If you’ve spent any time in a new-age shop recently or toured the non-grocery aisles of Whole Foods or even visited a Bed, Bath & Beyond, you may have seen light pink, rocklike glowing lamps known as salt lamps. The lamps are quite literally rock-shaped slabs of salt with a hole drilled in the bottom. A small light bulb with a cord is inserted to illuminate it from the inside, and voila, you have a salt lamp.
They’re a popular way to decorate for the crunchiest among us (full disclosure: I have two) and depending on the size can run anywhere from $15 to hundreds. While there’s no question the lamps have a beautiful, natural feel to them, many people are suggesting they’re more than something pretty to look at. Most of the claims revolve around the idea that the lamp emits negative ions, which they claim can boost mood, purify the air and reduce asthma triggers.
Do they live up to the hype? Not so much, says Dr. Svetlana Kogan, an M.D. as well as a hypnotherapist and experienced Ayurvedic practitioner. “I haven’t seen any large randomized studies to confirm the claims,” Kogan said.
Admittedly, the negative ion claim didn’t come out of nowhere. There was a 1998 study published in the journal of the American Psychological Association, and a few follow-up studies as well, that suggested negative ions could help reduce the effects of seasonal affective disorder and chronic depression. But the reality is there aren’t any studies suggesting the lamps provide anywhere near the levels of negative ions to have an effect, and when Negative Ions Information Center tested salt lamps for negative ion output, they found so few it was hard to measure.
“The same claim has been made by the manufacturers of ionizing lamps, which are sold anywhere from Costco to Sharper Image,” Kogan said. “I know many people who have used them haven’t seen much benefit.”
That doesn’t mean the people who have experienced benefits are entirely wrong, though. Kogan told SheKnows it’s possible the lamp provides a placebo effect. Essentially, a person believes the salt lamps will help, there’s a psychological component to their issue, and thus the lamp does relieve some of their symptoms. “It’s more of a mind-body effort, really, because it’s not like there’s some kind of biochemical being released from the lamp,” she said.
One example of a possible benefit is for people who are struggling to sleep. “They put the lamp on and they take a nice lavender bath before they go to sleep, and it’s contributing to this soothing environment,” she suggests. “It has a very calming type of effect. That’s a definite plus.”
That doesn’t mean the lamps are totally harmless. The retailer Michaels had to recall several due to shock and fire hazards in January 2017, and Kogan says it’s possible the lamp could pose problems for people who are already struggling with lung issues. “Some people with interstitial lung disease, such as pulmonary fibrosis for example, or cystic fibrosis, they may be sensitive to the salt particles themselves,” Kogan acknowledged.
So yes, they’re beautiful, and you’re totally welcome to get one for that purpose. It’s just unlikely to provide any measurable medical benefits. But if you want one to add to your meditation routine or because it fits with your decor, go for it. “It’s a nice new-age prop to have,” Kogan says. “But also we have to be smart and not fall prey to marketing claims.”