There are a lot of holistic remedies making the rounds right now, but the Himalayan salt rock lamp has to be the prettiest of them all. Proponents claim these lamps can purify your air, reduce stress and anxiety, and help combat "electro-smog" caused by electronic devices. But while they're definitely beautiful, do Himalayan salt lamps actually have any health benefits?
What Is a Himalayan Pink Salt Lamp?
Himalayan salt, often called pink salt (appropriately named for its orange-pink color) is rock salt harvested from areas near the Himalayan Mountains, often in Pakistan. Purportedly one of the purest forms of salt available, it contains trace amounts of minerals, like calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, and ion, and iron oxide (a.k.a. rust), which lends it its pink hue.
Now let's review those supposed benefits again: Fans of the Himalayan salt lamp claim that it reduces anxiety and stress, seasonal affective disorder, and allergies. It's also touted as a way to cancel out the production of positive ions from our modern electronic devices, a.k.a. "electro-smog," by bonding positive and negative ions, which allegedly cleanse the surrounding air and help us relax. Some say that these negative ions also purify the air, killing bacteria and helping those with asthma and allergies to breathe easier.
"Negative ions are created from sunlight, radiation, and ocean waves," says Deepa Verma, M.D., AIHM—which might be why we get all the good feels from those things in nature.
Are These Himalayan Salt Lamp Benefits Backed by Science?
Yeah, the science behind Himalayan pink salt lamps isn't very strong. There are two claims that most of the benefits surrounding salt lamps rely on, and neither of them is supported by very much research.
First, salt lamps are supposedly hygroscopic, meaning they absorb moisture from the air. While salt does possess hygroscopic properties, there's not enough evidence to support that salt lamps produce a significant effect on the surrounding air.
One study claims that the hygroscopic properties of salt lamps might be beneficial, but it's based largely on the second major claim around salt lamps—that they produce negative ions. It's these negative ions that some say help produce a general feeling of well-being. However, further studies on the effect of negative ions on mood contradict these claims.
The theory goes like this: Negative ions are produced by the interaction between salt and water, which—as they are heated in the lamps—produce a surplus of negative ions in the surrounding air, as well as positive, mood-boosting benefits.
In order to determine whether or not Himalayan salt lamps produce any beneficial effects, we'll need to break it down into two parts.
- Do negative ions help produce positive health benefits?
- Do salt lamps actually produce negative ions?
Negative Ions and Your Health
A 2013 review looked at 33 different studies on whether or not negative ions had any significant impact on health. "No consistent influence of positive or negative air ionization on anxiety, mood, relaxation, sleep, and personal comfort measures was observed," the review stated.
However, they did discover that negative air ionization was associated with lower depression scores, but only at the highest exposure level in the air, and (as is almost always the case), they suggested that future research was needed on the subject.
Other studies have come to similar conclusions. High-density negative ions produced "small to medium effect sizes" on a group of students in a 2006 study, and (going way back) a 1982 study of just 24 men produced similar results.
There have also been studies on whether or not negative ions produce significant results with regard to respiratory function and asthma. A 2013 study on the electrical charges of air ions said that, despite multiple attempts, there wasn't much to support the claim that exposure to negative air ions actually helped people breathe easier.
The study also looked at whether or not positive air ions had any impact on respiratory measures, but they didn't find any significant negative effect.
Does this mean negative air ions aren't beneficial? Not quite.
One study tested whether negative ions could help prevent clinical equipment from becoming contaminated by certain bacteria, and the results were promising.
"The action of negative air ionizers significantly alters the electrostatic landscape of the clinical environment," the study concluded. This means that certain bacteria could be repelled from some surfaces and attracted to others. "In so doing, this may prevent critical items of equipment from becoming contaminated with the bacterium."
Do Salt Lamps Actually Produce Negative Ions?
Despite conflicting evidence on the effect of negative ions on our well-being, it's difficult to say whether or not Himalayan salt lamps will produce the same effect, simply because there isn't much research on whether or not salt lamps actually produce negative ions.
"Unfortunately, we don't have good data to suggest that these lamps emit these 'negative ions' and 'clean the air,'" says Shilpi Agarwal, M.D. "We often hear that technology like blue light devices emit positive ions that have negative health benefits—but these lamps don't necessarily counteract these effects."
Jack Beauchamp, a professor of chemistry at Caltech, created a mini-experiment using salt lamps that tested whether any ions—positive or negative—were produced. He used his lab's quadrupole ion trap mass spectrometer to test a popular salt lamp purchased on Amazon—and nothing happened.
"We observed no ions at all," Beauchamp said. "We turned it on and looked for negative ions. We looked for positive ions. We waited for the lamp to heat up. The bulb inside eventually does heat the rock salt, but we didn't see anything."
And while this experiment isn't a peer-reviewed study, it does bring up one significant detail: Even if Himalayan salt lamps do produce negative ions, it's unlikely that a simple light bulb inside the lamp could produce the high levels of exposure generated in scientific studies by a negative ion generator.
That means the levels of negative ions produced (assuming they are produced by salt lamps) are probably too low to generate any significant health or air-purifying benefits.
Should You Use Salt Lamps?
While there isn't much research behind the use and benefits of Himalayan salt lamps, that doesn't mean you can't use them. The lamps give off a cozy, diffuse light, they're not expensive, and they look lovely in basically any space.
Besides, if having a salt lamp in your place helps you relax and unwind, that's reason enough to get your glow on. Stress has significant repercussions on our health, and creating a peaceful environment can help you relax and stay mindful. Mindfulness really is as good as everyone says it is, and anything that helps you find your Zen easier is a win.
Plus, there's absolutely nothing wrong with soaking up the warm glow of a salt lamp and enjoying the placebo effect. Much like the power (or lack thereof) of healing crystals, the placebo effect is totally real and not necessarily a bad thing.
"There isn't enough research or evidence-based studies to prove salt lamps are effective," Verma says. "On the same note, I don't believe they are harmful. In fact, they are like a work of art and have an aesthetic and calming appeal. The placebo effect can be as powerful as the actual remedy itself."
So even if you know that salt lamps might not actually be doing anything for your health, you could still feel better using one thanks to the power of the human brain. Multiple studies have concluded that the placebo effect still works even if you know about it, which means that if salt lamps work for you, why not use them?
Just don't rely solely on the supposed healing benefits of salt lamps instead of seeking medical treatment. Until scientific research gives us more evidence on whether or not salt lamps work, be sure to take any supposed benefits with an, ahem, grain of salt. But if you still want to give a salt lamp a try? If it works for you, we're all for it.
Jandra Sutton is an author, historian, and public speaker. After graduating from Huntington University with a B.A. in history, she went on to receive a master’s degree in modern British history from the University of East Anglia. In her spare time, Sutton enjoys fangirling, running, and anything related to ice cream. Pluto is still a planet in her heart. She lives in Nashville with her husband and their two dogs. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.