.

Children are usually welcome, and some salt rooms even have play areas, which is good news for parents, but talk to your doctor before you go if your child has any health problems.

While the effects of the salt caves may be felt immediately, some guests may notice a stronger result after multiple visits; we imagine this is similar to the benefits of one yoga class vs. an ongoing practice.

So with the dreaded cold and flu season fast approaching, halotherapy could be something to add to the list of preventatives; when you can't make it all the way to the ocean, it's good to know some of the benefits of a day at the beach are potentially only a short trip away.