I have seen dozens of ear candling videos where they show how ear candles can successfully remove earwax from an ear canal, yet none of them show before and after visuals of the actual ear canal. I’m going to put ear candles to the test and see – once and for all – whether or not they actually remove earwax from your ear.
The Theory behind Ear Candling
Back in college, I was a licensed massage therapist. In the massage therapy world, it was generally accepted that ear candling was a great therapeutic way to provide relaxation. However, some massage therapists would take this too far and start making claims that ear candling could remove earwax, and even that they could cure ear infections and hearing loss.
Here’s the theory behind this: there are people out there who believe that when you light one end of this candle, it actually heats up your earwax and it creates a suction effect to pull that wax out of your ear canal and pull it into the candle. So, by the time you’ve burnt the candle down to about 3-4 inches away from the tip, if you put that fire out and then cut open the remaining portion, you’ll see a big glob of earwax inside the candle.
I’ve decided to run an experiment to determine whether this theory holds water.
The Ear Candle Experiment: Methods
First, I have my test subject Heather who has no earwax buildup issues. Heather is a retired nurse practitioner and founder of Arizona Hearing Alternatives.
Second, I perform visual otoscopy to ensure that Heather actually had earwax of her ear canal. As you can see in the video, she has a good amount of earwax, and it is a very sticky consistency. If it were a black color, it would mean that it is dry and likely stuck in her ear canal. If an ear candle has any chance of removing this earwax, then this would be the exact type of wax it would be able to remove.
Now, there are two different types of candles that we used for this experiment. The first one is a traditional beeswax candle that has no protector tip at the end. The second candle that we used actually has a little tip at the very end of it that is designed to prevent dripping of hot wax into an ear canal.
Test #1: Traditional Beeswax Candle without Plastic Protector Tip
I set Heather up to burn the first traditional beeswax candle without the protector tip in her right ear. Next to her, I set up an identical candle inside of a cup to use as a comparison (control) when we look at the contents inside. This will also let us evaluate the contents of the cup that might potentially be left inside of Heather’s ear after candling.
It takes about 15 minutes for these candles to burn down. The manufacturer recommendations indicate that we stop the candle four inches away from the tip of Heather’s ear. To ensure maximum effectiveness, we’re going to push the envelope a little bit and carefully burn it down to about three inches. In the video, I’ve sped up the time lapse, so we can see what we have inside the burnt candles.
Observations from the Traditional Beeswax Candle without Plastic Protector Tip
I start by cutting open the one that was inside Heather’s ear first, by snipping at the bottom. (It will probably be harder to do with the other type of candle, since it has that little plastic piece at the bottom.)
With the candle that was in her ear, I was astonished by the contents we found inside. If you ask me what its contents looked like, I would say that that it definitely looks like cerumen, for sure – and a lot of it! That’s what we’d call a “full plug” inside of someone’s ear. With the candle that was burning inside Heather’s ear, I found a very substantial amount of material.
With the candle that was burning inside of the cup, I can see that there is something that’s almost like soot that lines the cup. For maybe the first five minutes of that candle burning, we had smoke in the cup. I’m not sure if that’s because the smoke was being suctioned out of the cup at a certain point or whether it was plugged with wax at the bottom of the candle. Opening up the candle inside the cup, there is definitely material in it, and it looks different than the one that was inside Heather’s ear. Some of the material does look the same, but it is definitely more what I would consider that ashy material, almost like what’s inside the cup.
If you do a direct comparison of the candle in the ear and the candle from the cup, you’ll definitely see a different look – which is interesting to see, for sure!
Comparison with Video Otoscopy
This is the moment of truth! Did the candle actually remove earwax from Heather’s ear? As you can see from the otoscopy post-candling, none of Heather’s earwax was actually removed. There appears to be some ashy material that is inside her ear canal now that wasn’t there before. If that was “earwax” inside the candle, I have no idea where it came from because it did not come from Heather’s ear. If you look at the side by side comparison of the ear pre- and post-candling, you can see clearly that the same amount of wax is inside her ear before and after the candling.
We’re not done yet! Now, we’re going to burn the second candle with the little protector tip at the end inside of Heather’s ear.
Test #2: Beeswax Candle with Plastic Protector Tip
With the second ear candle, there is a little plastic protector at the bottom to protect the wearer. We let it burn for the same amount of time as the first candle and are now ready to cut through it. However, it doesn’t seem like we can cut through it, so we will unravel the candle instead.
Observations from the Second Candle with Plastic Protector Tip
After unraveling the second candle that was inside Heather’s ear, we find that there is some material that definitely has a firm, waxy consistency to it. However, it has more of the look of the first candle we burned in the cup.
With the second candle that was in the cup, it looks like there is even more material than the one that was in Heather’s ear. The consistency of this material, I’d say, is nearly identical to the first candle that was in Heather’s ear. In a side by side comparison of the second candle in the ear and the second candle in the cup, I found differences between the material.
Further Observations between the Two Candles
Now, if we compare cups for the first and second candles, the amount of material inside of the cups differ. We can clearly see that there is a different material in both of those – and not as much in the second cup as in the first.
To compare the first candle in the cup with the second candle in the cup, you will also see a different look. There is more of a yellowish powdery substance in the first candle in the cup, and more of a waxy substance in the second candle in the cup.
The biggest difference that I see is between the material in first candle in Heather’s ear and the material in the second candle in Heather’s ear.
Comparison with Video Otoscopy
Now, for the second moment of truth: will we actually see a reduction in the amount of earwax inside of Heather’s ear canal? Taking another look, we see that the earwax hasn’t changed or moved at all. The second candle did not remove any of the earwax. In a side by side comparison between the first time I looked inside Heather’s ear and after the second attempt at ear candling, I saw that nothing has changed.
Conclusions and Recommendations
I know that looking at the contents of that first candle that we put inside Heather’s ear would lead you to believe that earwax was being pulled out of her ear, because that candle looked completely different than the candle that was burned inside the cup. However, visualization does not lie. The otoscopy clearly indicated that there was no earwax movement and no indication that any earwax was pulled out of Heather’s ear canal in either tests.
Now that we know for sure that ear candling does not remove earwax, we need to talk about some other issues surrounding ear candling as an alternative therapy.
The first thing: if there were some kind of suction effect that was created by the ear candle, we wouldn’t see smoke billowing out of the bottom of the candle. On top of that, if you did get a suction effect that was strong enough to pull earwax out of someone’s ear canal, it would likely rupture the eardrum, because it consists of just three little thin layers of epithelium and collagen.
The second thing: despite what anyone tells you, you’re not going to have any impact on the middle ear space, the Eustachian tube, or the inner ear. The eardrum actually blocks off the ear canal and separates it from the inner ear and the middle ear. Unless you have a perforation inside of your eardrum, you’re not going to pulling any kind of materials outside of those spaces, if the candle could do so in the first place. If you do have a perforation inside of your eardrum and you drop any hot wax from that candle into your ear, you’re going to be looking at having surgery to get it out.
Lastly, the smoke that plumes from the bottom of an ear candle for a few minutes before it actually gets plugged up with the beeswax can leave that soot-like material (seen inside the cups) inside of your ear canal, which can have its own negative health implications. In fact, they’ve done studies to determine that children who grow up in households with smokers are at a higher likelihood for ear infections – so why would you want to risk ear candling giving you an actual ear infection?
A Final Note
Now, of course, I didn’t let Heather leave my clinic without performing cerumen management on her, so I cleaned out the earwax inside her ear canal with a curet. I was able to completely remove all of her earwax in just a few minutes. Check out the side-by-side comparison of Heather’s ear after ear candling, and after professional removal of her earwax to see the difference!
So, there you go! Based on my little research project, ear candling proves to be an ineffective way to remove earwax from someone’s ear canal and puts you at higher risk for starting your hair on fire, dripping hot wax into your ear canal, and just making you smell like smoke in general.
If you still want to do ear candling as a form of relaxation, then go ahead and knock yourself out! As for me, I think I’ll go get a massage instead.