ear wax candle
PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERTPRZYBYSZ/GETTY

The Real Deal On Ear Candles

What is this “natural” method of wax removal, and does it actually work?

November 5, 2015

Fans of ear candling says it naturally removes gross earwax buildup and improves hearing, balance, and sinuses. It’s tempting to give it a whirl at home or in a spa or acupuncturist office, and the procedure itself seems like it could be pretty relaxing.

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It typically goes likes this: A practitioner covers your hair and face and then places the tapered end of a hollow 9- to- 12-inch candle snugly in your ear. The candle is lit on the other side, and as it burns, the warm air from the flame creates a suction that, in theory, draws wax and other debris from your ear into the bottom of the line. After about 15 minutes, you get to see an impressive-looking piece of earwax in the stub.  “You may enjoy it because of the warmth of the candle, but studies show that there’s no wax removed from your ear. The wax you see at the end is from the candle itself,” says Mas Takashima, M.D., director of The Sinus Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. 

Not only doesn’t ear candling serve its intended purpose, but it can also be dangerous. “I had one patient who had a hole burned in her eardrum,” says Tahl Colen, M.D., of ENT and Allergy Associates in Tarrytown, New York. “Even after an operation to repair it, the eardrum closed and caused permanent damage.” In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning against ear candling because of the number of serious injuries. 

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A better way to deal with pesky earwax: Do nothing. “The ears are pretty much self-cleaning and having some wax is actually beneficial to preventing particles from getting deeper in the ear,” says David Haynes, M.D., professor of otolaryngology, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. Earwax also acidifies the ear canal and helps prevent infection, according to Colen. 

But some people are genetically prone to having more earwax, and using ear buds for long periods may hamper natural wax removal. In those cases, Takashima suggests an over-the-counter earwax removal syringe to gently irrigate the canal with warm water as long as you don’t have a history of ear injury. Over-the-counter earwax softeners with mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide also work too, he notes. However, if the wax has built up so much that you think it’s interfering with your hearing, what you can buy at the pharmacy won’t likely cut it. “That’s when you need to make an appointment to get it treated in your doctor’s office,” says Colen.

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