What is Howlite?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Howlite, scientifically called a calcium borosilicate hydroxide, is a silicate mineral often used to replicate turquoise. In nature, the stone is white or grey with dark stripes. Although the mineral is often legitimately sold, it is occasionally pawned by dealers as real turquoise, which raises the price considerably.

Because of its porous nature, howlite is often dyed to take on the appearance of turquoise.
Because of its porous nature, howlite is often dyed to take on the appearance of turquoise.

The mineral was discovered by and named for Henry How, a 19th century Canadian geologist. Initial deposits were found in How’s native Nova Scotia, but have since been uncovered in Southern California as well. The mineral is now generally mined for its use as an imitation stone, although some New Age practices use undyed stones for meditation.

Hydrochloric acid can be used to distinguish turquoise from howlite.
Hydrochloric acid can be used to distinguish turquoise from howlite.

The mineral has a porous structure that allows it to accept dyes uncommonly well. Because of the characteristic streaks found in turquoise, howlite makes an excellent substitute. The Mohs scale hardness of the mineral is only 3.5, considerably lower than the average turquoise hardness of 5 to 6. This rating means that the imitation is more likely to be scratched or fractured than the authentic stone.

Howlite is naturally white with black stripes.
Howlite is naturally white with black stripes.

Other than this difference, the two stones are nearly identical, and some claim that even jewelers have difficulty telling them apart in absence of ultra-violet (UV) testing. In UV tests, howlite often appears to give off colored fluorescent glows. It also dissolves quickly in hydrochloric acid without causing bubbling, something turquoise will not do.

Howlite is said to be beneficial in treating insomnia.
Howlite is said to be beneficial in treating insomnia.

In recent years, this stone has been used as a substitute for several other minerals. The similarly streaky lapis lazuli is a much darker blue than turquoise, but howlite’s porous surface can soak up enough dye to make a worthy substitute. The mineral also can be dyed to make an excellent imitation of red coral. This last use has caused great happiness among environmental activists, as the harvesting of coral for commercial purposes has shown to cause severe and lasting damage to underwater ecosystems.

According to some meditation forms that use crystals as focus points, undyed howlite can be an excellent means of concentration. Some believe it is highly stress relieving and recommend it as a means of relieving insomnia. Some crystal users suggest that the mineral helps balance calcium levels in the body and acts as an absorbent for negative energy. It is also said to correspond with the Zodiac sign Gemini.

This mineral is often found dyed and carved into figures or jewelry. As a turquoise substitute, it is often less expensive than the real thing. People who enjoy Native American jewelry styles may find the mineral is frequently used instead of traditional stones. Many online merchants carry pieces carved from the mineral, with simple bracelets and pendants available for relatively low cost. Those who are looking for the beauty of turquoise, lapis or red coral, without the expense, should consider this worthy substitute that even professionals may not recognize as unauthentic.

Some believe that using howlite can help to relieve stress.
Some believe that using howlite can help to relieve stress.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


Howlite has many qualities to it own name and is definitely not just a turquoise imitator! Please don't undermine the quality of this beautiful and truly meaningful component used by Native Americans and other wonderful people globally. This article was obviously written by somebody who hasn't a clue about the stone and doesn't have any knowledge about nature and the healing powers found throughout.


No thanks, I prefer the real thing, not the crappy imitation. Especially since Turquoise has many positive metaphysical properties, and howlite barely does crap.


I broke a bead open to see if it was turquoise and it was hard to tell, but my jeweler told me that real turquoise will dissolve in hot water, and I did the test and they didn't melt.


Be careful. There are tons of sellers on Ebay and Etsy selling "howlite turquoise" as real howlite when it is polyresin.


A lot of home-based jewelry makers use Howlite Turquoise because it's readily available in many colors unlike true turquoise - they're both mined from the earth so as long as your buyers don't mind, there shouldn't be a problem.


I sell mainly turquoise jewelry for a living, and I have a news flash for everyone here: turquoise is not expensive! You can buy turquoise cabochons for just pennies from any jewelry supply catalog.

What makes turquoise (or any semi-precious stone) expensive is the time and effort and materials spent in cutting, shaping, polishing and setting the stones in sterling silver (which is terribly expensive itself).

In terms of actual stone value, there is barely a difference between the price of howlite and turquoise. The only reason someone would make a piece of jewelry from dyed howlite is convenience: They simply don't have any turquoise lying around at the moment! But if you want turquoise jewelry, buy turquoise jewelry! Don't kid yourself into thinking you can't afford it. That's all hogwash. Thanks for letting me get my two cents in.


I don't see anything wrong with buying howlite that has been dyed to look like turquoise, if you can't afford to buy the real thing. Especially if the two are so similar that professionals have a hard time telling them apart.

However, if you're going to buy it because it's cheaper, you should probably be just as careful with it as if it was real turquoise. If howlite isn't as strong, you may be spending less money for something that may become damaged. Then you either will have no product to show for the money you've spent, or you will have to spend more to replace it.


I think that howlite jewelry is quite beautiful. Is doesn't bother me that it's not real turquoise, as long as it isn't being sold under false pretenses as turquoise.

Considering the fact that howlite is a natural substance itself, I don't think there is anything wrong with jewelry made from it, and I think it is special and has a value all it's own. I've seen it made to look like turquoise, as well as being plain white, and both look nice.

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