Does Himalayan Pink Salt Hold Up To All The Health Hype?
Proponents say pink salt is healthier than regular salt because of its extra minerals. (Photo: Stocksy/Alita Ong)
Pink is in this season — but not in the form of wrap skirts and platform shoes.
Instead of storming the runways, the rosy hue is making a splash on tabletops nationwide. Meet Himalayan pink salt: Once considered a niche purchase for foodies and health nuts, the specialty seasoning is now popping up everywhere (you can even buy it at Costco and Walmart). Proponents of the stuff say it has more minerals and is less processed than regular salt, making it a healthier option. Some even put pink salt crystals in their baths, with the idea that the minerals from the salt are good for the skin.
Pink salt is also hitting the spa circuit, with salt caves opening in nearly every state. These sodium-packed chambers are coated walls-to-ceiling with Himalayan salt, and piled inches deep on the floor. Visitors relax in them for about 45 minutes, reading books, napping, and even bringing their kids along to play. Some salt caves also disperse a fine pink saline mist into the air. Supposedly, breathing in while inside these oases improves your skin and helps sinus and respiratory conditions such as asthma and allergies.
But do all these supposed health claims of pink salt hold up? We grilled dietitians and MDs to find out whether the trend is really worth its salt.
THE CLAIM: Pink salt is healthier because it contains more minerals than the regular kind.
THE TRUTH: This claim doesn’t hold up. Himalayan salt is an unrefined, unprocessed raw mineral mined by hand from caves that formed 250 million years ago as ocean salt settled into geological pockets. Since it’s harvested in solid crystals, it’s thought to be more potent than colloidal sea salt, which is produced from evaporated water. Trace amounts of iron oxide lend Himalayan salt its signature ruddy pigment.
While all this certainly sounds intriguing, it doesn’t really have that big of an effect when it comes to potential nutritional benefits. “Pink salt is quite popular at the moment, but its health claims may be grossly overstated,” registered dietitian Rene Ficek, lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating, tells Yahoo Health.
Although Himalayan salt contains key minerals like phosphorus, bromine, boron, and zinc, among others, Americans are not deficient in these in the first place, or we’re already consuming better sources of these nutrients elsewhere. “The truth is that the amount of minerals is too miniscule to make any measurable difference, and we already consume plenty of the same nutrients from other elements of our diet — grains, vegetables, and meat,” Ficek notes.
Another thing to consider is that, unlike pink salt, table salt has added iodine, which is important for thyroid function and metabolism. “The government started supplementing salt with iodine in the 1920s to prevent iodine deficiency disorders,” says Ficek. Since we don’t get much iodine from other foods (the richest natural source of it is seaweed, and it’s also found in dairy and eggs), completely shutting off regular salt can have negative side effects. That said, packaged foods and restaurant meals are generally prepared using plain salt, so unless you cook exclusively at home with the Himalayan type, you don’t have to worry.
Related: 9 Nutrients Even Healthy People Miss
THE CLAIM: Pink salt is less processed than table salt.
THE TRUTH: This claim is bunk. While it’s true that regular salt often contains anti-caking agents and that some nutrients are lost in the process of finely grinding up the granules, the impact of all this on our well-being is minimal. Some people also point out that sea salt may have more pollutants (from waste in the oceans) compared to the pink, cave-mined varieties. “The idea of eating a pure, unprocessed food comes off as more healthful, but in this case it doesn’t really have an advantage,” says Ficek. “The amount of contaminants is so tiny that our body is easily able to eliminate them.”
Still, there is one perk to going pink: Himalayan salt tends to be stone-ground, so it has bigger granules than table salt — as a result, you end up eating a bit less. (A teaspoon of fine salt will add up to more sodium in volume overall than a teaspoon of coarse salt, which has more air pockets between the particles.) “This can make a small difference in lowering overall salt consumption, which is a great thing,” says Ficek. “The more salt you eat, the more fluids you retain, and the harder it is for your heart to work to process these fluids, which can increase blood pressure.”
Pink salt caves are popping up as spa options around the country. (Photo: Alamy/Jiri Hubatka)
THE CLAIM: Spending time in a pink salt cave can help relieve skin conditions like psoriasis.
THE TRUTH: This could have a benefit… potentially. “Although there is very little literature on Himalayan salt, there is a great deal of research supporting that bathing and sunbathing at the salt- and mineral-rich Dead Sea is effective in treating psoriasis,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department at NYC’s Mount Sinai Hospital. “Much of this is due to the Dead Sea’s high levels of magnesium, which has a hydrating, anti-inflammatory effect that improves skin function, strengthens the skin barrier, and increases moisture content. It is safe to assume that Himalayan salt might have the same effects.”
If you have psoriasis, extremely dry skin, or an inflammatory condition like eczema, then halotherapy (the official name for salt-based remedies) could be worth a shot. “There’s very little risk involved and it may be beneficial in some patients,” says Zeichner tells Yahoo Health. “The question comes down to cost.” Although treatments and prices vary, a single 45-minute-long session in a salt cave will generally run you around $30.
All that being said, if you’re a healthy person, a pink salt bath probably won’t make your skin all that better. “The very sparse amount of minerals that could be dissolved into your bath water — when used in a bath — is just not going to have a meaningful impact on your skin,” dermatologist Neal Schultz, M.D., host of DermTV, tells Yahoo Health.
But you could still reap other benefits from a soak. “A bath in and of itself is soothing, and means you are taking time out to take care of yourself and do something nice for yourself, and recognizing your need to slow down,” notes integrative dermatologist Cybele Fishman, MD. “I think this, even more than the pink salt, is the key thing.”
Related: The 6 Manliest Spas Around The World
THE CLAIM: Pink salt caves can improve allergies and asthma.
THE TRUTH: The jury’s out on this one. Proponents say inhaling Himalayan salt-infused air clears mucus, reduces sinus inflammation, and kills germs, thanks to the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of pink granules. “Ultimately, we don’t have enough information to know whether halotherapy is indeed helpful,” says NYC-based allergist Clifford Bassett, MD. “There are several Eastern European studies backing up these claims, but we don’t have many clinical U.S. trials exploring the benefits.” A small study published in the New England Journal of Medicine did find that inhaling a concentrated salt solution improved lung function in cystic fibrosis patients.
Some doctors maintain that salt can ease short-term symptoms, but the long-term side effects are unknown. “In my practice, we don’t suggest it for asthma or respiratory issues. Theoretically, in high concentrations, salt could trigger a bronchial spasm or constriction,” Bassett tells Yahoo Health. “It could potentially stimulate the nerves in your nasal system or irritate the linings of your lungs, worsening allergy symptoms. As such, it should not be recommended on a broad basis.”
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