We know that wellness mainstays like turmeric, meditation, and yoga are beneficial to our health. But what about the many other natural remedies that get tossed around?
Is there research that lends science-backed credence to remedies like salt lamps, essential oils and detox foot baths? We’re here to break down what you should be spending your time and money on and what snake oils aren’t worth their salt. Let’s dive in.
1. Salt Lamps
Popular at health food stores and other wellness venues, these pink Himalayan salt lamps plug into an outlet, utilizing a bulb on the inside that warms the salt and releases ions that are supposed to clean the air in the room.
The Claim: Salt lamps, by purifying the air around you, are said to be able to reduce allergies and asthma, boost mood, improve sleep, and cleanse the air of bad vibes.
The Research: Clear-cut research doesn’t exist to soundly prove these health benefits. While salt lamps are unlikely to harm you, relying on them for improved breathing or air quality is a mistake, since this is fully unfounded. (1)
Can salt lamps be mood-boosting? There isn’t definitive research to measure how much salt lamps could change the ions in the air around you, and while you may notice some benefits, they haven’t be fully explained or replicated for research purposes. (2)
No studies have been done examining whether changing ions in the air, or salt lamps in particular, could improve sleep quality. While users report that the calming red glow of the salt lamp is relaxing, this isn’t proven by research to affect sleep in any consistent way.
Bottom Line: Himalayan salt lamps are popular wellness items, but they’re not research-proven to have any specific health benefits. They might make for a cool lamp, but don’t rely on them for anything other than aesthetic pleasure.
2. Essential Oils
Popular in the wellness world, essential oils are highly-concentrated, plant-based oils that are said to have healing properties. Many are used as a natural alternative to cosmetic beauty products. Essential oils are even used for homemade household items. People often rely on them for natural wellness remedies and treatments, too. While there are more than 90 different essential oils, most remedies rely on six common ones, including:
- Lavender – used for stress relief
- Peppermint – used for headaches, digestion, pest control
- Tea tree – used for antibacterial, cleaning, infections
- Eucalyptus – used for cleaning, antibacterial, and congestion
- Ylang-ylang – used for headaches, skin conditions
- Lemon – used for cleaning, mood, headaches, and breathing
The Claim: Depending on where you look, essential oils are said to be the cure-all for anything ranging from headaches and digestive problems, to the common cold.
The Research: Research shows that there are some positive benefits of essential oils and aromatherapy. Aromatherapy in general may help to naturally address stress and anxiety, while lavender and peppermint might help relieve tension headaches. (3, 4, 5)
Lavender can help address sleep problems, and some animal studies show that certain oils might be effective at addressing inflammatory conditions. (6, 7) The problem is that few large-scale studies have been done with humans. So it’s difficult to say with certainty that aromatherapy works.
Additionally, the quality of essential oils can vary by batch or brand. Even when companies use terms like “pure” or “medical grade” or “100 percent,” these claims are not FDA-regulated. So, essential oil companies can basically make whatever claims they wish about purity or strength.
Some essential oils can be damaging to skin when not properly diluted, and people can be allergic or sensitive to them – especially those with seasonal or outdoor allergies. (8) Essential oils can cause rashes, skin irritation, allergic reactions, headaches, and the like.
Ingesting essential oils is recommended by certain brands but is never recommended by medical professionals. In fact, research has shown that ingestion can be potentially deadly or extremely harmful. (9, 10)
Bottom Line: Essential oils can be great for cleaning or non-topical, internal use, but when it comes to relying on them for health purposes, it’s important to consult your practitioner. Apart from anti-stress benefits related to aromatherapy, research is limited as to how essential oils affect humans internally. Animal studies may show promise, but have not been replicated in humans and should not be used as definitive proof that essential oils are completely safe and reliable.
3. Neti Pots
Neti pots can be found on health food stores’ shelves and elsewhere. For people who’ve never used them, they can look confusing and even seem dangerous. Why do so many people buy into the concept of nasal irrigation?
The Claim: Nasal irrigation is a centuries-old practice that was borne out of Ayurveda, an ancient Indian medical approach. It utilizes lightly salted water in a neti pot to flush the sinus passage, removing impurities and sources of congestion, allergies, and irritation.
The Research: Research shows that nasal irrigation can significantly improve quality of life in a majority of people who suffer from sinus problems. (11)
Bottom Line: Neti pots and nasal irrigation can be valid ways of addressing sinus, allergy, or other nose-related problems. Just make sure to follow instructions carefully and never, ever perform this on infants or young children.
4. Ear Candles
Ear candles are frequently seen in health food stores and proffered as a non-medical way to keep ears healthy and clean. Ear candles are typically about 12 inches long, made from hollow tubes of fabric that are dipped in beeswax or other types of wax. The pointy end of the ear candle is placed in your ear, lying on your side, and the wider end is lit. The supposed suction action that occurs pulls impurities from the ear and into the hollow base of the ear candle.
The Claim: People who use ear candles often do so as a remedy for excess ear wax, tinnitus, hearing issues, ear infections, and vertigo. Ear candles are meant to be holistic therapies done for you and should never be self-performed. Ear candles come with instructions for use, but complications can occur since one end is burned.
The Research: Science doesn’t support any benefits of ear candles, and in fact, shows that complications can arise from these natural attempts to address ear health, such as hot wax from the ear candle accidentally dripping into the ear and causing pain and blockage. (12) Additionally, eardrums can be damaged or even perforated as a result of sticking objects in the ear, so medical professionals urge avoidance of ear candles.
Bottom Line: Ear candles are an attempt at a holistic treatment for some common problems but when it comes to ears, it’s best to seek out qualified medical help to avoid potentially painful damage to the ear, including the eardrum.
5. Detox Foot Baths
Used often in holistic clinics and health food stores, detox foot baths are supposedly a way to increase the release of toxins from the body, since the feet are connected to every area of the body.
The Claim: Ionic foot baths, or foot detoxes, are supposed to pull toxins from the body through the feet. It is considered a safe and effective way to detox the body and supposedly works like a magnet, attracting heavy metals and other toxins in the body and drawing them out. In many foot baths, water can turn dark or dirty-looking, which is meant to be proof that the detox has worked.
The Research: Research does not support foot detoxes or foot baths as legitimate ways to detox. While they are likely not harmful, they are not proven to withdraw toxins from the body and in most cases, would not offer much beyond a foot soak. (13)
Bottom Line: Foot baths are not research-backed ways to detox and do not stimulate or support the detox organs – the liver or kidneys – to work more efficiently. While foot soaks can be relaxing and can help ease pain from being on your feet all day, that’s the extent of their positive benefits.
(Read This Next: Everything You Need to Know About Detoxing)