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By Lisa M.L. Dryer
from Quackwatch Home Page
"Ear Candling," also known as auricular candling
or coning, refers to various procedures that involve placing a
cone-shaped device in the ear canal and supposedly extracting
earwax and other impurities with the help of smoke or a burning
The origins of candling are obscure. Ancient Tibet, China,
Egypt, the pre-Columbian Americas, and even the mythical city
of Atlantis are cited as possible contributors. The procedures
supposedly create a low-level vacuum that draws wax and other
debris out of the ear canal. Some proponents even claim that impurities
are removed from the inner ear, the facial sinuses, or even the
brain itself, all of which are somehow connected to the canal.
Proponents claim that candling can:
- relieve sinus pressure and pain
- cleanse the ear canal
- improve hearing
- assist lymphatic circulation
- regulate pressure
- purify the mind
- strengthen the brain
- relieve pain and fever associated with a ruptured eardrum
- cure swimmer's ear and other ear infections
- relieve earaches
- act as an alternative to "tubes put in your ears"
- sharpen the senses of smell, taste, and color perception
- stabilize emotions
- stop tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- help TMJ pain and stiffness
- relieve vertigo
- fortify the central nervous system
- clear the eyes,
- purify the blood,
- act as an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, or antibiotic
- cure Meniere's syndrome
- aid sinusitis
- release blocked energy
- reduce stress and tension
- cure auricular zona (a herpes zoster infection of the ear)
- open and align the chakras
- open the spiritual centers and cleanse the auric bodies.
Products and Procedures
Most ear candles sold in the United States are manufactured
here or in Canada and retail for between $2 and $10. They can
be made of linen or cotton (often unbleached, as practitioners
claim that chlorine is bad for the ears ) soaked in wax or paraffin
and allowed to harden. (Ironically, one manufacturer uses only
pure beeswax, claiming that paraffin is carcinogenic.). Some candles
are colored, which is controversial in ear-candling circles, though
the color of pure beeswax varies. Home varieties include wax-soaked
newspaper and cones of pottery into which herbal smoke is blown.
Some waxes contain herbs or other substances, including sage,
chamomile, rose, rosemary, burdock root, osha root, periwinkle,
jojoba, quassia bark, yucca root, or honey. White Egret, Inc.,
of Dallas, Texas, offers candles, plate guards, a 73-page manual,
a 30-minute videotape, flame-retardant cloths, ear oil, and an
otoscope. Its wholesale flyer states that its candles are "for
entertainment only" and that its kits "supply you with
everything you need for a safe and effective session of entertainment."
Most instructions direct the person undergoing the procedure
to lie on his or her side. A collecting plate is placed above
the ear, and the candle is inserted through a hole in the plate
and into the ear canal. The candle is lit, and as the wick burns
down, it is often trimmed. Some advocate using a toothpick to
maintain a hole in the top of the hollow candle throughout the
procedure. After the candle is blown out and removed, a cotton
swab is used to gently remove visible earwax from the ear, and
"ear oil" is often applied. Some practitioners place
the still-hot candle in a bowl of water, and claim that everything
in it which is not obviously beeswax is earwax, toxins, dead skin,
drug residues, or remnants of past yeast infections, none of which
has been verified. Nearly all package directions indicate that
the ear will feel warm but not hot, and that the experience will
be relaxing or even spiritual in nature.
Testing By Skeptics
Candling is occasionally offered as a service at health expositions.
Rebecca Long, president of the Georgia Council Against Health
Fraud, made the following observations at the 1992 Discovery Expo
in Atlanta, Georgia:
One exhibition was doing ear candling for $30. The people
selling this said that the suction created by the candle "cleared
your mind and sinuses." I questioned them enough to establish
that they meant this literally and believed the ear was an opening
from the brain and sinuses. The woman running the booth stated,
"It cleans the whole head, brains and all - they're all
connected you know." The candling was performed on a table
at the front of the booth, so the curious sight of a person lying
there with a burning candle sticking out of his ear drew many
spectators. During the procedure, a gray mixture of soot and
wax drippings collected on a pie plate under the candle. It did
not look like melted candle wax, but was quite foul in appearance.
Customers were told that these were the "impurities"
of which they had been cleansed, and many went around proudly
showing them off, comparing their debris to that of others, and
making knowing comments. The vendor also peddled "psychic
After the show, Long bought a package of ear candles at a local
health-food store and, with help from a friend, carefully followed
the package directions. She found that the candling produced a
hissing sound similar to that of a conch shell held against the
ear, but much louder. However, the air inside her ear became so
hot that she had to stop the experiment.
More recently, two investigators tested candles to see whether
what was accumulated after burning came entirely from the candle
or included wax that came from the ear. To do this they burned
candles with the tip (a) inside the ear, (b) outside the ear,
so the wax dripped into a bowl of water, and (b) inside the ear
but with a tube in place that would permit ear wax to move into
the tube but would block candle wax from moving downward. They
demonstrated that all residue originated from the candle and that
no ear wax was removed from the ear .
Why Candling Can't Work
Since wax is sticky, the negative pressure needed to pull wax
from the canal would have to be so powerful that it would rupture
the eardrum in the process. However, candling produces no vacuum.
Researchers who measured the pressure during candling of ear models
found that no negative pressure was created. The same investigators
candled eight ears and found that no ear wax was removed and candle
wax was actually deposited in some in some of them! 
The notion that the ear canal is connected to structures beyond
the eardrum is false. A review of a good anatomy book should dispel
this notion. The external ear canal, with an intact eardrum, is
not connected to the brain, the sinuses targeted by the procedure
(those above your eyes), or the Eustacean tubes (the passageways
between the internal ear and the back of the throat). While some
claim that the eardrum is porous and quickly allows impurities
to pass through, this is untrue. The "impurities" that
appear in the collected wax (usually on a paper plate or other
collecting device) are nothing more than the ashes from the burnt
wick and wax of the cone itself.
Candling poses several dangers, the most serious of which involve
burning caused by the hot wax. Candle manufacturers claim that
their candles will drip only down the outside of the ear, but
shamefully few direct the user to hold the candle horizontally
to prevent this. A 1996 survey of 144 ear, nose, and throat physicians,
found that 14 had seen patients who had been harmed by ear candling,
including at least 13 cases of external burns, 7 cases of ear
canal obstruction with candle wax, and 1 perforated eardrum .
Another case was reported by The London Free Press, a Canadian
newspaper. A woman who experienced stuffiness in the nose and
ear pains while scuba diving went to a local health-food store
and was referred to a "qualified" candler. During the
"treatment," she felt an intense burning in her ear.
At the emergency room, attempts to remove wax that had dripped
from the candle onto her eardrum failed. Surgery was required,
and a hole in her eardrum was discovered, which presumably was
caused by the procedure. She recovered fully, and luckily her
hearing was not affected. The practitioner apologized, compensated
the woman, and stopped performing ear coning .
Candles marketed with health claims are classified by the FDA
as medical devices. As such, they are illegal to market without
FDA approval, which none of them have. During the past few years,
the agency has banned the importation of auricular candles marketed
by at least four Canadian companies :
- Europe Cosmetiques, St. Lawrence, Quebec, which had claimed
that its products were effective for treating ear wax build-up,
hearing problems, sinus congestion, frequent migraines, and ear
- Kencayd Consulting
(aka Candela Ear Candles), Victoria, British Columbia, which
had claimed that its products promoted better hearing, better
lymphatic circulation, and pressure regulation.
- Superior Ear, a division of J&P Holdings, Parson, British
Columbia, which had claimed that its products promoted better
hearing, better lymphatic circulation, and pressure regulation
- Purity of Life, Action, Ontario.
In 1993, the FDA seized about $6,000 worth of candles, components,
and brochures from Quality Health Products, of Fayette, Ohio.
An FDA summary stated:
Adulterated - The article is a class III medical device for
which no approved premarket approval application is in effect;
and, the methods used in, and the facilities and controls used
for, its manufacture, packing, and storage are not in conformity
with current good manufacturing practice. Misbranded -- The article's
labeling represents and suggests that it is adequate and effective
for reducing ear wax, fever, and infections associated with a
ruptured ear drum, and that it may be used as a replacement for
surgical tubes inserted in the ear, which representations and
suggestions are contrary to fact. The article's labeling fails
to bear adequate directions for use for the purposes for which
it is intended. The article is dangerous to health when used
in the manner recommended and suggested in the labeling. The
article was manufactured, prepared, propagated, compounded, or
processed in an establishment not duly registered and was not
included in a required list; a notice or other required information
was not provided as required prior to its introduction into interstate
Early in 1998, the FDA ordered the president of Earth Care,
of Ukiah, California, to stop marketing the Ear Candles advertised
in his company's catalog. The letter noted that the product had
been advertised as a "remedy for earaches, sinus headaches,
swimmer's ear, allergies, and hearing difficulty effectively removes
impurities from the passages by drawing excess wax, yeast, fungus,
and bacteria . . . from the sinuses and lymph glands." 
In September 1998, the agency issued an Import Alert which stated:
The Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), has
determined that "Ear Candles" are medical devices as
defined by Section 201(h) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic
Act (The Act). An Ear Candle is a hollow wax cylinder (about
ten inches long) intended to remove excess ear wax. This is accomplished
by lighting the top of the candle-like product, and allowing
it to create a vacuum to draw wax and other impurities from the
The product labeling is false and misleading in that there
is no validated scientific evidence to support the efficacy of
the product for its intended use. Also, the label of the product
contains inadequate directions for use since adequate directions
cannot be written for the product's purported use. CDRH considers
the product to be dangerous when used according to its labeling,
since the use of a lit candle in the proximity of a person's
face would carry a high risk of causing potentially severe skin/hair
burns and middle ear damage.
Additionally, there has been no premarket notification filed
(510(k)) for these products and the products appear to have been
manufactured in establishments not duly registered or listed
with the . . . FDA .
In November 1998, the FDA warned Nature's Way, of West Columbia,
South Carolina, that it would be illegal to continue marketing
ear candles because they are unapproved devices that would be
dangerous to use as suggested in its catalog .
Ear candles cannot be legally sold in Canada. The Medical Devices
Regulations of Canada's Food and Drug Act states that medical
device of this type must be licensed by Therapeutic Products Programme
of Health Canada before the product can be sold. No licenses have
been granted for this product. Some promoters, in an attempt to
avoid medical device regulations, advertise ear candles as being
"for entertainment only". However, Health Canada considers
that this product is sold for medical purposes, because there
is no other reasonable use for ear candles. Canada has issued
directives prohibiting the importation ear candles .
Despite these actions, ear candles are still widely available
through the Internet [A,
at health-food stores. The
Awareness Institute of Lake Wales, Florida, not only sells
products but offers a $75 course leading to "certification
as an earconolgist."
The Bottom Line
For most people, ear wax moves along the ear canal and eventually
makes it to the outside, taking with it any accumulated dirt or
other matter. Compacted ear wax should be removed by a physician
or other health professional using legitimate instruments. Candling
is both ineffective and dangerous.
- Flyer mailed to health-food retailers in September 1998 by
White Egret, Inc., of Dallas, Texas.
- Kaushall PP, Kaushall JN. On ear cones and cancles. Skeptical
Inquirer 24(5):12-13, 2000.
- Seely DR, Quigley SM , Langman AW. Ear
candles: Efficacy and safety. Laryngoscope 106:1226-1229,
- The London Free Press, London, Ontario
- FDA Import Alert 80-06. Automatic Detention of Fraudulent
and Deceptive Medical Devices, Attachment. Issued, Sept 28, 1992,
revised May 9, 1997.
Enforcement Report, Dec 15, 1993.
- Gill LJ. Warning letter to John Schaesser, Jan 20, 1998.
- FDA Import Alert #77-01. Detention
without Physical Examination of Ear Candles. Sept 1, 1998.
- Gill LJ. Letter to John Fisher, November 18, 1999. Download
candling. Health Canada Web site, Sept 8, 2000.
About the Author
Lisa Dryer is a medical student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth
From Rebecca Silveous, Marengo, Ohio
After undergoing ear coning, I was amazed when the remains
of the cone was cut open, and revealed what appeared to be cerumin
from my ears. However, I later discovered that it was nothing
more than melted wax from the burned-down cone itself.
To investigate, I used an old insulin bottle that had had
the rubber on the top. Since the rubber was gone, I used furnace
tape to complete my experiment. I placed an ear cone into the
opening at the top of the bottle which was approximately two
and a half inches long and about an inch in diameter. I then
taped around the top of the bottle and around the smaller end
of the ear cone to hold it in place at the top of the bottle.
I made sure that no air could get in or out. The bottle was laid
on its side and the ear cone was set at 30 to 40 degrees. I then
lit the candle at its largest end and, snipping off burned remains,
proceeded to watch it burn down to about 4 inches from the bottle,
at which time I pulled it from the bottle and extinguished the
flame. I then cut it open length-wise and observed the contents
in the cone tube. It had the appearance, color and texture of
ear wax, and looked like ear wax, and yet was not inserted into
any ear what-so-ever.
While the candle burned, no smoke went into the bottle or
came out of the top of the candle. So my experiment showed that
the smoke would not enter the ear at all, and the heat some people
feel is actually the heat from the flame itself. Most of the
ear cone packages state that they for entertainment purposes
only. People who claim they have healing properties are deceiving
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