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story.lead_photo.caption A salt lamp emits a beautiful glow, but it’s hard to shed light on claims that a lamp like this can make a person feel better and brighter. - Photo by John Sykes Jr.

I'd never heard of Himalayan salt lamps until I set out to buy one in order to write about it.

Photo by John Sykes Jr.
Himalayan salt lamps have become so popular that a store shopper might need a lantern to search for such a hard-to-find thing in Little Rock.

How embarrassing -- to be in the dark about this hottest of health-related hubbubs since gluten-free muffins. A person in the know would have two or three, maybe more salt lamps positioned around the house, invigorating the air. Gwyneth Paltrow or Deepak Chopra probably could have told me: Don't think you can just run out and buy a salt lamp.

My first stop: the nearest incarnation of a chain store that advertises salt lamps of all sorts -- salt lamps and beyond. The store's website pictures chunky salt lamps on pedestals, in baskets, even a salt lamp/table lamp combo.

But the store is sold out. "They go out as soon as they come in," a store worker tells me, pointing past the towels and toasters to the empty spot in the candles corner where the last shipment had come and gone.

Next stop: another box store recently in the national news regarding salt lamps. Theirs had been recalled for catching fire. But reporters are famous for doing whatever dumb thing it takes to meet a newspaper deadline.

The store is a potpourri of crafting supplies, yarn, ribbons and, here again -- candles. All I need is one lamp that escaped the recall, maybe hiding behind these "seaside" and "juicy apple"-scented tapers.

The search is for a hollow chunk of orange or pinkish salt with an electric light or candle in it. By emitting "negative ions," such a thing is said to remedy everything from asthma, allergies and anxiety to stuffy sinuses, dull-headedness, dismal decor and the blahs in general.

All this from salt? A popcorn seasoning? Common table salt isn't nearly so boastful. The Morton Salt Girl and her umbrella promise merely that Morton salt won't clump up on rainy days.

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Himalayan salt is something else. Available as a kitchen seasoning, the varied pink granules are strictly gourmet, as in holistic cooking, too classy to hang out with plain pepper.

Salt of this kind is said to be of premium quality; it comes from the Punjab region of Pakistan -- from a 250-million-year-old deposit, according to the Himalayan Glow lamp works of New Jersey. Salt therapy for healing goes back thousands of years, and continues in such other forms as salt inhalers, salt pillows and saltwater neti pots for the drippy schnozzle.

Small lamps weigh around 5 pounds, big lamps around 50 pounds, and they cost from $20 into the hundreds of dollars. The fanciest are turned out as smooth-finished cylinders, cubes, orbs and other sculptures.

But the arts and crafts store has been cleaned out, too, no sign of a salt lamp. No luck at the next place, either, amid a hopeful array of electric lamps and more candles.

It's time for goofed-up shopping, my own technique. Under this strategy, forget looking for a thing where it belongs. Imagine where it might be if nobody cared where they put it.

I head to super whatta-mart. The retail giant's website claims they have a beaming array of healthful and decorative salt lamps, but where? -- where in the eternal expanse of everything for less? I waste no time in the health and home decor departments, least of all among the shelves of candles.

As anyone might who had given up on reasonable expectations, I find two small salt lamps wedged between a disco ball and a bunch of lava lights.

SALT AND PEPPY

Might a cousin to the lava lamp hold the answer to all my miseries? I'm home to find out.

The salt lamp comes in a box that reads: "This lamp is scientifically proven to act like an air purifier," and will "fight against positively charged particles that cause us to feel stuffy and sluggish."

Inside is a little pamphlet that has even more to say. The lamp's orange glow "promotes calm and peaceful relaxation," it says. "The benefits of salt therapy are well known in Europe, where there are salt spas, some in operation since the mid 1800s."

Basically, then, a salt lamp is the take-home version of a salt cave. Way back, people with aches and wheezes went to sit and breathe the tangy air in the salt mines of eastern Europe -- and still do -- much as they came for the mineral waters in early-day Hot Springs and Eureka Springs.

No more confined to actual caves, today's salt breathers can find cavelike salt clinics sprinkled all over the United Kingdom. Salt therapy rooms have opened coast-to-coast in the United States, as well, including North Little Rock.

And salt lamps are "extremely popular," according to New Beauty magazine. Amazon.com product reviews generally rate the lamps four to five stars. Even sniffy skeptics note the trend. New York magazine declares salt lamps "the preferred lighting choice of people who look forward to Coachella [the music-and-arts festival in California]."

Out of the box, this lump of a lamp has a quality most lamps don't -- that of being wet. It has little packets of moisture-absorbing silica gel stuck to it. The instructions say the salt collects humidity, think nothing of it.

Lighted, the lamp is scratchy dry to touch. The light is soft and soothing. It would be ideal as a night-light if I didn't have in my head that it might catch fire -- a stressful thought of exactly the kind a salt lamp is supposed to ease away.

New Age author Chopra's website for The Chopra Center tells how to proceed. Namely: "How to create a sacred space for your spiritual practice."

Placed in the southeast of the spiritual practice area, it says, a salt lamp "supports the fire element, which will help you feel more energized, productive, and motivated so you can accomplish the tasks that lay before you."

But I settle for placement on a knickknack table, and hope to feel some of the lamp's sinus- and mind-clearing benefits to spunk up another dark-by-6 soiree at home.

All the user has to do is breathe. Sniff -- as opposed to sniffle, as I've been doing since before the New Year's Day, sniffle and sneeze. May the genie of the lamp grant my three wishes to quit with the honking. Sniff.

Nothing says how long the results are supposed to take. Forever, according to Columbia University Medical Center in New York: "It's commercial hype. The ions admitted by activated salt are completely different from the negative air ions from clinically tested apparatus that produces superoxide."

A cosmic blast of negative ions might chirp me up, but these experts say it's too much to ask of a teeny lamp.

Another of many online dealers, Himalayan Salt Lamps.com, asserts that a salt lamp "inspires the imagination," but adds that such claims "have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration." More commonly claimed online is that a salt lamp will "decrease electromagnetic chaos."

Wait. Did I feel a tingle? How would it feel to sense a weakening in the electromagnetic chaos? Like a disturbance in The Force? Did Obi-Wan Kenobi use The Force to force his nose open?

Hours later, I can't say much is happening. Next morning, meh. But I'll leave the light on.

Later, after a fair try, I might grind up this item of home decor to invigorate a bowl of bean soup -- and go back for a lava lamp.

Style on 02/07/2017

Print Headline: Lightly salted: Shining the lamp on Himalayan crystal craze

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