Himalayan Salt Lamps are all the rage at the moment. Not only are the pinkish blocks of salt from the Middle East incredibly cute aesthetically, they’re purported to have all kinds of health benefits, too! Retailers claim that the lamps help you sleep, tame allergy symptoms, and boost your mood. While I hate to be the bearer of bad news, it turns out that these cute lights might not be all they’re cracked up to be. Let’s break down what the benefits of a Himalayan salt lamp are, and what’s been blown out of proportion by the media.
What Are Himalayan Salt Lamps and Where Do They Come From?
If you’re familiar with world geography, you probably puzzled out that Himalayan salt lamps must come from somewhere in the Himalayan mountains. Specifically, the salt for these lamps is harvested almost exclusively from the Khewra Salt Mine in Pakistan. That’s where the salt for true Himalayan salt lamps comes from anyways – there are a lot of knockoff “Himalayan” salt lamps on the market – those ones are seriously just aesthetic.
That said, it’s certainly possible to find genuine Himalayan salt lamps on the market. For instance, this one from Amazon is made from certified Himalayan pink salt! The salt from the Khewra mine is said to be millions of years old. It contains 98% sodium chloride – which is very similar to table salt (100% sodium chloride) – and the other 2% is made up of a number of other minerals like zinc, magnesium, and potassium.
Himalayan salt lamps come in a few different forms. The most common is the large salt block, which has a hole drilled into it for a lightbulb to sit in. Alternatively, you can get a basket of smaller salt crystals, which is also lit from below by a bulb. Keep in mind that if you want any health benefits at all from your salt lamp, you need to use a heat-generating bulb. LEDs won’t be any good here – more on why later.
What Are the Benefits of Himalayan Salt?
When used as a dietary supplement, Himalayan salt has a lot of benefits! You’re probably aware that your body needs a certain amount of salt to function properly. If you opt to buy pink salt (instead of iodized salt) for your cooking and baking needs, you get the added benefits of the other minerals that Himalayan salt contains. Of course, these benefits come from ingesting the salt, not from lighting a lamp. So what benefits does a Himalayan salt lamp have specifically?
There are two main ideas about how and why Himalayan salt lamps work. Two facts about salt in general: it’s hygroscopic and a natural ionizer. Don’t worry if you don’t fully understand what those two things mean – just hang tight for a really quick basic chemistry lesson.
Salt Lamps Draw Water to Themselves
If something is hygroscopic, it attracts water molecules to itself. There are a lot of natural water molecules in the air, and many of them contain bacteria and allergens. The theory is that the salt lamp absorbs these particles to itself, keeping them from irritating the person with allergies. When you turn the lamp on, it should heat up (hence the need for the heat-generating bulb) and turn the water molecules into vapor, leaving the allergens behind on the lamp.
Proponents of this theory recommend wiping your lamp down with a cloth every week or so to get rid of the bacteria, molds, etc. that stick on the salt. That’s probably not a bad idea anyway, but unfortunately, there’s not a ton of scientific evidence to support the idea that salt lamps pull allergens out of the air by drawing in water vapor.
Salt Lamps Create Negative Ions
This is the more prevalent theory about the use and benefit of salt lamps. Another quick chemistry lesson: all molecules (i.e. everything in the world) contain protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons and electrons are charged – protons carry a positive charge and electrons carry a negative charge. A natural ion is a compound that has an uneven number of protons and electrons: thus, it carries an overall positive or negative charge.
There are a lot of things that naturally produce ions – waterfalls, lightning, etc. – and it’s been suggested that the process of water evaporating when the lamp is heated gives off negative ions. There is some evidence in animal studies that an excess of negative ions increases the production of serotonin, which is a chemical that helps regulate your mood. Human studies haven’t produced any results that confirm a causal link, so more research is needed there.
The other oft-mentioned benefits from the creation of negative ions (that salt lamps help you sleep and improve respiratory conditions) have very little scientific backing. The practice of halotherapy – which dates back thousands of years and says that time in salt caves benefits people with chronic lung problems – might explain the idea that salt lamps can help treat respiratory issues. However, there’s no strong evidence that the salt-cave treatment worked and even less evidence that the benefit would transfer with a comparatively infinitesimal amount of salt in the home.
Light and Color Therapy from Salt Lamps
While the presence of a small number of negative ions might not have a notable effect on sleep patterns, there are some other properties of the salt lamp that might. These stem not from any chemistry relating to ions or hygroscopic properties, but from a different type of science – the idea of color therapy.
Color therapists posit that different colors of light have different effects on the body. Up until a few years ago the idea that light even had color was a little foreign! Now, however, most people are familiar with blue light – which you’re probably looking at as you read this article. Cell phones, computers, TVs, and LED lights all emit blue light which can disrupt your circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep and get good rest when you do.
Since they’re naturally pink or orange, Himalayan salt lamps give off orange light instead. If you have a sunset filter on your computer or phone, it’s changing the color given off by the screen to go through an orange light filter. In addition, orange light combats seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you struggle with mild to severe SAD, a Himalayan salt lamp might be a great investment as we approach the drearier winter months again.
How to Choose a Salt Lamp
If after all of that you think a Himalayan salt lamp is for you, there are a few criteria to keep in mind to make sure you get the greatest possible benefit. As mentioned above, always look for a certified lamp that is made of 100% Himalayan salt. Next, pay attention to color. The darker orange your lamp is, the more benefit you will get from the orange light filter. Plus, darker salt is generally considered to be higher quality in general.
If you want to go for the potential hygroscopic and ionization benefits, the larger the lamp the greater the effect. The typical lamp probably weighs about 5-6lbs (maybe up to 10lbs), but you can get lamps that weigh up to 50lbs! Keep in mind that those larger lamps are also much more expensive – it might be cheaper and easier to opt to buy multiple smaller lamps instead.
Similarly, the rougher the surface of the lamp, the greater potential for hygroscopic benefit. The more nooks and crannies the better luck you’ll have attracting and trapping water molecules with your lamp. Plus, the lamps with rougher surfaces look nicer anyway (in my opinion, at least). Finally (as mentioned multiple times before!), make sure that you get a heat-generating bulb.
Here are my takeaways from all of this: Himalayan salt lamps do have benefits, but they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. That said, I am a huge proponent of the aesthetic value of items, and these score major points in that category. If you’re looking for an air filter or ionizer, the Himalayan salt lamp probably isn’t your friend. However, if you want a nice warm light for the evenings or something to combat the blues in dreary weather, this would be a great addition to your décor.
Are you currently a user of a Himalayan salt lamp? What benefits have you noticed from having it in your home? Is there something specific that you’ve noticed from experience that isn’t currently backed up by science? Or do you just like them for the look? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!