According to sellers of Himalayan salt lamps, the pink, rock-like hunks can purify the air and reduce anxiety, all while emitting a cozy glow and marking one's home as hip to modern design trends. As one might expect from a product hailed by Goop, the science is murky at best, and in any case, the effect is meant to come from ambient exposure, not necessarily through ingestion. That's not stopping people from licking them, though.
A few weeks ago, Natalie Strange wrote a tweet: "Your tinder date welcomes you into their bedroom. They excuse themself and go to the restroom, leaving you alone on their bed. What is your next move?" Three options below it read, "Lick their Himalayan salt lamp," while the fourth said, "All of the above."
It read like Twitter's particular brand of absurdism, but with over 14,000 retweets and 77,700 likes, it was clear that Strange had captured a current preoccupation. The responses poured in: People posted pictures and videos tonguing salt lamps, and tagged friends who had presumably shared thoughts of, well, loving lamp. If you see a Himalayan salt lamp, it's safe to assume someone's thought about licking it—if they haven't licked it already.
The rising popularity of Himalayan salt, in both lamp and crystal form, is well-tread territory. "How Pink Salt Took Over Millennial Kitchens," journalist Amanda Mull wrote for The Atlantic in December. Apartment Therapy has covered the salt lamp's ubiquity as a design trend, and its purported health benefits have been both celebrated and debunked. And there's a spirituality angle, as the appeal of the Himalayan salt lamp fits into a "burning desire to find spiritual meaning and esoteric revelation," along with tarot cards and crystals, Strange—of the viral lamp licking tweet—suggested to VICE in a message. But the elephant in the room remains: the Himalayan salt lamp also serves as a human salt lick, teasing people everywhere to just put their tongue on it.
The salt lamp's edible appeal has teased Caitlin Barrett since eighth grade. "I went to a sleepover at a friend’s house in Venice Beach, and my friend’s mom was excited about hers," Barrett told VICE in an email. "She said it was good for healing the air, and I remember thinking, that doesn’t make sense, but that lamp looks delicious and I want to lick it."
Barrett got her wish last year at an Airbnb. The cottage was the kind of place with not only a compost toilet, but also an essential oil diffuser and a Himalayan salt lamp. Both were new, the host said, which implied to Barrett that the lamp likely hadn't been licked before. "Once she trusted me with the compost toilet and left me to my own devices, I IMMEDIATELY licked the lamp. It tasted so good and salty," she said. Surprisingly mellow in flavor, the experience was "not like sliding your tongue across a brick of table salt." The lamp dried quickly, leaving no trace of what had happened. (Barrett has shared this story with friends enough times, she says, that she doesn't own a salt lamp of her own since it would simply be too obvious that it was used for licking.)
For Alyssa Rae Thomas, the curiosity about salt lamps dates similarly far back. In elementary school, Thomas's neighbor suggested that she lick a salt lamp, so she did. "I didn’t even stop to consider that many other people had probably licked it. I just had to get that salty pink ambrosia," Thomas told VICE in a message.
To learn a little more about what might inspire someone to lick a salt lamp, VICE slid into some DMs. Kahlee Lengkeek wrote, "I just like salt and wanted to know if it was actually salty or just a rock." Dowser Dhaw, who posted a video of her licking a salt lamp on Twitter earlier this year, cited the same reasoning as Lengkeek but added, "I would not do it again it’s really salty once is enough babyyy." Leah Palmer said, "I think my brain just gets curious from time to time & I randomly give it a little lick just to calm that voice in my head that says 'You need to put your tongue on that right now.'"
According to salt lamp sellers, the thought of licking lamps is a common question. Ernest Gaglione of Himalayan Salt Shop told VICE in an email that both animals and humans have been known to lick their lamps. "Insofar as people, they usually lick the lamps out of curiosity, to see if they are really made of salt. There is no danger in licking the salt, after all, it is just salt," Gaglione said. This was backed up by Patrik Ujszaszi of Himalayan Salt Factory, who wrote that licking a lamp "does not do any harm at all as the Himalayan salt has more natural minerals than the white table salt."
For Barrett, it wasn't just curiosity but also novelty that motivated the lamp licking—truly edible home goods are, after all, a rarity. "There’s a very Willy Wonka quality about the lamps. Home accessories made out of edible stuff and, what, we're NOT supposed to taste them?" she said. "If a chair was upholstered with beef jerky, I would eat it. No question."
It's not just the pure satiation of salt that drives tongues towards lamps, either, but the fact that the salt is large, pink, and barely-broken. "I think the appeal comes from the fact that most of us have never seen nor tasted salt in its natural state, so when a giant pink salt popsicle is sitting in front of you, you want the experience of getting something you’ve only ever consumed in small, diffused amounts in one singular taste," said Thomas. "It’s like being at a party with a bunch of cool people, but there’s one person you’ve always been especially intrigued by, and you’d like to pull them aside and get to know them personally."
Strange, however, sees a more complex allure, full of unspoken urges and even an animalistic sexuality. "Imagine the brief thrill of sexual gratification you get from licking a salt lamp. There is the taboo, doing something illicit, that your parents would shake their fingers at," she said. "And then there is the tinge of thrill that maybe you aren't the first to lick this, that you are sharing saliva with a total stranger, perhaps a former Tinder date." (The scenario posited in the tweet was unfortunately fictional, Strange added.)
Or, like horses chasing salt licks—not to mention the Alpine Ibex who became the face of the "crave that mineral" meme, after it was photographed hanging by the tongue off a mountain's face, licking its salt deposits—the urge might just boil down to biology. "Maybe people are just mineral-deprived and their bodies are subconsciously compelling them to lick the salt lamp, just like stranded fishermen's bodies compel them to eat fish eyes," Strange said. "Perhaps the salt lamps are our fish eyes."
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