If you’re not familiar with salt lamps, they’re just what they sound like: large hunks of salt with a light bulb inside. They produce a warm, pinkish-yellow glow. And a quick Googling will turn up stories linking them to everything from improved mood and cleaner air to fewer allergy symptoms.
But do they really work? That’s tricky. Here’s what you need to know:
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Negative Ions May Be The Magic Ingredient
From the air you breathe to the cells of your skin, everything is composed of atoms. And those atoms—depending on your immediate environment—can take on either a positive or a negative charge. While it’s not clear exactly why this is the case, research has shown the balance of positive to negative ions in the air can affect how you feel.
Specifically, air filled with a surplus of positive ions seems to tank your mood. Hot and dry air—like the type your heating system pumps out all winter—produce positive ions, which may partially explain why seasonal depression crops up during the colder months. On the other hand, a study from Wesleyan University found negative air ion therapy could relieve symptoms of depression.
Salt naturally produces negative air ions. And while there’s very little research on salt lamps, one animal study from Pakistan found that exposing rats to salt lamps for three months improved their levels of antidepressant hormones.
Some studies have linked time spent in salty environments—sometimes known as dry salt air therapy—to allergy and respiratory benefits. The thinking is that inhaling salty air may reduce inflammation in your lungs. But it’s not yet clear if that’s accurate, says Kimmo Saarinen, PhD, of Finland’s South Karelia Allergy and Environment Institute.
Asked about salt lamps, Saarinen says there’s really not much to either support or disprove their potential breathing benefits. “They cannot be recommended by the findings done in our salt room studies, that’s for sure,” he says.
Some salt lamp advocates claim negative air ions kill bacteria. But research from Canada failed to show this antibacterial benefit.
Long story short, the connection between salt lamps and respiratory benefits is loose at best.
Salt lamp advocates—especially fans of pink-hued Himalayan salt lamps—say the warm light is both relaxing and a natural anxiety fighter. And there IS lots of research to show soft, warm, red-hued light can mellow you out at night, and may help you de-stress and get to sleep more easily. Of course, you could get the same light from the right kind of bulb and lamp shade. (These 12 tips for better sleep can also help.)
So Should You Buy One?
The potential for some mood and breathing benefits is there. But that evidence is spotty. You might be better off buying a negative air ionizer and a lava lamp. But if you want to give a salt lamp a try, there’s no evidence to suggest any health risks. If you like the look, go for it.
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