“The cure for anything is salt water – tears, sweat, or the sea. ” —Isak Dinesen
“Salt” is the chemical term for an ionic compound resulting from the neutralization reaction of acid and base. These compounds may include but aren’t limited to: magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts), used as a laxative and purported to ease sore muscles in warm baths; lithium salt, used in medication to treat bipolar disorder; and potassium dichromate, used in screen printing and photography, and toxic to ingest.
But common salt, a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride, is what we’re usually referring to when we say “salt.” This too comes with a variety of names – sea salt, fleur de sel, Black Hawaiian, pink Himalayan… but if we allow the word “sea” to include oceans, we can say that all salt is actually “sea salt.” All salt was formed in one large water body or another, and salt mines are just evaporated oceans. Fleur de sel is the thin layer of sea salt on the top of the water. Himalayan pink salt is salt from the Himalayas that contains trace amounts of iron oxide. Black Hawaiian salt is salt from Hawaii that contains trace amounts of charcoal. It’s all salt.
Ingested, too much of it will kill you, but you can’t live without it – like air and water.
And salt has been used therapeutically for millennia. Ancient Egyptians used salt as an essential ingredient in medicine – as a disinfectant, a laxative, and to treat skin diseases, among other things. The Greeks used salt as an expectorant, an emetic, a cure for diseases of the spleen, and a treatment for skin conditions, including freckles (poor innocent freckles. So disdained throughout the ages). In the middle ages, salt was used as a painkiller and a fever remedy.
The ancient Greeks also believed in visiting seaside health resorts to treat a variety of skin ailments. These were the early days of Thalassotherapy, literally, “sea therapy.” And, of course, the water of the Dead Sea is legendary for its purported incredible healing properties. Salt pools now abound in homes, hotels, resorts, and spas around the world. The word “halotherapy,” literally “salt therapy,” also from the Greek, refers to the inhalation of salt vapour. Salt rooms, caves, and chambers have also popped up the world over in recent years.
While today, we would probably treat a festering chest wound with something else, salt is still used to prevent and treat infection – dentists and doctors will recommend swishing or gargling with a saltwater rinse to treat sore throats and post oral surgery lesions.
Salt therapies and remedies – pools, rooms, scrubs, salt massage stones, and more – in spas across the globe, are also believed to detoxify the body and to ease conditions that include but are not limited to: rhinitis, allergies, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, muscle cramps, eczema, acne, psoriasis, bee stings, poison ivy, insect bites, inflammation, and stress.
Just a few of the spas taking these therapies to the next level:
Where: Layana’s Linger Longer Spa, Thailand
What: Natural Salt Therapy Package
A “respiratory and relaxation respite” that features a “soothing and cleansing” Salt Glow Body Scrub, followed by a visit to the Salt Spa room modelled on an ancient salt cave. Here, says Lanaya, “you will cleanse your respiratory ailments by inhaling the salt aerosol, while our expertly trained staff performs your choice of a 45 minute soothing facial or foot reflexology session.”
Where: Lepa Vida Thalasso Spa at the Piran Salt Pans, Slovenia
What: Bath in Brine – mother water/ Salt Pan Mud Wrap
This spa literally stands in the middle of a “salt field.” The salt-pan mud is Istrian clay enriched with brine. “Due to its gradual maturing in the salt ponds, it contains a high concentration of minerals.”
“Mother water” is liquid that remains at the bottom of the salt evaporation ponds after hand-harvesting the sea salt.
“Due to the rich content of minerals like bromine, iodine and magnesium, brine has been highly valued for centuries. Brine is used in the form of baths. Its most important characteristic is that it encourages and strengthens the body’s defence abilities, and provides a calming effect due to the presence of bromine.”
Where: Cavallo Point, Sausalito
What: Himalayan Salt Stone Massage
This is a “warming and grounding” treatment using heated Himalayan salt crystals that are massaged over the body.” The penetrating heat of the salt stones allows for deeper tissue relaxation and makes the body more readily accept the numerous vital minerals of the salt crystals….This treatment deeply relaxes, restores key minerals, eases tension, improves circulation, and lifts your spirits.” The massage uses essential oils of Himalayan cedar and frankincense “to ground the nervous system, tone and soften the skin, and calm the mind.”
Where: Pure and Simple, Toronto
What: Salt microdermabrasion
“A more natural, more refining microdermabrasion using all-natural sea salt to abrade instead of standard cordunum crystals. This microdermabrasion is a deeper peeling, yet results in less inflammation.”
Where: Spa Vilnius, Lithuania
What: Signature four-handed massage – Massage & Salt Therapy
Face and foot massages are followed by warm salt applications. “Warm salt packs applied in the joint areas warm them up, relieve pain, improve lymphatic circulation, and reduce swelling. Salt minerals promote perspiration and the body’s toxins are faster eliminated.”