Chances are you've seen, or at least heard of pink Himalayan salt lamps at some point or another. These lamps, which are made from chunks of pink salt mined directly from the Himalayas, have been popping up left and right in big-name stores in recent years. When lit from the inside, these lamps emit a warm, calming glow.
Aside from their decorative flair, proponents of Himalayan salt lamps claim that adding a salt lamp to the spaces you occupy the most, like your office, bedroom, or living room, will purify the air — but are those benefits hyped? Here's what you should know.
So how do Himalayan salt lamps work, exactly?
When heated, salt lamps are said to attract water from the surrounding air, forming a solution that releases a surplus of negative ions when it evaporates, according to a study in Pakistan Journal of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
A little background: Ions are electrically-charged atoms or molecules, and we need a balance of both positive and negative ions to maintain a healthy environment. A number of environmental factors — like pollution, hot and dry winds, and even electronic screens — create an imbalance of positive and negative ions. So in this sense, salt lamps act as a natural air purifier.
What are the benefits of Himalayan salt lamps?
By creating a balance of positive and negative ions in your space, salt lamps, in theory, would reduce the symptoms associated with skin and respiratory conditions like psoriasis and asthma, help boost your mood, and even promote sleep by cleansing the air around you.
But do these benefits live up to the hype? The research says no. Studies on the effects of air purifiers on respiratory conditions like asthma, for example, don't sound promising, "[Air purifiers] have not been shown to be any more effective than a placebo at helping people with asthma," says David A. Beuther, MD, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado.
A review in the Journal of Negative Results in BioMedicine, for example, reveals that exposure to positive or negative ions doesn't seem to have any effect — good or bad — on respiratory function. The results were also echoed by a review in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. "I don't think air purifiers and salt lamps are the solution [to asthma]," Dr. Beuther says. "I would spend my money on furnace filters."
Similarly, there's little to no compelling evidence to show that Himalayan salt lamps promote sleep or boost mood. One review in BMC Psychiatry, for example, found air ionization had no consistent effect on anxiety, mood, or sleep. That said, exposure to high levels of negative ions has been associated with improving depression symptoms. Research on seasonal affective disorder (SAD) found that patients responded well to a negative ions treatment emitted by a small device.
However, more research is needed to determine whether there's an actual link between air ionization and depression. Researchers also didn't actually examine salt lamps, so it's unclear whether they would emit the same number of negative ions as the devices used in the studies.
Some advocates also claim that salt therapy can ease skin woes like eczema and psoriasis, but to date, "no large clinical studies have been performed to demonstrate improvement in skin conditions with pink Himalayan salt lamps," says Meghan Feely, PhD, a board-certified dermatologist, attending physician at Mount Sinai's department of dermatology, and media expert for the American Academy of Dermatology. You should consult with your dermatologist for an individualized skincare regimen and treatment plan instead.
The bottom line: Himalayan salt lamps are pretty — but they don't work miracles for your health
It's unlikely that salt lamps will resolve your health issues, but they can add a great look to your office or bedroom. And because they emit a warm glow, they might also have a soothing effect if you're stressed, anxious, or have trouble sleeping. As Dr. Beuther notes, stress reduction and relaxation can be helpful for managing respiratory conditions like asthma. So as long as you don't expect your salt lamp to cure what ails you, spending $10.99 for a rela piece of home décor may not be the worst investment in the world. That said, check out these calming salt lamps for your bedroom or office.
Where to buy Himalayan salt lamps