These functioning electric lamps enclosed in a chunk of salt have been adding their pleasant glow to health fairs and mall kiosks for years. Unlike most light fixtures, illumination isn’t their main selling point. Salt lamps are touted as a natural source of “negative ions” that supposedly improve the health of anyone nearby.
Shopping over the Internet, you can quickly find salt lamps in many shapes, including pyramids, Tear and, appropriately enough for the season, Salt Bowl with Chunks.
The claims: According to one USA website, the negative ions released by salt lamps will relieve stress and “clean ambient air.” The cleansing power of the lamps supposedly makes them “especially helpful for relieving the symptoms of allergies and asthma.” The site also claims that the lamp’s soft orange color can boost mood and improve the focus of children with attention deficit disorder. Other sites claim that salt lamps can treat migraines, insomnia, depression, sinusitis and viral infections.
Bottom line: If glowing crystals fit the home décor of your friends and family, salt lamps might be a good present. But experts see two basic flaws behind the claim that users will ionize their way to good health. First, it’s not possible for a chunk of salt to release a significant amount of negative ions, says Victor Stenger, a professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. There isn’t nearly enough energy in a lamp to break up the ionic bonds between the sodium and chlorine in salt. “If that were true, we’d have chlorine gas coming out our salt shakers.”
Gama Nadeem, a partner (at the Canadian company) says he has heard such criticisms before but believes that his lamps really do produce ions. “Believe” is the key word. “We haven’t done any studies,” he says. “But I’m sure that meters can measure the ions.”
Even if these salt blocks somehow released ions through a loophole in the laws of chemistry and physics, they couldn’t deliver on their health claims, says Michael Terman, director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. Terman’s studies have found that large doses of negatively charged oxygen ions generated by a machine can help ease depression in people with seasonal affective disorder — a finding touted on several salt lamp sites. But there’s a world of difference between oxygen streaming from a machine and chlorine supposedly trickling from a rock, he says. “I was dismayed to see my research touted by salt lamp companies. It’s disgraceful.” As for the claim that the color of the lamps can dramatically improve mood or treat ADHD — “that’s just nuts,” Terman says.
Other studies of negative ions (from machines, not salt) have had decidedly mixed results. For example, a review published in 2003 found no evidence that negative ions can improve symptoms of asthma.
The Canadian company owner says his salt lamps can’t really be compared to machine ionizers. “Salt lamp don’t produce as many ions as a machine,” he says. “In nature, things happen very slowly.” Or, some would say, not at all.
At Salt Lamp Creations (www.khalidmaqbool.com) you can read about how Salt Lamps are made and shop for Salt Lamps as simply things of beauty crafted from 250 million year old Salt (carbon dating fact!)