Do Salt Lamps Actually Do Anything or Are They Just Pretty? Here’s What the Research Says
Time to separate salt lamp fact from fiction.
We're constantly told to prioritize self-care and focus on wellness, and, unsurprisingly, everyone has their own preferred ways to do it Complicating matters further is the fact that many products or treatments that may help some people feel more relaxed—in the name of self-care—are often marketed as having definitive health benefits. In these situations, it's up to the consumer to make an informed purchase, understanding exactly what a particular wellness product or trend can—and can't—do.
Salt lamps (sometimes referred to as Himalayan salt lamps) are a perfect example of a wellness product with a controversial reputation. While it's one thing to enjoy a salt lamp's soft pink glow in your home, believing that lamp possesses healing properties—or taking it a step further and attempting to use it as a treatment for a medical condition—is something else entirely.
Here's what to know about what salt lamps can actually do—versus what medical marketing claims they can do.
What exactly are salt lamps?
A fixture of both spa decor and Instagram content, salt lamps are basically large, hollowed-out chunks of pink rock salt that contain a light bulb or other type of heating element. “Authentic” salt lamps are made from rock salt mined from the Himalayan mountains, usually in Pakistan, although it’s often hard to confirm this product’s true origins when purchasing it. When a salt lamp is turned off, it looks like a large, decorative, salmon-colored crystal sitting on a shelf. When it's turned on, it produces a soft (some might even say “soothing”) pinkish glow.
What do salt lamps supposedly do?
Most of the health claims made about salt lamps stem from the idea that they supposedly release negative ions into the air. Scientists have been looking into the sources and potential benefits of air ions for about a century now, and have found they can be generated naturally via waterfalls, rain showers, or thunderstorms. However, studies on the potential mental and physical health benefits of negative ions found in nature have largely come up empty, with no consistent or reliable scientific evidence of potential therapeutic effects.
What does this mean in terms of salt lamps? In short, the main basis of health claims is that the lamp produces negative ions, but at this point, there is no meaningful scientific evidence that negative ions do anything to improve a person’s mental and/or physical health. On top of that, there’s also no evidence that salt lamps even produce and release these negative ions in the first place. That means that there’s no reason to take any of the purported health benefits of salt lamps—including claims that they clean the air, boost your mood, or improve sleep quality—at all seriously.
When it comes to advising patients who ask about salt lamps, Puja Uppal, DO, a board-certified family medicine physician, makes it clear that there is no data to support their various health claims. “I tell patients it’s important to know the root cause of your symptoms,” Dr. Uppal says. “Using a salt lamp is like using a bandage over a cut: The bandage can worsen your initial cut by causing an infection. You keep getting new bandages and waste precious time that may be needed for a timely diagnosis, as in the case of skin cancer.”
In other words, if someone is relying on a salt lamp to cure a particular health condition instead of actively seeking research-backed treatment, their condition and/or symptoms could get worse the longer they wait to get the healthcare they need.
What about their indirect health benefits through general stress reduction?
This question comes up frequently in conversations about the potential health benefits of wellness products that promote relaxation and stress reduction. Even if something may not have clinically proven stress-reduction benefits, if you find it helps you unwind and destress, that’s certainly something.
We know that stress can contribute to a number of negative effects on your body and mind, including but not limited to fatigue, headache, muscle pain or tension, chest pain, mood dips, changes in sex drive, nausea, and sleep and digestive disruption. So everyone should take steps to manage or reduce their stress levels in a way that works for them. One frequently encouraged strategy is to practice relaxation techniques that target the sympathetic nervous system and anxious thought loops, like deep breathing and meditation.
While relaxation can help mitigate stress in a general sense, the fact still remains that, at this point, there’s no research-based evidence that the use of salt lamps comes with any direct health benefits. But if sitting in a room with a salt lamp helps you feel more relaxed while you practice yoga or mindfulness exercises, then by all means, bask in that rosy glow.