Midway through 1999, Americans got their first taste of ionic technology when the high-tech retail giant, The Sharper Image, launched its Ionic Breeze line of air purifiers. Although The Sharper Image never pushed the device based on its output of negative ions, the implication was quite clear: using electronic filtering added something to the air that was supposed to make you feel good.
Incidentally, the Ionic Breeze also added ozone to the air which deteriorates indoor air quality. The product line ultimately ended up heralding the downfall of The Sharper Image which filed for bankruptcy in 2008.
The Sharper Image is still around, though they’ve been mainly relegated to the realm of online sales & stores with “As Seen on TV” sections. A far fall from the swanky retail giant Generation X folks grew up with.
What Are Negative Ions?
Ions are molecules that have gained or lost an electrical charge. They are created in nature as air molecules break apart due to sunlight, radiation, and moving air and water. Negative ions are those which have gained a net negative charge.
Today there are thousands of products claiming to produce negative ions under the premise that negative ions are a healthful addition to the environment. But is there any solid proof that negative ions are good for us?
What about negative ions produced by artificial means vs. those created in nature?
Anecdotal Evidence Supporting Negative Ion Therapy
Ever wonder why being near a waterfall or at the beach makes you feel so invigorated? Ever wonder why a waterfall seems like such a healthy spot to sit and reflect? These environments are loaded with high concentrations of negative ions. It’s these charged particles that are responsible for why you feel so good in these locations. At least that’s what the marketers of negative ion bracelets and air ionizers would have you believe.
With articles out there like The Science Behind Negative Ions which produce no actual scientific results or studies, it’s difficult to get a good read on what’s really going on. I can think of lots of reasons why I feel refreshed after sitting on the beach that doesn’t involve charged particles.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about natural healing. I firmly believe our environmental conditions do have an overall effect on our health. But the anecdotal evidence just doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to proof.
Sure, people who live in tropical paradises live longer but there are plenty of other factors involved in that outcome. How about the fact that people who live in tropical paradises are more likely to be active? How about the fact that people who live in tropical climates are less stressed?
When I go to the beach for a weekend, I’m not sitting at my desk working. Of course I feel rejuvenated!
Negative Ions: The Scientific Evidence
The most frustrating thing about negative ions is a lack of good scientific evidence supporting the supposed health benefits. Many publications claiming to be scientific are nothing more than sales outlets for companies selling products. The market for negative ion products is stronger than ever.
These publications offer little more than anecdotal evidence and often make claims without substantiation. WebMD speaks highly of negative ions without a sales pitch but provides little in the way of actual numbers or scientific papers.
I was able to find one study by the National Institute of Health. They performed a detailed analysis of 33 studies on humans. Their conclusion: “No consistent influence of positive or negative air ionization on anxiety, mood, relaxation, sleep, and personal comfort measures was observed.” They did note however that high exposure to negative air ionization was associated with lower depression scores. But any scientist will tell you, “correlation does not equal causation”.
The Truth About Negative Ions: The Verdict
Ultimately there’s no hard evidence proving that negative ions are beneficial to humans. The only real conclusion we can draw is that environments which seem to promote good feelings and high energy levels also happen to be the ones that have a lot of naturally occurring negative ions.
Salt lamps, ionic bracelets, and other devices produce a tiny amount of negative ions. They certainly can’t compete with nature’s methods. The dosage from devices may be so low as to not account for any measurable benefit.
So buy a Himalayan salt lamp if you like the way they look, but don’t expect it to cure your asthma. I have one and I love it because it looks cool and provides a nice relaxing light.
If you’re already in the market for an air purifier and just happen to find one that produces negative ions without costing you more money, it’s not going to hurt. It’s not going to cure you of maladies or make you live longer. Bracelets and watches are pure and simple quackery.
My salt lamp helps to make me feel relaxed and relieve a tiny bit of anxiety. I’d never use that in place of a professional if my anxiety was severe. In that latter case, I’d ask the folks at BetterHelp for advice. If you’re looking for an air purifier that actually works, check out jenreviews.com for a great list of options.
Sharif Jameel is a business owner, IT professional, runner, & musician. His professional certifications include CASP, Sec+, Net+, MCSA, & ITIL and others. He's also the guitar player for the Baltimore-based cover band, Liquifaction.