All sorts of claims have been made for himalayan pink salt lamps, a popular type of negative ion generator. Properties of these lamps are supposed to range from purifying the air to preventing cancer.
The recent ionizing devices trend, which seemingly boost health by releasing negatively-charged particles into the air stems from the far East.
As is often the case with new technology, Japan has been leading the way. Health fears from the SARS pandemic and the Fukushima nuclear disaster have led to a boom in the popularity of negative-ion generators, believed to purify the air.
In Japan, you can buy anything from a toothbrush to an air conditioner with a built-in negative ion generator.
With their pinkish-orange color and and natural crystal shape, the lamps certainly look attractive: but will they make you healthier? Let’s get to the nitty gritty.
Do Himalayan salt lamps truly have healing benefits?
…or are they merely hyped-up quackery?
Negative ion generator sounds sophisticated, but seasoned bullshit-watchers will know that scientific-sounding titles sometimes conceal kumbaya.
Let’s examine closely what science has to say. So you can decide if you must be off your rockers to buy this gadget while expecting it to boost your health.
What’s more.. Your eyes might get opened regarding the trustworthiness of the many websites that rave about ‘the health benefits of Himalayan pink salt lamps for your home’.
Attributed Himalayan salt lamp health benefits
Natural living proponents and other fans of Himalayan pinksalt lamps (HPS lamps) claim that the negative salt ions released by heating can boost blood flow, improve sleep, increase levels of serotonin in the brain, and calm allergy or asthma symptoms.
These negative ions are said to neutralize electromagnetic radiation from household electronics, and even prevent the build-up of static electricity.
How much of this is really true? Surely, if a table lamp really did all that it would be a scientific marvel.
How do Himalayan salt lamps work?
Salt is hygroscopic, so the lamps attract water molecules from the air; this means the lamps trap dirt, pollen, and smoke particles which are carried in water vapor.
Once these airborne contaminants have been locked in the salt, clean water is re-released and thus it has a purifying effect on the air. Theoretically that is.
Scientists know that salt does absorb water from the air but that it quickly reaches an equilibrium state (it doesn’t take up anymore water because it is saturated). This is the same for silica packets. Both can be revitalized by drying, which a burning and warming lamp does. So there is merit to this claim.
What’s more is that the heat from the bulb inside that warms up the lamp releases negative ions. And there are the health-boosting effects of salt itself too.
Himalayan Pink Salt Lamp Health Benefits:
Studies and Expert Opinions
1. Neutralizing electromagnetic radiation
There is a theory that the much-debated sick building syndrome is due to a build-up of positive ions from electronic equipment.
We are embedded in a vast sea of electromagnetic (EM) radiation emitted by our electronics (smart phone, computer, television, tablet, appliances, etc).
Nobody knows for sure what the long term effects of EM exposure will be. What is known is that constant EM radiation exposure can cause chronic fatigue, increases stress levels, and decreases the body’s immune response, to name a few.
Negative ions will certainly cancel out positive ions; however, to counteract electromagnetic radiation entirely, you would need to wrap yourself in lead sheeting, not just light a lamp next to the TV.
To what extent Himalayan salt lamps emit negative ions into the air remains to be seen. It’s not sure if they are powerful enough to neutralize electromagnetic radiation, also called ‘electro-smog’ at all.
Neutralizing may be a gross overstatement. Helping reduce seems more appropriate.
But if you’re looking for a nice lamp anyway, why not keep one next to your computer or TV if it can potentially reduce harmful side effects of our gadget-focused lifestyle?
2. Purifying the air
Natural living afficionados boast that the core benefit of these lamps is “their incredible power to remove pollen, dust, cigarette smoke, and other contaminants from the air”.
And even though devotees admit “it’s just a big chunk of salt with a light bulb inside” they claim that their efficacy stems from hygroscopy, attracting and absorbing water molecules with contaminants inside, from the surrounding environment, trapping them into the salt crystal.
It is absolutely true that the salt lamps are hygroscopic: they do suck water vapor from the air. Salt in the air has long been seen as a health booster, and sea air has been proven to help clear the airways.
In the 19th century, Polish salt miners (working in the same mines which now produce “Himalayan” salt) were known to have fewer pulmonary health problems than the general population.
There is ample scientific evidence of the health benefits of breathing salty air. However, rock salt isn’t particularly effective at spreading salt particles through the air.
There are ‘salt spas’ around Europe, which people visit for help with their respiratory problems, but these are rooms lined with blocks of salt like mosaic tiling. It seems unlikely that a 10-inch lamp would affect the air of the whole room.
3. Reduce asthma and allergy symptoms
The fact that special Himalayan pink salt inhalers exist, and that they seem to have tremendous beneficial effects on asthma, bronchitis, and other respitory ailments rules in favor of the exotic salt.
HPS lamps are said to filter microscopic mold, mildew, dust, and pet dander particles from indoor air. People swear that adding one or two lamps to their room helped alleviate allergy symptoms tremendously. Even asthma sufferers claim to benefit from HPS lamps.
Others think that a saline nasal spray will have a more immediate effect if you’re hoping to clear your airways with salt.
4. Improve breathing
Studies show that negative ions increase cilial activity while positive ions have a negative effect. Cilia are the microscopic hairs lining the windpipe (trachea).
In other words, more negative ions in the air means your lungs are kept cleaner from foreign particles. So theoretically, a HPS lamp helps you filter the air you breathe in and keep your lungs clean.
5. Increase energy levels
One of the boldest claims. Because positive ions sap your body of energy, HPS lamps can make you more energetic. Often the link between being out in nature (where negative ions are abundant) and feeling invigorated is attributed to these lamps too.
Two caveats; is the amount of negative ions emitted sufficient and are the energizing effects of being in nature solely caused by negative ions or are there other factors such as beautiful scenery, fresh air etc. in play?
6. Help you sleep better
Another popular claim is that the lamps help you sleep better. The theory is that over-exposure to positive ions in the air lead to a reduction of blood and oxygen supply to the brain resulting in irregular sleep patterns.
Meta studies however contradict this.
No consistent influence of positive or negative air ionization on anxiety, mood, relaxation, sleep, and personal comfort measures was observed. Negative air ionization was associated with lower depression scores particularly at the highest exposure level. Future research is needed to evaluate the biological plausibility of this association. Source: Air ions and mood outcomes: a review and meta-analysis.
7. Here’s how negative ions improve mood
Studies demonstrate that negative ions can definitely benefit people suffering from seasonal depression (SAD), and may help other forms of depression too.
It needs to be pointed out that during the clinical trial ‘high density negative ion exposure’ was applied. Interestingly, the ‘low density’ group also experienced a 17% improvement.
Claims that the lamps boost serotonin production are plausible but unproven; the only way to measure serotonin activity in the brain of a living human is by a painful and dangerous spinal tap, so scientific studies rarely look at that neurotransmitter directly.
8. Reduce stress and increase performance
In a study on people completing a 40-minute task on the computer, exposure to negative air ions reduced stress and anxiety and improved performance.
Task performance was slightly but significantly improved by the presence of negative air ions. These results suggest that negative air ions are effective for the reduction of and the prompt recovery from stress caused by computer operation. (Source: Effect of negative air ions on computer operation.)
The problem with proving the health benefits of Himalayan salt lamps
The trouble is, it’s very difficult to know how many negative ions are given off by your Himalayan salt lamp, unless you take it into a lab for testing.
There are many variables – trace elements within the salt, the thickness of the walls, use of a candle or light bulb as the source of heat, etc.
They are certainly less potent than the electronic negative ion generators used in scientific studies, but they also look a lot more appealing on your coffee table.
Negative ions aren’t the only benefit attributed to Himalayan salt lamps though.
The truth about the origin of ´Himalayan´ pink rock salt
First of all: there are no salt mines in the Himalayas. Pink rock salt is usually mined from Pakistan or Poland. “Himalayan” is just a descriptor, because a “Punjabi Foothills salt lamp” doesn’t sound quite so exotic.
That’s not evidence against the efficiency of the lamps, of course, but watch out for vendors who claim that their lamps are worth twice as much as their rivals because they are made from better-quality salt. It’s all the same salt which Pakistani grandmothers use for cooking.
It also puts the jubilant story of miners working 1500 meters (4921 feet) deep underground, beneath the Himalayan foothills being happy because of this magical pink rock salt in another perspective.
What exactly are negative ions?
The big claim made for salt lamps is that they release negative ions into the air, which improve health and mood.
Let’s take a quick look at the science behind this.
- All matter is made of molecules. Each molecule has a positvely-charged nucleus, circled by negatively-charged electrons like moons orbiting a planet.
- When a molecule has enough negative electrons to exactly balance the positive charge from its nucleus, it is stable.
- A positive ion is a molecule which as lost an electron, leaving a ‘gap’ in its outer layer of electrons; a negative ion has an extra electron.
- The positive ion wants to bond with something to fill the gap, and a negative ion wants to bond with something to get rid of its spare electron.
- Positive ions are known as free radicals. There are clear and documented links between free radicals and health problems such as cancer. ().
The theory is that negative ions will bond with the positive ions in the atmosphere, neutralizing them before they can affect the molecules in your body.
Negative ions have been shown to inhibit bacterial growth and slow the development of cancer cells, although so far this effect has only been demonstrated in a test tube.
- In nature, negative ions are produced by moving water and released by plants during photosynthesis.
- Positive ions are produced by certain weather conditions and by home electronic goods – that’s why the air feels ‘charged’ just before a storm, and why you sometimes feel a crackling sensation if you touch a switched-off TV screen.
Fresh country air usually has 2000-40000 neg ions per cubic centimeter, with a slightly lower number of positive ions. (In nature, positive and negative are usually roughly balanced unless there are unusual circumstances such as a thunderstorm). City air has a lower proportion of negative ions.
The mind-blowing effects of negative ions
There is a well-documented link between ill health and changes to atmospheric ionization. Around the world, there are seasonal winds which are hot, dry, and laden with positive ions – some examples are the Santa Ana (California), Foehn (central Europe), and Siroccoco (Italy).
- In the 1950s and 60s, a rash of studies proved an association between these winds rich in positive ions and an increase in morbidity.
- In some Swiss cantons, the unsettling effect of the Foehn wind was accepted in court as a mitigating circumstances for a crime.
- Roughly a third of the population is very sensitive to negative-ion depletion in the atmosphere.
- According to WebMD, negative ions are thought to protect against germs in the air, thus reducing irritation due to inhaling various airborne particles that make you cough, sneeze, and sore throat.
- Exposure to negative ions is proven to improve mood in those who suffer from seasonal depression (SAD). A 1995 study by Columbia University showed that 30 minutes a day of exposure to a concentrated source of negative ions led to a dramatic reduction in the severity of depressive symptoms, with no side-effects observed.
- Other studies have indicated negative ions may improve blood flow and prevent damage to lungs.
- Nasa employs negative ion generators to help astronauts recover after missions in space.
So, there’s fairly good evidence that positive ions are bad for the health and negative ions are beneficial.
Science-backed health benefits or not,
4 reasons to get a pink salt lamp anyway
Even though Himalayan pink salt lamp health benefits aren’t fully supported by modern science, there are indications these lamps may enhance your well-being.
The healing effects of negative ions have been well-studied. Claims for Himalayan salt lamps are unproven, but are based on plausible science. Salt in the air really does help breathing problems, and negative ions really are linked to better moods.
The jury’s out on whether the lamps are powerful enough to actually deliver these benefits, though lots of people swear they feel noticeably better since they started using the lamps
Reasons to buy a Himalayan pink salt lamp
1. What if they work?
Why not try one out next time you’re looking for a side light? They’re not yet proven effective, but they have legions of devotees, and are affordable enough that you can try one without major investment. Just that modern, Western science hasn’t proven its merits yet doesn’t have to mean you can’t benefit from these gadgets.
You wouldn’t be the only one who swears it improves their quality of life. Perhaps it may even be the placebo effect. But then again, the placebo effect works, and that’s all that matters right?
We do surround ourselves with electronics from the moment we wake up till the minute we go to sleep. The positively charged ions these devices emit do not aid our health, that’s a fact. If only a 20 bucks lamp can help a little bit in reducing this environmental stress, it will be a welcome addition to the household.
2. They look awesome
These eye-pleasing decorative lamps are conversation starters. If anything, these lamps are a symbol for natural living. For going back to archaic values, for a life lived in touch with nature and our core existence.
They suit any decor, cast a flattering pink light, and cost no more than any other table light. They’re certainly more attractive than a negative ion generator, and free from side-effects.
If your Himalayan salt lamp helps your breathing or improves your mood, that’s fantastic; if you experience no benefits, then you’ve still got a stylish lamp for on your coffee table.
3. They are ideal for late evening use
The less blue colored artificial light you are exposed to the hours before bedtime the better you sleep. Amber colored lamps which simulates sunset light waves and doesn’t interfere with your circadian rhythm help prevent sleeping problems.
Turn off your, with sleep interfering, normal colored lamps and switch on your amber colored HPS lamp to be gradually guided into sound slumber. And this is a proven benefit.
4. We thrive on looking at beautiful things
There’s also the science-backed benefit of looking to pretty things. Looking at eye-pleasing things soothes us. The sight of an attractive item can trigger the part of the motor cerebellum that governs hand movement, brain scan studies show. In other words, we instinctively reach out for attractive things; beauty literally moves us.
Although many of the health claims don’t hold up, I’m going to order one for my RV. A LED usb-powered led himalayan salt lamp obviously. But not because I expect it to boost my health. More because I like how it looks and if it does happen to have a beneficial effect, well that’s just a bonus.
- The New England Journal of Medicine, nejm.org.
- Science and Education Publishing, There’s Something in the Air: Empirical Evidence for the Effects of Negative Air Ions (NAI) on Psychophysiological State and Performance, pubs.sciepub.com
- Thayer, R.E. (1989). Biopsychology of Mood and Arousal. New York: Oxford University Press
- Indoor air quality, EPA.
- Diamond, M. (1988) Enriching Heredity: The Impact of the Environment on the Anatomy of the Brain. New York: Free Press.
- Yepsen, R.B., Jr. (1987) How to Boost Your Brain Power: Achieving Peak Intelligence, Memory and Creativity. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale.
- Negative ions create positive vibes, WebMD.