Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Himalayan Salt Crystal Lamps

My quackery of the day is the Himalayan Salt Crystal lamp. I’ve seen these a couple of times in New Age stores, and I saw them again in the local Black Lion while Christmas shopping. These lamps come with an extraordinary claim that they can improve your health. I’ll be using Natural-Salt-Lamps.com as one of my primary claim sources, so let’s look at what they have to say.

Our Natural Salt Crystal Lamps and Crystal Rock Salt wellness products will have a profound effect on your health and well-being. You can breathe easier, feel better and live healthier…
That’s a pretty significant claim. Fortunately, they have a Health Benefits link that we can follow to get details on how these crystals can improve our lives.

Salt Rock Crystal Lamps create an environment rich in negative ions that has a wonderfully positive effect on your physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual health.
Supposedly our air (especially indoor air) is full of pollutants that carry a positive electrical charge. The Himalayan Rock Crystal is going to “neutralize” these positive ions floating in the air by releasing negative ions. According to the site, this effect is related to another documented treatment.

For many years, people suffering from asthma and other symptoms have gained tremendous relief from underground asthma treatment Speleotherapy, in salt mines, where negative ions are plentiful.

Another source -- SaltLamps4U.com -- tries to explain how the ions from salt crystal lamps improve air quality…

Ionizing machines emit negative electric charges into the air, and this supposedly causes airborne allergens to cluster and fall to the ground.
Supposedly? They aren't even pretending to have supporting evidence for this claim.

Here’s the problem that I see: one of these lamps is just a hollowed salt crystal with a 15-watt light-bulb inside. How is it supposed to release negative ions? If it’s not getting a steady supply of electrons from somewhere, it can’t be releasing negative ions because it would be giving itself a positive charge that would attract negative ions, thereby defeating itself. Electrical current flowing through that light-bulb is not going to be leaving a surplus of electrons, since the electrons have to keep flowing through the circuit in order to actually work, so where are the electrons coming from? The websites have no explanation, although Natural-Salt-Lamps does try...
…the heated salt crystal attracts the water molecules from the ambient air to its surface. The salt goes into a solution as it mixes with the water molecules. Sodium, as the positively charged ion, and chloride, as a negatively charged ion, becomes neutral and are emitted back into the environment.
Yes, salt will dissolve in water, but the positively charged sodium ions and negatively charged chloride ions don’t “become neutral”: they just float around in the solution, which remains neutral overall because it has a balanced number of positive and negative ions in it. The chloride ions won’t magically float out of the solution into the air, because the attraction of the positive sodium ions won’t let them get too far away. You could possibly get both positive and negative ions into the air, but not negative ions alone. In reality, though, you generally get water vaporizing back into the air and leaving the salt behind, and that's exactly the result you should expect with a heated crystal.

Putting aside the physical problems of getting these rock crystals to release ions into the air, we still have to determine whether such ions would be beneficial. According to SaltLamps4U…

It has been researched scientifically that the amount of ions in the environment, that is acceptable by human is ca. 1000-1500/cm3. And normally in closed rooms were electronic appliances are utilized, this amount as low as 200/cm3. So to increase the number of negative ions in the environment, air ionizers are used. These air ionizers generate the negative ions and balance the atmosphere of the room.
Naturally, their website doesn't include a reference to these studies. Machines that demonstrably release ions into the air do exist, though, and they’ve been tested. The Division of Respiratory Medicine at University Hospital Basel in Switzerland reviewed studies of alternative asthma treatments conducted since 2002 and published their findings in 2004. PubMed has a summary of their findings:

Studies do not support the use of homeopathy, air ionizers, manual therapy, or acupuncture for asthma. These methods bear some risks to patients related to undertreatment and side effects.
Apparently releasing ions into the air has no health benefits, at least not for asthma. So, once again, we have an alternative medicine claim that doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny. If you buy a Himalayan Salt Crystal Lamp (or any other kind of salt crystal lamp, for that matter), you’re essentially paying $60 to $100 (or more) for a decorative night light.

If you really want a device to release negative ions into your home atmosphere, though, don’t despair: you probably already have one or more. Contrary to what SaltLamps4U.com says, television sets and computer monitors are negative ion sources (the Cathode Ray Tube inside a TV is specifically designed to spew electrons), and you can see how much effect they have on your air quality. They certainly attract a lot of dust. Assuming that a 15-watt salt lamp has any effect at all, it will be dwarfed by a 40-watt television set, so there's no need to buy a salt lamp, anyway.

35 comments:

OutEast said...

This is the first time I've heard of any supposed health benefits to salt lamps. I have one at home, though - it's a pretty nice night light.

Anonymous said...

The handheld ion counter (device) $500 will be ultimate testing to see if the reading on display change when brought near (lighted) salt lamp. If it does, that is clear evidence that the lamp is producing ions. But I am not in mood of shelling out 500$ at this time!
contact me sheikh18@hotmail.com
I might a slight bias in my comments due to the nature of my business *wink*

Lord Runolfr said...

sheikh18,

Even if you did demonstrate that a salt crystal lamp generated ions, you'd still have the problem of demonstrating that they provide any health benefits.

Runolfr

asthma treatment said...

Just wanted to say that your article on asthma treatment has learned me something. My son suffers from asthma and we don't really know which treatment to choose. I will follow your advice and hope to be back soon with good news. Thanks!

asthma treatment

Anonymous said...

Pubmed is filled with articles reinforcing the efficacy of acupuncture for the treatment of asthma.

e.g. Below is the first random example I found:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=16379344&query_hl=1&itool=pubmed_docsum


In this weird and wonderful universe, just how much knowledge is enough to dismiss something outright like that?

Even if you're right you're missing the point. It's a nice light. Having one makes people feel good. Leave it alone party pooper.

Lord Runolfr said...

Oh anonymous one... did you note the admonition on other the ionizer study that many people using such methods are at risk for undertreatment? Having a pretty lamp around is fine; thinking it will keep you from having an asthma attack could be dangerous if you think you don't need to keep an inhaler around because of it.

I read the acupuncture study that you linked, and it's little more than an anecdote. Studies are not necessarily good information just because they're on PubMed: you have to read the methodology to determine the quality of the information. Did you find a double-blind, placebo-controlled study supporting the efficacy of acupuncture in treating asthma symptoms?

More importantly, did you find a double-blind study supporting the efficacy of salt crystal lamps in treating asthma symptoms?

My problem is not with selling salt crystal lamps. They do look nice. My problem is making unsupported claims that salt crystal lamps improve various medical conditions as a way of selling them.

Anonymous said...
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Nick Baker said...

While negative ions aren't the cure-all these websites claim, it is true that they've been shown to improve mood and counteract seasonal affective disorder in various studies. But the benefits are only apparent at high concentrations, and as far as I can tell this is the dirty little secret all the websites skirt around. Even if they do add negative ions to the air, they're probably not in densities high enough to have a biological impact. But they're still pretty.

Source: Michael Terman, Jiuan Su Terman. "Controlled Trial of Naturalistic Dawn Simulation and Negative Air Ionization for Seasonal Affective Disorder" The American Journal of Psychiatry. Washington: Dec 2006. Vol. 163, Iss. 12, p. 2126-2133

Anonymous said...

We at Bionic Products Pty Ltd, manufacture the Elanra Therapeutic Ioniser www.negativeions.com. Bionic Products started in 1967 and it has always been our interest to promote the use of Negative Ions for health purposes. When we see a product that produces or supposed to produce negative ions, we test it with ion counters, ozone-measuring equipment etc to check the manufacturers claims.

Unfortunately, the "Himalayan Salt Crystal Lamps" although very pretty, do not produce one negative ion more that the ambient background quantities found in natural air. With our test, we were able to measure a display that had about 150 lamps operating at the same time.

It is unfortunate that claims made by such sellers of the "Himalayan Salt Crystal Lamps" only discredit bonafide organizations that endeavor to bring new and scientifically proven products onto the market.

Lord Runolfr said...

That being said, Anonymous from Bionic Products Pty Ltd, what benefits really exist from an increased ion count in the air, and what is your evidence?

Lord Runolfr said...

I have regretfully removed a comment by "Mike in Ireland" because it is excessively long, and his references are rather difficult to check. I have saved the comment, however, for investigation and reference.

Louis said...

this last comment is an amzingly powerful attack on salt lamps but i claim it is viciously promoted by commercial interests and riddled with pseudoscience, for instance refrencing proprietary, non-peer-reviewed material is the hallmark of the scientific propagandist and snake oil charlatan, secondly the the british government regulation on medicine certifies the following 2 statements about airborne anions: "Will clean the air in your environment by removing smoke, smells, pollutants and contaminants.
Can be beneficial if you suffer from asthma, allergies and bronchitis"
stop reading into these statements and start reading what britain actually certifies in print for commerce, nobody says throw away your inhaler or treat your own medical conditions, the absurd leaps of logic the operator of this post would have you believe, combined with the fact he was receptive to the industry rep tells me he is working for commercial gains, combined with the fact that he used bullshit physics to throw any non-physicists off (the ion source is the IR from the bulb) and thus may be designated as scientific propagandist, i will never post here again

Lois said...

I saw these lamps at an arts and crafts show and went online trying to find some verification of their claims. The first 6 or 7 Google pages are filled with sites selling the lamps, but nothing on any scientific studies. After reading your blog, I must conclude that the lamps are pretty and would look really cool in the dark, but are of no use to one's health.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

While I have no argument with skepticism on the efficacy of salt lamps - I DO have direct experience of the positive health benefits of salt exposure, which I presumed to be related to the ionisation of the air.

I had one of the worst cases of 'flu I've ever suffered when I visited the underground Wielicka salt mine outside Krakow in Poland, a very interesting place if you ever get there...a cathedral underground entirely made of salt, for one thing!

Also has a health sanitorium as part of the mine, though that was not the reason I went there.

After a visit of 3-4 hours I came out and my 'flu was vastly improved...I was able to breathe easily, heavy sinus pain quite gone - it was pretty amazing.

Lord Runolfr said...

Anonymous,

What you have cited for us is an anecdote. A single instance of someone recovering from flu symptoms after entering a salt cave does not prove that salt exposure actually had any role in the recovery. Even numerous such anecdotes don't really prove anything, since we don't know what other factors might be affecting the condition.

To really determine whether salt exposure helps the flu, you need see what happens when you treat a lot of flu patients with salt exposure under controlled conditions. You need to have people who do get salt treatment and others who don't, while all of them are receiving the same kind of care otherwise. That's the best way to tell if the salt exposure is a factor.

Harry said...

It absorbs water in the air (lowers humidity). Does that help with anything at all?

Danbh said...

I don't like the logic of the original post. This person doesn't seem to understand what ionizers are, much less how they work. How can you claim that salt lamps don't serve as ionizers when you don't seem to understand how the many and functional electrical ionizers on the market work today?

Mainly, ionizers are ionizing water molecules, they aren't trying to release sodium or chlorine ions, or any other salt ion, into the air. As for how this is done, I don't really know myself. In modern appliances, the claim has something to do with high voltage discharges of electricity.
With salt lamps, the claim is that when the water dissolves the salts, it is somehow negatively charged, and then the heat re evaporates the water, thus putting the ions into the air.
As for the truth of these claims, I have no idea.

Lord Runolfr said...

danbh,

I'm a long way from being an expert on air ionizers, but I've a good idea how salt and water behave with respect to heat. To my knowledge, water vapor from the air simply isn't likely to condense on a chunk of warm salt: it would take a cool object to condense water vapor. Without liquid water forming on the crystal, there won't be any dissolution of the crystal into ions. Further, if a salt solution is heated, the water generally leaves the salt behind as it evaporates, so I see no reason to think these crystals will be effective air ionizers.

ashyl said...

I have always thought that "ion" hoo haw was just that: voodoo logic. However, I am a firm believer in how one can create wellness with their thoughts. Yes, I know there probably haven't been any double bind studies on how thoughts become realities nevertheless, perhaps that is what "miracles" are all about. With that said, if someone believes that the Salt Crystal Lamp helps them breathe better, then they (the lamps combined with the belief) probably will do just that. For me, that is well worth the $60-$100 these things cost. It is to be combined with traditional medicine, of course. My mom has emphysema for which there is no cure. It just gets worse. Until one is literally on ones knees gasping for air, federal law prohibits putting someone on oxygen. An oxygen tank where she could take a couple of hits per day would at least lessen her fear of not being able to breathe, but this is not allowed. My dr. informed me that she would die of a heart attack or stroke before she would smother. Comforting, eh? So I bought her a salt lamp and she is calmed, at least for now.

Anonymous said...

Runolfr,

While I share your skepticism regarding the efficacy of these salt lamps in terms of health benefits, your understanding of physics (or evident lack thereof) seems to disqualify your determined assertions that these lamps do nothing. I'm not a physicist by trade (although I have taken many college-level courses in both physics and chemistry), but it's general knowledge that salts dissolve in water to produce positive and negative ions (see http://www.cofc.edu/genchemlab/hydrolysis.htm for some textbook examples).

Salts also attract water molecules (they're hygroscopic compounds). That's why you see rice grains in salt shakers in humid climates. The rice is intended to attract any stray water vapor before it goes into solution with the salt, preventing clumping.

And, as pointed out by a previous poster, the energy emitted from the bulb which interacts with the salts or salt-water compounds is probably not the visible light portion, but rather the IR 'heat' energy emitted.

I can't speak to the claim that the entire process that occurs inside these salt lamps releases ions in to the air. However, I suggest that if you're going to try to debunk these lamps on scientific grounds, you first obtain a firm grasp on the basic concepts involved. Otherwise, your assertions can only muddy the waters with more pseudoscience, much like those of the lamp manufacturers and proponents.

With that said, I applaud you for starting this discussion- hopefully it will yield more information to allow the consumer to make an informed decision.

My advice is, if you are ill, please seek and follow a qualified physician's advice- simple salt lamps are not likely to cure you of asthma or other respiratory ailments.

Regards,
-Jeff

Lord Runolfr said...

Jeff,

I've taken my fair share of chemistry and physics courses myself. Yes, salt can dissolve in water, dispersing into positive and negative ions. Yes, dry salt can attract and hold water.

What you won't see is a warm block of salt attracting water and then somehow releasing negative ions -- and only negative ions -- into the air. Any moisture that can't be retained in the crystal itself will escape into the air, leaving the salt behind.

Any salt ions that do manage to get away into the air under these conditions will do so in equal proportions -- positive and negative. If only negative ions escaped, the crystal 1) decompose, because it's mass was floating away, or 2) become positively charged, attracting negative ions back to it.

The physics described for the mechanism of himalayan salt crystal lamps just don't work.

Jerry said...

A couple of years ago I posted a blog discussing the "snake oil" aspect of Salt Lamps and how companies are playing on the susceptibility of consumers to "try anything" to cure what ails them. Yu can check out the blog here:
http://saltlampking.blogspot.com/
When I started selling Salt Lamps at Salt Lamp Creations we may the specific statement that we like them becasue they are pretty.

I was attracted to them on a trip to Europe and started selling them soon thereafter (6 years ago).

I have watched the Salt Lamp go from a work of Mother Natures amazing natural art to this thing that is claimed to purify the air, remove smoke and allergens, cure hay fever and asthma, make sad people happy and on and on.

While there is much doubt and even personal skepticism of the claims made by these modern day snake oil salesmen, I still hold firm to the belief that they are beautiful and if you get some other positive result (whether as a placebo or from some still undetermined inherent scientific property) then that is a plus.

ed said...

How do you explain people entering our Salt Lamp store, Himalayas Salt Lamps & More, with plugged sinuses and within 10 minutes, they breathe freely. We have had people return outside, get plugged up again and come back in the store where their sinuses clear again. I quit snoring the first night with a salt lamp next to me because my sinuses cleared. I didn't believe it was the lamp so I tried an experiment, slept without the lamp in my room and I was plugged up and woke myself snoring. How do you explain asthmatics using the salt pipe daily for a week and finding they are able to reduce the use of their inhaler (some give up their inhalers completely). The humidity in the air reacts with the heated salt which makes the negative ions. You can tell that less dust is on the furniture in a room with the salt lamp. The area that gets dusty is the floor near the entrance where the negative ions meet the dust & allergens as they enter the room. When they combine, they drop resulting in less dust & allergens airborne to breathe. Testimonials from people young and old that have nothing to gain by lying is what convinced me along with my own experiences. We've sold thousands of lamps in the last 5 years...If they didn't work, I'd be out of business. People who have never experimented with the lamps should know better than to pretend they are experts. I'm not an expert, I just know we are helping many people with their health concerns. We also have Doctors, Allergists and Respiratory therapists send their patients to us, not just for lamps, but the other salt products we carry. You can read "Water and Salt The Essence of Life" and educate yourself on the subject.

ed said...

My mother had airborne mold in her home (long story about her basement flooding). She had open sores and she gave up on the doctor remedies of prescriptions and ointments. She saw specialists on mold and nothing helped. I traveled there for a visit and became deathly ill with some kind of respiratory infection. After I left, we sent her 4 large lamps (to Alaska). Her sores healed in about two weeks. We didn't tell her anything about the lamps, just that the lamps would look nice in her home. Her sores went away and when I visited again I didn't get sick and the house didn't smell damp/musty. Made a believer out of me.

Anonymous said...

I was told something about them releasing 2 negative ions to every positive ion, thereby tilting the concentration in the air to negative ions. I'm attempting to find more than circumstantial/anecdotal evidence, but I'm no scientist. It makes evaluating the various claims difficult. It would help greatly if some neutral site would post a decent explanation of the supposed way it works and links to research rather than simply 'everyone knows that there's a bunch of scientific evidence.'

Furthermore, it obviously can't be a complete miracle. If negative ions were the best thing since sliced bread, no one living by the seaside or on a mountain would get sick, etc.

Evelin Ledebuhr said...

My mother-in-law had frequent asthma attacks that were resulting in hospital stays, about two years ago. She came close to loosing her life a couple of times. We bought at hymalayan salt lamp for her. It wasn't very expensive (between $29 and $36, so we decided it couldn't hurt.
She didn't believe it would work and we had our doubts. Much to our surprise, she has not had and asthma attack since she began using the salt lamp. It's been almost two years. It may be a coincidense, but I don't think so.
I know that she is sold on it

Evelin from MI

Anonymous said...

I, too, was not wholly convinced about the negative ions being released into the air from salt lamps. I guess it's possible the action of evaporation of water may result in negative ion dispersion, but the ions don't come from the salt itself.
However, I have purchased a salt lamp and I do notice improved air quality. I've done some research and have come to the following conclusion:
The way that salt lamps work is by their hygroscopic nature and the fact that salt is a natural antibiotic. Molds and bacteria are airborne via water molecules in the air. By attracting moisture, the airborne bacteria will be carried to the salt surface and be eliminated by the salt and heat. The moisture will then evaporate from the salt surface and the heat from the lamp (heat rises) will create an upward convection of air circulation thereby increasing the rate of this cycle.
The following website has some good information about this:
http://www.prlog.org/10409295-salt-lamps-naturally-improve-indoor-air-quality.html

Darrin said...

Another James Randi wannabe. This article is as full of it as he is. Himalayan salt does offer natural health benefits, specifically when used as a lamp, but there are many other ways to benefit.

I wrote the PRlog article posted above, and my explanation of salt lamp efficacy and effect has been verified by chemists, physicists, and lung specialists. Couple that with the testimony of virtually any salt lamp user and what you have in this blog post is...a skeptical rant that is based on fantasy and wishful thinking.
PubMed isn't a source, especially when you don't give a link to the actual abstract or study found there - if there was one.

john said...

asthma... dont know about accupuncture but in the field of shiatsu(same theory different application) in the uk, a 30 year study has been completed recently that has resulted in shiatsu therapists been legaly allowed to claim that they can help relieve asthma symptoms - must have been very positive research.Besides you shouldn't place qualitive research below quantative in alternative medicine, both are needed.

Anonymous said...

I quit snoring. My dog quit snoring! How do you explain the placebo effect to a dog? Salt Lamps do something. I've seen people ready for hospice due to respiratory health issues and found that Himalayan Salt was their miracle. I didn't say they were cured, but as a medic for over 20 years, I know the difference in someone who is having difficulty breathing and someone who now doesn't require all their scripts. Salt Inhalers are now recommended by Dr Oz. He also recommends Himalayan Salt for acid reflux. We have an oncologist that sends all his patients to us to be educated about Himalayan Salt and its ability to balance one's pH when taken in solution. Many of our patients with high blood pressure have switched to himalayan salt (taking a tspn of brine solution every morning and their BP is now normal. There's nothing new about Himalayan salt. What's new is we've been poisoned by regular processed table salt over the last 100 years or so leading to more gout, arthritis, etc... Let people try it (himalayan salt therapies) and see if it works for them. That's really the only way they'll find out.

Anonymous said...

See a Salt Lamp skeptic on Fox News http://www.himalayassaltlamps.com/about_us.
Read the testimonials
http://www.himalayassaltlamps.com/products/testimonials
If it's not for you vote with your wallet, keep your cash. However, if you love someone that is suffering, you'll do anything to help them. At least The Salt Lady deeply cares and will do everything in her power to help those looking for health alternatives that work. She lets you use her salt room free and offers free consultations. How many doctors do that?

salt lamps said...

do you know that how famous are Salt Lamps In Ireland or in uk ?

MoODE.. said...

i use my salt lamp in my bedroom to neutralize my dirty sock odder. i used to use an ionic breeze but it was noisy and i would forget to turn it off at night so it was very annoying, and broke! so my room was stinky again. i read about the salt lamp so i bought one off ebay for a reasonable price. got it in the mail, plugged it in and left for work leaving a funky room behind me. when i got home that night my room was fresh smelling and had that ionic aroma i had known before from my breeze days. iv been giving them as gifts to family and everyone enjoys them for reasons other then there pleasant look. there has been some energy spent by people on this page arguing the science. maybe you should buy one and rate your own experience instead of trolling for scientific theories. my direct experience with salt lamps is that they undeniably work, in fact they work very well.

Anonymous said...

I just started researching these today and my understanding is that the actual science behind it isnt wrong, just the way it is presented is wrong. The lamp does not produce chlorine ions that float around and grab dirt and dust. What apparently occurs is water is attracted to the salt, the light heats it up to evaporate pure water, and that pure water slurps up dust in the air and drops to the ground. New moisture comes in the room and has the same effect. You would probably have to vacuum it up after some period of time, but this basic idea seems to make sense. It would be similar to spraying distilled water into the air.