Ear candling is promoted as an ancient healing practice and a natural way to remove earwax. Numerous websites sell inexpensive kits, and some beauty salons and spas offer it as a “relaxation” service. But it’s neither “natural” nor safe. Also called ear coning, the procedure involves inserting the narrow end of a hollow cone, filled with paraffin or beeswax, into the ear canal and lighting the other end. This supposedly creates a vacuum that draws wax out of the ear. Proponents claim it also treats tinnitus, migraines, postnasal drip, allergies, coughs, and many other ills.
There’s no evidence to support any medical benefits. According to limited studies, ear candling does not create enough suction to remove earwax—and it can leave candle wax behind. Worse, it can burn the ear canal, perforate the eardrum, and cause infection. And it’s a fire hazard. Serious injuries have been reported to the FDA and Health Canada, and the FDA has taken legal action against marketers and seized products. An older review in the Journal of Laryngology & Otology concluded that ear candling “clearly does more harm than good” and should be banned.
Better ways to remove earwax
Earwax, also called cerumen, is secreted by glands in the outer ear canal, and it serves a purpose: it prevents debris from entering deeper into the ear canal. And the ear is self-cleaning anyway, meaning that most old wax dries up and migrates out on its own. But impacted earwax (typically from improper use of cotton-tipped swabs that push the wax deeper into the ear) can block hearing and cause other symptoms.
If you have excess wax buildup—and you know you do not have a perforated eardrum—you can try removing it with warm (not hot) mineral or vegetable oil. Put a drop or two in your ear with an eyedropper, and wait 10 to 15 minutes. Then, using a bulb syringe, flush the ear with warm water, holding your head upright and then tilting it to allow the water to drain. Repeat as necessary over a few days until the wax comes out.
Over-the-counter wax softeners are generally safe, but no more effective than mineral oil. Though hydrogen peroxide is often recommended as a remedy, it doesn’t do much and may cause problems; don’t use it. If home treatments don’t work, your doctor can remove the earwax.
For more on ear health, see Aspirin and Tinnitus.