by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

A lady asked,

Have you ever looked into ‘ear candling’? It removes a lot of wax and is safe (if done properly).

Ear candling is one of those “quack cures” that unfortunately became popular a number of years ago. It was supposed to “deep clean” your ear canals and remove wax and other “gunk”.

Note: ear candles are not like regular candles. They are basically a coarse cloth mesh coated in wax (often bee’s wax) and rolled up into a funnel shape. The mesh acts like a wick.

To candle an ear, you lay your head on one side with your ear pointing straight up. Then you have another person stick the bottom (small) end of the ear candle into your ear canal. The person then lights the mesh at the top of the funnel and lets it burn down to a stub.

I first heard of ear candling maybe 25 years ago. The people in the town where I lived at that time believed it worked. They’d candle an ear—then unroll the stub of the candle and show you all the “junk” the candle sucked out of your ear. It was quite impressive!

To prove or disprove whether all this “gunk” came from the ear canal or not, a friend and I decided to do a double test. First, my friend candled one of my ears. Then we put another candle in a clean glass jar to simulate the ear canal and lit it. After it burned down to the stub (just like the candle did in my ear), we unrolled it and guess what—it contained the same amount of “junk” as the one done in my ear.

The truth is, this “junk” is not ear wax sucked up from your ears. Rather, it is part of the candle that melted and ran down into the stub.

Thus, don’t waste your time and dollars on ear candling. It just doesn’t work—and if not done carefully, you can burn your eardrum if melted wax runs down into your ear canal.

Another lady asked, “An audiologist told me never to use ear candles as they cause a suction on the eardrum and can make it burst. Have you ever heard of this?”

No, and I don’t believe it either. The theory behind candling is that it is supposed to create gentle suction as the hot air rises, thus creating a partial vacuum at the base of the (hollow) candle that “sucks” the wax and gunk from your ear canal up into the candle. In actual fact, the suction created is so gentle that the only thing it can move is air—if it even does that.

Assuming the candle is not sealed to the ear canal, as the hot air rises, it sucks in cold air from the bottom around the ear canal, and thus could never create enough suction to displace the ear drum. If the candle was sealed at the ear canal, then the candle would have to act as a two-way chimney—bringing cold air down at the same time hot air rises—and that just doesn’t happen in nature. Thus, there isn’t any significant air movement to create any suction.

In order to get any significant air movement—like in a real chimney—the “fire” would have to be at the bottom, not at the top like is done in ear candling and there would have to be a source of fresh air at the bottom to keep the fire burning—so the candle couldn’t seal off the ear canal. And if you did this, there wouldn’t be any suction on the ear drum anyway.

Therefore, at best, ear candling is a bunch of pseudo-science. It does not remove anything from your ear canals—only money from your wallet! If you have wax in your ears, learn how to remove it safely yourself, or have a health-care professional take it out for you.