While researching my earlier post about halotherapy I was reminded of a trend that started a few years back for lamps made out of large chunks of salt crystal. They are certainly very pretty, but according to the sales pitch they are more than just decorative; they’re good for your health, too. So do they actually do anything?
The first result of a Google search “how do salt lamps work” throws up this website.
A page entitled “The Science of Salt Lamps” certainly sounds promising. Let’s take a closer look.
“Science offers a solid basis for the unanimous claims by lamp owners around the world about the positive effects which salt lamps and salt crystal bring to us through soothing light and color, the cleansing effect it provides for indoor air, and with powerful negative ions which have certainly been studied enough to be known as beneficial, in a myriad of ways.”
Oh dear. The mention of “powerful negative ions” in the first paragraph is not a good sign. More on that later.
“Genuine Himalayan crystal salt is the most beneficial, most potent salt available on this planet. It was formed over 250 million years ago,”
“This crystal salt is completely pristine and natural,”
Apart from being dug up, cut to shape and wired up into a lamp, that is.
“We are not referring to simple rock salt or table salt; simply because rock salt assumes a crystalline form doesn’t mean that it is of the superior quality that we have been talking about here. Elements within rock salt are not integral to the salt’s crystal grid, but instead cling to the outer surfaces and crevices of the crystalline matrix.”
As far as I can tell, the author here is trying to say that there are impurities in ordinary rock salt, whereas Himalayan salt is pure. My major problem with this is that the pictures surrounding the article are all of coloured salt crystals. The colour in crystals like these is caused by trace amounts of impurities. Pure sodium chloride is colourless!
“There is no type of salt in this world that can compare to Himalayan salt crystal,”
This is such a common misunderstanding, but no matter where it’s found, sodium chloride, is always just sodium chloride (give or take those trace impurities I just mentioned). Now she moves on to why sea salt isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
“By evaporating sea water, salt is harvested and normally sent to a processing plant. This process reaps natural minerals from the salt and structurally ruins it.”
I agree that processing will remove “natural minerals” – those are the impurities that we don’t want in the final food-grade sodium chloride. But this process won’t change its structure. Crystalline structures are by definition robust, and really only break down under massive heat or pressure; or some pretty serious grinding.
“Salt lamps work wonderfully, owning is believing.”
Wait, is that an anecdote I see there?
“During a one-year period between scheduled testing, a genetic, chronic, and de-generative lung disorder completely stabilized and reversed course by improving the medical test results which confirm it. This disorder doesn’t reverse, even stabilization is a long-reaching goal. Over that year, this person was exposed to Himalayan salt crystal all day and during sleep; began a morning routine of taking a shot of sole (“so-lay”); bathing daily with our Himalayan crystal salt; using edible pink Himlayan (sic) crystal salt on food. The doctor is a board-certified pulmonary/critical care specialist here in Charlotte, NC – and now also owns a salt lamp.”
A few questions: where’s the citation? What disease was it? What tests were used? What the frilly heck is “a shot of sole”? Who was the doctor? Oh and, WHERE’S THE CITATION?
“We are quite convinced…”
“OK, but how do salt lamps improve air and well-being you ask?”
Yes, yes I do.
“Yet, despite many claims, there is no repeatable, verifiable scientific data available for peer review, on the true “ionizing capacity”; or efficacy; or impact on the human mental/bio-physical condition.”
Right then. That’s pretty much the end of the story as far as I’m concerned. When even the source of the woo tells you there’s no evidence, that’s a pretty good sign that there’s no evidence. But the article continues…
“Himalayan salt crystal is, by it’s (sic) very nature, hygroscopic. By removing moisture from indoor air, things such as bacteria, virii, fungi, mold spores, and respiratory allergens and asthma triggers cannot remain airborne; they fall to the floor by gravity and die… especially in an environment with higher levels of negative ions.”
A hygroscopic material is one which has a tendency to absorb water. Sodium chloride is moderately hygroscopic, but I don’t understand the assertion that bacteria, fungi and other allergens require moisture to stay in the air. And we’re back on the subject of negative ions.
“As it happens, evaporation of water releases negative ions.”
But you just said the crystal absorbs water! And in any case, if negative ions were released by evaporation, positive ions would come along for the ride. The ‘ionic bond’ between Na+ (positive ion) and Cl- (negative ion) is very strong and wouldn’t let them get pulled apart like that.
“Be careful not to misinterpret this based on lack of evidence. There is a mountain of circumstantial evidence, testimonials, and peripheral, corroborating science data.”
Anecdotes and testimonials are not evidence, no way, no how.
“ We care little for what lab instruments might indicate or measure…”
Good to know. Why are you writing about the Science of Salt Lamps, then?
“In fresh country air we find up to 4000 negative ions per cubic centimeter – the size of a sugar cube. “
4000 may sound a lot. However, according to the Ideal Gas Law, one mole of a gas at room temperature and atmospheric pressure occupies a volume of 24 liters (24,000 cubic centimetres). One mole is equal to 6 x 1023 molecules. So 1/24000 of 6 x 1023 is 2.5 x 1019 or twenty five million million million. Of which 4000 are apparently negative ions (to really ram the point home, this means that in one cubic centimetre of “fresh country air”, 1 in 16 thousand million million molecules is a ‘negative ion’). Hmm.
“The most common myth about salt lamps is that these lamps emit or generate negative ions. This is not true.”
Wait, isn’t this exactly what you just said?
“There isn’t enough heat or light energy to eject negative ions from the salt crystal.”
“This doesn’t mean that indoor air doesn’t experience increased levels of negative ions around a salt lamp, only that these ions do not originate from the salt.”
Right. So where do they come from, then? The author directs the reader to a “more in-depth” explanation at this point, however it just says a lot of the same stuff about salt being hygroscopic and causing allergens to plummet out of the air by reducing humidity. And then there’s a mention of a weak “ionic field” but I don’t rightly know what they mean by that. It’s generally highly unusual to get a large amount of either positive or negative ions in one place without something to counteract the charge. Things like to be neutral.
“The various colors of the lamp can have positive effects. The therapeutic wavelengths of the colors of these crystals are visible to our eyes and affect reorganization of the epidermal skin tissue (especially in the orange range). These are also used in allopathic medicine for treating skin cancer.”
Oh man, this is like pseudoscience bingo. Now we have “allopathic” to add to the collection. Did someone call “HOUSE!”?
I assume the reference to treating skin cancer is talking about photodynamic therapy, a treatment involving the use of drugs that are activated by light. Not really the same thing at all, by the way.
“As many of us sit in front of televisions or computer monitors, we are bombarded with “electronic smog”, an electro-magnetic frequency of around 100 to 160 Hz. (Hertz). Our brainwaves, however, vibrate at around 8 Hz.; a rate which is equal to the Schuhmann Resonance Frequency. In other words, while watching TV or working at a computer, our bodies are exposed to the vibration of frequencies 20 times faster than our brainwaves. The results are nervousness, insomnia, and lack of concentration. A salt lamp will counter the smog.”
Oh wow, now we’re on to electro-smog. Electromagnetic radiation covers a theoretically infinite range of frequencies including radio waves (at about 10000 Hz), visible light (at 400 – 800 Terahertz) and X-rays (about a million Terahertz). Frequencies in the range of 0 – 300 Hz are called “extremely low frequency” or ELF radiation. There is no good evidence for these having any adverse effects on human health. I’m fairly sure that there is no one universal measurable frequency of human ‘brainwaves’ but even if there was, I can’t see how a television with a refresh rate of about 100Hz would have any real effect on the brain. And as for how a salt lamp would help, the answer is… it wouldn’t. It can’t. After all, it’s a lamp. If you think about it, it’s just another one of those nasty machines contributing to electro-smog…