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Here’s the truth behind Himalayan salt lamps

Attractive décor? Maybe. Mystical healing? Not so much.

Himalayan salt lamps: How do they work? Credit: Getty Images / Let pictures tell the story

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With craggy edges and a vibrant pink color, Himalayan salt lamps are an attractive piece of trendy lighting. The block of salt has a bulb fitted inside and it offers a natural, earthy look to your home décor. But, the bigger question is: Does a salt lamp offer the health benefits that manufacturers claim?

These claims include that the lamp releases negative ions, which they say 1) detoxify your lungs and respiratory system when you breathe them, 2) clean the air around your house, and 3) neutralize electromagnetic radiation.

Those are some big claims for a lovely home accent lamp. As we are curious folk, we talked to experts to see if Himalayan salt lamps truly offer some amazing health benefits, or if they’re just nice lighting.

Where does this pink salt actually come from?

Before we even get into the science of negative ions, let’s talk about pink salt. Color of any kind in salt comes from other compounds found in the salt. In this case, the pink is iron.

According to May Nyman, a professor of chemistry at Oregon State University, “Iron is a harmless metal that is abundant in our bodies.” Nyman also says that iron isn’t the only metal found in pink salt—copper, zinc, chromium, and lead can also be present and are dangerous for consumption.

While Himalayan salt lamps look like beautiful relics of the Asian mountain range, the salt isn’t mined there. Instead, it is mined near the Himalayas, sourced from underground mines of dried seabeds in Punjab, Pakistan.

Do salt lamps impact or improve our health? In a word: No

A person sitting in a spa by the Himalayan salt lamp
Credit: Getty Images / Slavica

Now that you know where Himalayan salt lamps are sourced , let’s get into the science.

Now that you know where Himalayan salt lamps are sourced , let’s get into the science.

Salt lamp manufacturers would have you believe that heating a brick of pink salt with a light bulb will cause the salt to release negative ions into the air. Without getting too technical, ions are atoms or molecules that have a positive or negative electrical charge. You interact with these types of atoms all the time—static electricity, for example.

Salt lamp purveyors claim that breathing in these negative ions produces all sorts of miraculous benefits, like detoxifying your nasal passages. While there is some science around the ability of negative ions to produce antidepressant effects at very high exposure levels, that doesn’t apply to these lamps.

Because salt lamps don’t release ions.

Getting salt to release negative ions requires heat … a lot of heat. In fact, says Nyman, the temperature required is 2,600° F. Chemists studying salt do this sort of thing all the time, but they use a very specialized laser called a femtosecond laser (the same one that doctors use for cataract surgeries). A run-of-the-mill, everyday light bulb isn’t going to come close to doing the trick. In fact, she says, even burning the salt wouldn’t achieve the desired ion release, as fire changes the chemistry completely and doesn’t release negative ions.

The best way to get salt into your nasal passages—where it may actually have some benefit to your health—is by dissolving it in water. And, good news, there’s already a product on the market that does this very thing. It’s called nasal spray. Though, she admits, “Nasal spray is not as pretty as the lamp.”

As for the lamp’s ability to clean the air, that’s also not possible, according to David Ellerby, Reviewed’s chief scientist.

Ellerby says that as the heat from the light bulb within the lamp warms up the salt, it will make the salt moist and draw in water in the room. However, the heat from the lamp is so minimal, it can’t attract that much water.

Additionally, what water it would draw in wouldn’t bring in any pollutants. If the lamp was purifying the air and drawing in pollutants, you’d see those impurities on the surface of the lamp, says Ellerby.

If you’re seeking out a Himalayan salt lamp for detoxifying purposes: “Just get an air purifier,” says Nyman.

You can still decorate your home, bedroom, or bathroom with a Himalayan salt lamp for its stunning looks, but if you want to filter and detox your home’s air, then an air purifier that has a series of filters to process dust, smoke, and pollen will be the thing to give your home fresher air.

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