Nancy Griffin talks with Leo Tonkin, CEO of SALT Chamber and a Founding Director of the Salt Therapy Association. Leo is a pioneer in respiratory health and wellness, having developed and implemented more than 1,300 salt rooms worldwide. Learn how dry salt therapy can improve census and resident quality of life.
NG: Before we get started on talking about salt therapy, tell us a bit about your background.
LT: My career has been involved with organizational development that focused on leadership and strategy in the culture of companies. I've always been involved in looking at how to grow industries and build businesses. Ten years ago, I became familiar with salt therapy and had my consulting team dive deep into the industry. They found that it is wide open—a blue ocean market. There were hardly any facilities in the U.S. offering what is known as dry salt therapy/halotherapy. So I decided to take on another venture and adventure. This year, SALT Chamber is celebrating our 10-year anniversary.
NG: Dry salt therapy is one of the most popular services in luxury resorts and spas across the world. Tell us about the benefits.
LT: Ten years ago there was very little awareness of dry salt as therapeutic modalities. A lot of people know that salt has therapeutic value though. We grew up gargling with salt water and know the benefits of breathing ocean air, which are wet salt therapies. Dry salt evolved in the salt mines in Eastern Europe when the wind would blow against the underground salt rocks, creating salt air. The study of the benefits started a couple hundred years ago and has evolved ever since.
NG: You have been a huge proponent of dry salt therapy for numerous health benefits. Tell us how the halogenerator in the SALT Chamber salt room works. And what are the benefits?
LT: Halo is the Greek word for salt. The halogenerator is a device that takes pure grade sodium chloride (a lot of people think it's Himalayan salt or some other salt, but it's a pure grade sodium chloride) and grinds it into precise, micron-sized particles, small enough to reach deep into the respiratory system. Because they're dry as opposed to moist or wet salt, they are super absorbent. When you inhale these tiny particles, it helps pull out the allergens and the pathogens in the mucus. So there's a big distinction between dry salt therapy and moist or wet salt
A common misperception is that there are therapeutic benefits from Himalayan salt lamps or salt bricks on the walls. We integrate these elements into the SALT Chamber room decor, but they just add to the experience. The benefits come from breathing in the dry salt produced by the halogenerator.
NG: Tell us about founding the Salt Therapy Association.
LT: Salt therapy was recognized as a trend at the time we started the Salt Therapy Association but it hadn’t yet turned into an industry. I joined world leaders in salt therapy, some of the top scientists and doctors and researchers and manufacturers, and collectively formed the Salt Therapy Association. The association now has over 3,500 members in 33 countries, and we are getting ready for our 5th annual conference this fall.
NG: Talk to us about why salt therapy is particularly good for older adults.
LT: A healthy respiratory system is directly connected to aging well. As we get older, our respiratory system starts to become more fragile and more susceptible to COPD, asthma, allergies, and other respiratory conditions. Dry salt therapy acts as an anti-inflammatory. It helps open the airway passages and increases oxygen intake. It literally gives people their breath back. Somebody who could play only a few holes of golf can now play a full round, or walk up and down the stairs, or along the beach.
NG: If you can't breathe, your quality of life is directly affected, so it makes perfect sense.
LT: Initially, we brought salt therapy to the spa and wellness industry. Over the years, there have been other areas where it makes sense to enhance lung functionality, such as for athletes to aid in their performance, endurance, and recovery, as well as pre-asthmatic children. People are also doing yoga and meditation in salt rooms.
We were the first to bring salt rooms into nursing homes and rehab centers. There have been dozens of projects—we are working with developers, owners, and senior living communities to enhance their wellness offerings.
NG: Tell us about the dry salt therapy solutions SALT Chamber offers for senior living.
LT: SALT Chamber has designed salt rooms in a dozen senior living communities. We're working with developers, designers, and architects right now for future sites to create additional value in terms of acquiring residents.
We can build a salt room for $10,000 to $15,000. Some luxury senior living communities create elaborate salt rooms with add-ons such as sound therapy and vibro-acoustics, but you can build one on an inexpensive scale and still get results. It's all about the halogenerator and breathing the dry salt air.
NG: The Salt Therapy Association works to dispel some of the myths that exist when it comes to the benefits of salt and the language being used around salt therapy. Tell us about what is true and what is not true about salt.
LT: There is a lot of evidence over the last couple hundred years about the benefits of dry salt therapy. Physicians first recommended it for health in Wieliczka, Poland, where patients were prescribed time in the salt mines. They've been pioneering dry salt therapy there ever since—there is even a health resort. This is where it evolved.
In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, scientific research began to measure the impact on lung functionality and lung volume recovery times. There is documentation on the impact on COPD, asthma, allergies, and bronchial issues. We also have people with sleep apnea getting better sleep because they are breathing better.
Respiratory issues have come to the forefront for a couple of reasons. Many people have gone from being nose breathers to mouth breathers, which negatively impacts the respiratory system. Environmental toxins also take their toll. The longer we live, the more we've been exposed.
It’s a safe complementary therapy. We want to be careful about any disclaimers here, this is an evidence-based modality. I am chairing the Respiratory Wellness Initiative with the Global Wellness Institute. My co-chair Dr. John Ryan is currently measuring the impact on allergies and asthma. And more research will be coming forward.
NG: We've talked about how salt therapy works in a senior living community, but we all know that 9 out of 10 people want to stay in their homes. There is a new segment of Home and Community Services based on wellness, and salt therapy should be part of that conversation. Tell us about the product SALT Chamber recently launched for home care--how does that work?
LT: During the pandemic, people started to look at self-care. So we launched a home version of our halogenerator, made in a medical device facility in Europe, that replicates the professional medical-grade quality of our commercial halogenerators, and is much more affordable. At just 9 inches tall, the home system grinds the salt and dispurses it as micron-sized particles to inhale. We have a Pop-Up SALT Booth® that creates an enclosed space. You can have an effective salt therapy session in just 10 minutes. We have homecare professionals bringing these to their home visits and in-room at senior living communities.
NG: Tell us something personal about yourself.
LT: I'm now 61 and thinking of my future and the importance of wellness. I have a passion for business, but my family has my heart. Having grandkids and five years into my second marriage, I see life through a different lens. I think about the legacy I am leaving behind, as well as the difference I can make in the world.
I am also a recent cancer survivor, which is why I’m so passionate about the difference SALT Chamber makes in people’s health and quality of life. That's why I like to wake up in the morning. If I can give more people a way to breathe easier and better, and take more breaths, that's where the juice is right now.