But ear candling, also known as ear coning, is big business. Wally's Natural Products of Auburn, Calif., the largest U.S. seller of ear candles, had sales of $1.2 million in 2004, according to Hoover's, a market research firm. But a spokesman for Wally's said sales are several times greater than that now.
And hundreds of practitioners around the country stand ready to perform the ritual for $25-$60 a session.
How Ear Candling Is Done
Ear candling is an ancient practice that supposedly removes wax from the ears, thereby improving physical and spiritual well-being. Practitioners use a tapered tube, about a foot long, made out of a rolled-up sheet of cotton that has been coated with beeswax, and sometimes infused with honey or herbs.
They insert the narrow end of the tube, or ear cone, into the patient's ear, and set the other end on fire. The flame supposedly creates a vacuum that sucks ear wax into the tube. After 15 minutes or so, the practitioner douses the flame and pushes a stick through the tube, pushing out ash and melted wax that has been darkened by the smoke so it resembles ear wax.
But it is not ear wax, as several researchers have demonstrated.
For example, clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall, along with Justin Neville Kaushall, performed ear candling the traditional way, and then burned other ear candles that were not inserted in the ear. The residue was always the same.
"Hence the wax that is pushed out from an ear cone is not from the ear, as purported, but rather is a product of the candle itself," they concluded in an article published in Skeptical Inquirer. Ear candles don't produce a vacuum either, so they could not possibly suck wax from the ear.
"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," says Lisa M.L. Dryer, MD, writing for quackwatch.org, a web site devoted to combating health-related frauds, myths, fads, and fallacies.