In Pakistan, a pink salt spa


Pakistani tourists walk in a tunnel of salt rock in the tourist area of the Khewra salt mine in Khewra, some 160 kms southeast of Islamabad on February 16, 2010. Khewra Mines, one of the world's largest salt reserves, has for centuries extracted the crucial mineral for export, and over the years become a tourist attraction complete with a salt mosque and an electric train. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)
September 19, 2012

ISLAMABAD — You are going to have to take Pakistan’s newest health fad with a grain of salt. Actually, several tons of it.

A newly opened spa in the capital touts amazing curative powers for a mineral better known as a table seasoning. In fact, the spa’s chief executive, Sabkahat Qadeer Butt, is so convinced of its medicinal magic that he’s created the entire facility from salt.

And not just any salt, but pink salt mined from the foothills of the Himalayas.

Nearly everything in the cave-like space is carved from the rose-hued crystal -- from the bricks in the walls to the tiles of the steam bath, it is all hewn from slabs of salt. Patrons leave their shoes at the door. Even the pink pebbles of the floor are all rock salt, which is absorbed through the skin.

Pakistan is the number one producer of pink rock salt in the world, according to the government’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources. Butt, the Pakistani businessman who is CEO of the Khaas Health Care and Cure Club in Islamabad, says he used 1,400 tons of the substance to create the spa in the city’s Diplomatic Enclave.

“We export this salt to different parts of the world,” he said in an interview at the facility. “So we thought, ‘Why not do it here as well?”

The idea for the spa came from Turkey. Here in Pakistan, Butt says, the Turkish bath made entirely of pink rock salt is one of a kind.

Butt, 48, said salt baths originated as an old Greek method of treatment. Alexander the Great took loads of the stuff back home after conquering parts of modern-day Pakistan, he said. Salt became known as white gold and was even used as currency: “The Greeks would pay their armies in salt. It was the major component of the barter system.”

Some of the historical uses of salt are widely known. It is a natural antiseptic, proponents say, and a natural preservative. Salt has been used to preserve everything from meat and fish to sensitive documents.

But new-age spas like the one in Islamabad tout salt therapy as a veritable cure-all. Pink rock salt contains 84 minerals and can help skin ailments, upper and lower respiratory functions and, when combined with heat, can be used for pain management, Butt said.

In Hollywood, salt wraps and baths are used for quick weight loss when stars need to slim down for roles or to walk the red carpet. “It is also good for high blood pressure,” Butt claimed.

And low blood pressure? Yes, that too. In fact, Butt declared, salt can treat 125 disorders and diseases.

Qutbuddin Kakar, an Islamabad-based doctor who specializes in tropical diseases and is associated with the World Health Organization, said he has heard of people taking salt baths as a cure for skin maladies. But otherwise, he said, “There has been no scientific evidence which shows or proves that pink salt is a cure for so many or all diseases.”

While blanket curative claims are dubious, that hasn’t kept some fad followers from developing an appetite for the blush-tinted condiment. Ordinary table salt costs about 3 cents an ounce in U.S. grocery stores, whereas the pink stuff can fetch $1 an ounce.

There is one catch: Salt disintegrates when exposed to water and steam. So what happens when the spa melts? Not a problem, said Butt. He also owns a salt mine. “If the walls dissolve, I can replace them.”

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