Forget the Himalayan Salt Lamp — Just Get a Plant
The latest research on negative air ions and mental health
I recently rented a house in Northern New Mexico and had my first real-life encounter with what has become a ubiquitous symbol for wellness: a Himalayan salt lamp.
Essentially a hunk of hollowed-out salt crystal with a light bulb stuffed inside, salt lamps became all the rage amid rumors that their “healing powers” are capable of healthifying a home through purifying the air and raising energy levels.
When I turned the lamp on, it did indeed cast a warm glow that set a calming mood. But aside from creating an ambiance, I wondered, could this pink salt really do wonders for my health?
The health claims of Himalayan salt lamps originate from a 100-year-old theory that the air is filled with tiny doses of mental health boosters called negative air ions.
Air ions are invisible molecules that are either positively or negatively charged; positive ions have lost electrons while negative ions have gained them. The processes that create negative ions are abundant in nature and usually involve collisions of matter. This includes ultraviolet rays from the sun, discharges of electricity in the air after a thunderclap or lightning strike, water colliding (like a waterfall or crashing wave), and photosynthesis.
Some research suggests that breathing in an abundance of negative air ions can help treat depression and anxiety, enhance cognition, boost immune function, promote sleep, and generally improve mood. How? Researchers don’t really know for sure. Theories suggest that negative ions enhance the brain’s production of the mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin, and other researchers believe negative ions revitalize cell metabolism or neutralize free radicals, which are unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and aging.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any health claims surrounding negative air ions. And not everyone agrees there are good vibes floating in the air. But some research is promising.
In 2018, a small, controlled study looked at the effects of negative air ions on the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) among 40 people…