Also known as an ear cone, an ear candle is a thin, hollow tube of linen or muslin cloth, soaked in paraffin or beeswax and tapered at one end. Some are scented with herbs, honey, or aromatherapy oils.
They are often known as Hopi Candles, which refers to the Hopi tribe of North America but the Hopi people are actually quite upset that their name is being used for marketing purposes, mostly because it's a lie. They deny any association with ear candling. There are various other claims such as the ancient Egyptians and South Americans used them but there is no real evidence for this either.
The basic claim is that the heat from the flame melts and loosens the ear wax and creates negative pressure that 'sucks' the wax into the candle. This is referred to as the 'chimney effect'.
In 2004, I tried the practice for myself at an alternative therapy clinic in London. I was working close to Harley Street as a hearing aid dispenser and was looking for an alternative place to send my clients to have their wax removed that would be a lower cost alternative to the local ENT surgeons.
I contacted the alternative therapy clinic beforehand to let them know of my intentions. I received an excellent service and walked out of the door feeling wonderfully relaxed and very positive about the whole experience. I was given a detailed description of the procedure from the practitioner and was asked to lie on my side on a bed covered in perfectly white towels in a dimly lit room. There was a Buddha on the bedside table and some zen-like music playing in the background. The whole process from entering the clinic, to leaving, took approximately 30 minutes..
What I had not told them was that I’d taken some pictures of the inside my ear using an excellent (and at the time, very expensive) video otoscope. These are now small, portable and quite inexpensive devices and all ear wax removing practitioner, in my opinion, should be showing you before and after pictures of their handy work. At the time, there was a reasonable amount of wax in one of my ears and this was shown to me as a dark residue after the procedure, similar to the image below.
When I got back to my office, I checked on the camera and unfortunately nothing had changed. The wax was still there looking exactly the same as it had before. Advocates, and there are a few, which I put down to a placebo effect, believe that the residue is extracted earwax proving the benefits of the procedure. Studies show that the same residue is left whether the candle is burnt in an ear or just out in the open. Therefore, it is plainly obvious that the wax residue is derived from the candle itself which is made from beeswax and cotton fabric. The light brown residue cleverly matches the colour of human earwax.
"Tympanometric measurements in an ear canal model demonstrated that ear candles do not produce negative pressure. A limited clinical trial (eight ears) showed no removal of cerumen from the external auditory canal. Candle wax was actually deposited in some." Ear candles--efficacy and safety, published in the journal Laryngoscope
I, personally, haven’t heard stories of anyone’s house burning down from an ear candling accident or of hot burning wax running into anybody’s ears. However, The American Academy of Otolarynology states that ear candles are not a safe option for removing ear wax and that no controlled studies or scientific evidence support their use for ear wax removal. The Food and Drug Administration has successfully taken several regulatory actions against the sale and distribution of ear candles since 1996, including seizing ear candle products and ordering injunctions! www.entnet.org. American Academy of Otolaryngology.
If Hopi candles were truly effective, the practitioner would show you before and after pictures live on a screen as we all do at the Ear Wax Clinics.