Nowadays, you won’t find a yoga studio without a Himalayan salt lamp lurking somewhere in the corner. Made of beautiful, pink crystals, these lamps emit a warm, dim light. But many claims go beyond their decorative value, saying that these lamps will clean your air, boost your mood, help you sleep, and more. Are any of these benefits backed by science? Read on to find out.
It’s as simple as it sounds: place a light bulb inside chunks of Himalayan salt rocks, and you’ve got yourself a Himalayan salt lamp. They’re easy to spot, can be carved into different shapes, and emanate a warm, pinkish glow.
Himalayan salt is obtained from one of the oldest salt mines in the world, located near the Himalayas (Khewra Salt Mine, Pakistan). It’s mainly composed of sodium chloride – just like regular table salt – but is higher in trace elements such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron. These are responsible for its pink color [1+].
Many people buy Himalayan salt lamps simply because they look good and their dim light feels soothing. But these lamps are often advertised as having many health benefits such as:
We’ll take a deep dive into all the alleged benefits to uncover which (if any) have scientific ground. But let’s start with the basics…
Proponents of their health benefits claim that Himalayan salt lamps act via two main mechanisms: hygroscopicity and ion generation.
Hygroscopicity may sound complicated, but it’s easy to grasp. Back in the 18th century, devices called hygroscopes were used to measure humidity (hydro=water, scopy=viewing). These are no longer in use, but the word “hygroscopic” remained. It simply means “the ability to hold in moisture.”
Salt takes up moisture from the air – it’s a hygroscopic substance. By doing so, Himalayan salt lamps may attract particles carried with air vapor such as dust, pollutants, and microbes. The heat produced by the light bulb evaporates the water, while the particles remain on the surface of the salt crystal .
This property also explains why Himalayan salt lamps “sweat” when turned off for long periods. In these conditions, the lamp continues to take up water but doesn’t evaporate it. At some point, the excess water will leak.
While the hygroscopicity of salt is proven, it’s not clear whether Himalayan salt lamps take up enough air moisture to remove a noticeable amount of air particles.
Ions are, simply put, charged particles. Unlike them, all atoms that join together to form molecules are not charged. They have the same amount of positive (protons) and negative (electrons) particles. Ions are created only when they lose or gain electrons.
In nature, air molecules are turned into ions by radiation, friction (such as from waves, waterfalls, and storms), and lightning. Air ionizers are an artificial way to generate ions. These devices use high voltage to break the bonds of air molecules [3, 4+].
Ions bind to air particles and charge them, which facilitates their removal. Additionally, exposure to air ions has some effects on health and behavior that normally depend on whether they are positively or negatively charged .
A non-peer reviewed study described how Himalayan salt lamps absorb water from the air to their surface. This water dissolves the salt, which generates positive and negative ions. Allegedly, the heat of the lamp evaporates water with salt and releases more negative ions into the air .
This explanation doesn’t seem very likely, since water evaporates without carrying the dissolved ions. Try adding a spoon of salt to a cup of water and boiling it until all the water evaporates and you’ll see what we mean. The same process is used on a large-scale in salt evaporation ponds, which is how we get salt from seawater .
This may not seem intuitive at first, but let’s jump back to basic chemistry. Salt ions in liquid water are tightly tucked between water particles. Negative water particles (OH-) surround positive salt ions (Na+). Positive water particles (H+) surround negative salt ions (Cl-). All of this is energetically sustainable.
But when water evaporates, its molecules drift further apart. Ions from salt simply can’t be brought into this environment, as there is nothing to neutralize them .
Additionally, salt needs extremely high temperatures to evaporate – over 1400 ºC, which is 7 times the typical cooking temperature of your oven. The requirements of other trace minerals in Himalayan salt might be slightly lower but remain 100% unachievable with the lamp .
Secondly, if the lamp was actually evaporating salt, you would expect it to dissolve itself with time.
Indeed, Caltech professor of chemistry Jack Beauchamp couldn’t detect any ions produced by a popular Himalayan salt lamp using his lab equipment. While this anecdotal experiment is not a peer-reviewed study, it suggests that Himalayan salt lamps produce little (if any at all) ions .
The Columbia University Medical Center concluded that “It would take a Himalayan salt lamp a hundred years to even come close to what an ion machine could generate in an hour” .
Human studies with Himalayan salt lamps are nonexistent. We are faced with only one low-quality study in rats.
Hence, this section will evaluate the potential health effects of Himalayan salt lamps based on:
We suggest you take the outlined research with… well, a grain of salt.
Numerous studies investigated the health and behavioral effects of ions generated with air ionizers. It’s highly unlikely that Himalayan salt lamps can generate ions. They are more likely to absorb air moisture.
Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) occurs only during a specific time of the year, usually in winter when sunlight is sparse. In 5 clinical trials on almost 400 people with this condition, high doses of negative air ions reduced depressive symptoms [9, 10, 11, 12, 13].
However, bright (but not dim) light also improved SAD in 2 small trials on 24 people. In fact, it reduced depression better than negative ions in one trial on 73 women with SAD and one on over 100 people with different mood imbalances. Since some of the above-mentioned studies combined both therapies, bright light could be the main cause of the positive effects observed [14, 15, 16, 17+].
Negative ions also reduced depressive symptoms in two clinical trials from the 80s on 24 healthy people and 112 people with mental disorders, but not in another trial on 44 people with bipolar depression [18, 19+, 20].
A meta-analysis of these studies concluded that negative ions, especially at higher doses, reduce depression .
A study in rats found that exposure to salt lamps increased serotonin production, which is known to improve depressive symptoms. However, its results are questionable and the study wasn’t peer-reviewed. In fact, high amounts of air ions failed to significantly alter serotonin production in several animal studies [5, 22+, 23, 24, 25].
Bottom line? Himalayan salt lamps don’t improve depression.
In a clinical trial from the 80s on 71 men, negative ions increased aggressiveness in response to offensive comments in those with an aggressive, ambitious, and competitive personality (type A) but not in those more relaxed and tolerant (type B) .
Negative ions increased the feelings of comfort and well-being (and positive ions had the opposite effect) in 4 old clinical trials on 134 people, but not in 2 trials on 64 people [27, 28, 29, 30+, 31, 32].
In animal studies, negative ions increased physical activity and reduced pain perception (while positive ions had the opposite effect). Apparently, they did so by blocking brain cell activity in two regions (hypothalamus and locus coeruleus) while enhancing it in a different one (nucleus ambiguus) [33, 34+, 35+, 36, 37, 38].
However, not all studies investigating the effect of air ions on mood and behavior had positive results. Air ions didn’t alter mood in 4 clinical trials on over 100 people and one study in rats [39, 40+, 41+, 32, 42].
Himalayan salt lamps generate very few (if any) negative ions. They are unlikely to have any impact on mood and behavior.
Based on the discrepancies among studies and the design flaws in most of them (small samples, lack of blinding and randomization), one review concluded that there’s not enough evidence to claim that ions have any effect on anxiety .
Exposure to high doses of negative ions did prevent anxiety in a study in rats. In this case, ion levels insufficient to affect humans might be good enough for animals [49+].
The science behind the benefits of negative ions for anxiety is unconvincing. What’s more, Himalayan salt lamps don’t even emit negative ions.
Bottom line? These lamps will not improve your anxiety.
In 3 old clinical trials on 41 people, negative air ions increased relaxation and sleepiness. In a trial from the 80s on 67 people with insomnia due to psychiatric disorders, ionized air improved sleep in almost 80% [50+, 51+, 52+, 19+].
However, in 4 studies on almost 300 people (mostly suffering from seasonal depression), negative ions had little or no effect on sleep. In two studies on over 100 people, negative ions even reduced drowsiness and worsened insomnia [30+, 10+, 53+, 17+, 29+, 11+].
As was the case for anxiety, a review concluded that air ionization is likely an ineffective way to improve sleep disorders .
However, Himalayan salt lamps may actually help sleep because of the dim, pinkish light they emit.
In 4 clinical trials on almost 200 people, a bright light at night, especially blue light, reduced the production of the sleep/wake cycle hormone melatonin and worsened sleep quality. Replacing bright or blue light in the evening with the dimmer, pink light of Himalayan salt lamps may prevent this unwanted effect [55, 56, 57, 58].
In 4 old studies in rats and mice, negative air ions increased memory and learning rate, with positive ions having the opposite effect. However, a statistical analysis found no differences in most of these studies [62+, 63+, 64+, 65+, 25].
To sum it up, Himalayan salt lamps don’t affect cognition since they are unlikely to release negative ions.
Small particles in polluted air enter the lungs and increase the risk of infections and even cancer. Air ionizers charge these particles, allowing them to attach to nearby surfaces and be removed from the air. Several studies proved their effectiveness [66, 67, 68, 69, 70].
In a study comparing different air cleaners for tobacco smoke removal, air ionizers partly removed smoke particles and gases such as ammonia, nitric oxide, and formaldehyde. However, they were less effective than other air cleaners, didn’t remove some gases (carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons), and some even produced the pollutant nitric dioxide [71+].
Negative ions created by air ionizers reduced the risk of allergies to cats, dust mites, and cedar pollen. They worked by removing allergy-causing particles from the air, breaking down the specific proteins that trigger allergies, and killing mites [72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77].
Advocates claim that Himalayan salt lamps offer dual benefits: releasing negative ions and absorbing with air moisture. However, both effects are highly unlikely.
In an old study in apes, negative ions stimulated mucus clearance in the airway lining; positive ions reduced it. Similarly, negative ions reduced exercise-induced airway narrowing in 2 clinical trials from the 80s on 23 asthmatic children; positive ions had the opposite effect [79+, 80, 81].
However, ionized air failed to improve lung function, asthmatic symptoms, or reduce medication intake in 10 clinical trials (mostly old) on 125 people. A meta-analysis of 6 studies concluded that air ionizers probably don’t improve asthma [82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 80, 81, 87, 88, 89, 90].
Breathing in small salt particles to relieve respiratory diseases (halotherapy) is an approach with origins in the East European tradition of staying in natural salt caves .
A large analysis of over 150 studies on halotherapy for asthma and COPD found only 3 worthy studies. They included over 1k people and reported improvements in breathing function, symptoms, and immune status. Design flaws cast some doubt on the results, and the researchers couldn’t say for sure whether halotherapy helps with these conditions or not .
All in all, Himalayan salt lamps offer no benefits to people with respiratory issues.
The ions produced by air ionizers reduce the spreading of airborne infectious diseases by [93+]:
Negative ions produced by air ionizers increased the negative charges on the surface of medical equipment, which possibly reduces infection spreading in IC units .
In antimicrobial studies, negative air ions reduced the spread and survival of the bacteria causing:
But since Himalayan salt lamps probably don’t emit negative ions, they won’t have an effect on infectious diseases.
In our daily lives, we are constantly exposed to electromagnetic fields generated by cell phones, smart meters, WiFi, transmission towers, and electrical devices. Current evidence suggests exposure to high levels might be associated with conditions such as cancer, neurodegenerative and behavioral disorders, and male infertility [101+, 102+, 103+].
Proponents of Himalayan salt lamps often claim these lamps can help reduce the harmful effects of electromagnetic fields by neutralizing the positive ions that electrical devices purportedly generate.
However, it’s very unlikely that electrical devices produce any ions at all. While high-energy radiation such as X-rays and UV can break the bonds between molecules and release ions – which is why it’s called ionizing radiation – man-made electromagnetic fields such as electricity, microwaves, and radiofrequency don’t have enough energy to do so .
This means that even if Himalayan salt lamps actually produced negative ions, they would most likely be useless against household electromagnetic radiation.
Because Himalayan salt lamps seem to produce little or no ions, they are unlikely to cause these ozone toxicity symptoms.
Himalayan salt lamps are normally placed on shelves and pieces of furniture easily accessible by cats. Although many users are concerned that their cats may be poisoned by licking the lamp, which they actually like to do, the truth is that cats are more tolerant of high salt than humans.
High salt intake doesn’t increase their risk of heart disease or kidney failure and only makes them drink more water, which increases urine production and prevents kidney stones. However, because cats can easily exceed their recommended daily amount of 10-15 mg sodium/kg by licking too much salt, it’s probably better to keep the lamps out of their reach [107, 108, 109, 110+].
In January of 2017, the arts and crafts store Michaels issued a recall on 80,000 Himalayan salt lamps after the US Consumer Product Safety Commission discovered that the dimmer switch or outlet plug could overheat and catch fire. The lamps belonged to these three models of the brand Lumière:
If you still have one of these models, you should stop using it immediately and contact Michaels store for a full refund.
The health claims of Himalayan salt lamps can’t be confirmed based on the available scientific evidence. However, if you want to try them out, you might want to choose models that are more likely to produce the benefits. But above all, you should go for lamps that are safe to prevent electrical hazards and damage.
Lamps with low-quality electric components may overheat and catch fire, putting you and your house at risk. To make sure that your lamp is safe to use, check that its electric components meet the UL standards.
The purported effects of Himalayan salt lamps largely rely on water evaporation, which can only be achieved if the light bulb produces heat. Lamps with LED lights don’t generate any heat.
Some people also consider the surface area of the salt crystal, since it might increase the capacity of the lamp to take up particles. Big lamps with a rough surface have a larger surface area.
Finally, be aware that many vendors take advantage of the rise in popularity of Himalayan salt lamps to sell cheap imitations. In addition to buying them from reputable sources, it’s important to look out for the signs of an authentic Himalayan salt lamp. A lamp is most likely a fake if it:
The reviews of Himalayan salt lamps were generally positive, although users normally valued their beautiful salt rocks and dim, relaxing glow rather than their potential health benefits. Actually, most people were unsure or highly skeptical about their therapeutic effects even if they gave the lamp a high rating.
A few of the positive reviews did mention health benefits. These users believed that the lamp helped them sleep better, curb anxiety, improve asthma, or reduce airborne infections and allergies.
Similarly, most negative reviews were unrelated to its health effects. Instead, they complained about damaged or ugly-looking salt crystals, low-quality electric components, and poor customer service.
In very few cases, the users gave the lamp a bad rating because they didn’t feel any of the expected effects. One user even reported that the lamp worsened his asthma.
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Himalayan salt lamps are great for decoration. If you appreciate their exotic appearance and pinkish dim light, they’ll make a good addition to your home or yoga studio.
You’ll only be disappointed if you expect them to improve any health conditions. The science behind their health benefits is shaky and, for the most part, nonexistent. Only one benefit stands a chance: using them instead of bright light in the evening (while avoiding blue light altogether) might reduce sleep problems. But you’d accomplish the same with any dim decorative light.
Otherwise, be sure to get your lamp from a reputable source to avoid electrical hazards and dealing with cheap imitations made from who knows what.