It’s 1 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, and Heidi Kling is reading in an all-white room. She’s shoeless, but socks protect her feet from the 6 inches of salt that cake the floor. The only objects in the windowless room are four chaise longues and hand-molded plaster icicles that hang from the ceiling. If there were a Yeti in the room, you would swear you were on the Matterhorn at Disneyland.
Basking in salt rooms, also known as halotherapy, is an alternative therapy for people with chronic respiratory and skin problems that is modeled after the salt caves and spas that originated in Eastern Europe more than 200 years ago. In the last decade, the trend has caught on, and facilities have opened up in Israel, Canada, New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Florida and, most recently, Encino, home of the Salt Chalet, the first salt room treatment center on the West Coast.
But though salt rooms may be garnering fans, health experts are leery of the medicinal benefits that these rooms are purported to provide. Stories about miraculous recoveries and unprecedented health improvements are all over the Web, said Dr. Dean Schraufnagel, professor of medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago. That doesn’t guarantee they’re true. “There haven’t been any clinical studies that research this particular therapy method,” he says.
Tucked away in a shady corner on the second floor of Encino Commons, an outdoor shopping center most notable for cameos in the movie “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” the Salt Chalet is hardly noticeable in the shadow of a Bed, Bath & Beyond and a Bally Total Fitness center.