Waxing sceptical

March 4th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, penises | 14 Comments »

Waxing sceptical

Ben Goldacre
Thursday March 4, 2004
The Guardian

· Time for some more home science experiments. Robin Sidgwick sends in the catalogue for Ragdale Hall health hydro, which includes the fabulously theatrical “ear candling”: the idea is that a hollow tube of wax invented by Hopi indians is inserted into your ear and lit, in order to suck out any impurities. After the treatment, the candle is triumphantly opened, and shown to be full of orange goo. It’s excellent for “excess wax in the ears, sinusitis, or general blocked sinuses… A must for anyone who hates the syringe!” After an argument at a party about how sceptical I always am, I’ve got a Hopi ear candle right here. Time for a Johnny Ball moment. Get an ear candle. Wave it over an ashtray or some carpet fluff as I am now doing: nothing so far… A paper published in the medical journal Laryngoscope used rather expensive tympanometry and found that ear candles exert no suction. The researchers also found no reduction in the amount of wax after a programme of ear candling. Although, if you’re getting bored of all these negative findings, they did ask 122 colleagues, and collected 21 cases of serious injury from burning wax falling on to the ear drum. If you find, while having your ear candled, that you experience a sudden loss of hearing, and agony followed by bleeding: that’ll be the deafening sound of your own painful credulity.

· But numerous ear candle manufacturers, such as Biosun, are proud to tell you that their product conforms to EC directive 93/42 and bears the CE mark. Sounds good. EC directive 93/42 certification, routinely dragged out by pseudoscientists, for a Class I medical device (am I the most boring man you know?) is a matter of filling out a little form, where you say you think it’s probably safe. “The devices must be designed and manufactured in such a way that, when used under the conditions and for the purposes intended, they will not compromise the clinical condition or the safety of patients.” Quite.

· But I wouldn’t want you to think I’m uniformly sceptical. If you go to the website buttcandle.com you’ll find something that really does work, accompanied by numerous lovingly hand-tooled illustrations of hollow candles gently drawing toxins out through the rectums of happy customers. Oh yes. The only reported danger is of the pressures created by the buttcandle drawing haemorrhoids into the hollow channel of the candle, leading them to be tangled up in the hot wax. It’s got to be better than going deaf.

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14 Responses

  1. John Smith said,

    December 12, 2005 at 10:46 pm

    I don’t know if ear candling works or not.I do know the vaunted testing the medical doctors do to determine if excessive pressure behind the ear is present are absolutely worthless.
    Having just been assured by an otolaryngologist that there could not be any such pressure contributing to my deafness, I dived off a high dive, and surfaced to find my hearing restored.I went to dry my ears in the locker room, and discovered a huge mass of ear wax dislodged by the dive.Over a period of weeks, my hearing declined again, and I was never able to repeat it.But I have been able to repeat the experience of being tested by a medical device by an audiologist, and determining that there was no such problem, only to subsequently have my ears “pop”, and my hearing improve substantially.
    So, I don’t know if there is any validity to your claims against candling or not.I do know there is no validity to your claims in favor of medical doctors.

  2. Paul henderson said,

    January 27, 2006 at 1:23 pm

    In answer to the letter by Ben Goldacre.
    I would argue against the medical report about hopi ear candles. If it is done properly, a vacuum IS produced as ANY hopi ear practitioner will tell you. The presence of wax proves this.
    Hopi ear candles rarely produce large amounts of wax on the first treatment. One needs three or four treatments to really feel the benefit. The ear will produce fresh wax afetr 24 hours and this is why somepeople may find their hearing actually worsen afetr a treatment. The fresh wasx pushes the hardened wax, thus blocking the ear canal. The following treatments will remove this hard wax.
    Laboratory analysis has shown residues removed by ear coning to consist of earwax,, including residuals, from past infections,, fungus, bacteria, yeats/candida, parasites, hair, sand,and other environmental debris.
    Furthermore, a hopi ear treatment also consists of lymmphatic massage which assists in the healing process. The benefits are too numerous to mention here.

  3. Jenn Ellis said,

    March 14, 2006 at 3:08 pm

    As a qualified practitioner in Hopi ear candles, I believe this article to be completely untrue.
    Before I became a therapist I too had my doubts, but after undergoing a course of treatment myself; I not only felt but saw the difference in my ears. Balance, hearing and sinuses were all greatly improved.
    I have also had many doctors recomend their patients with ear problems to me, because of the vast benfit of candling rather than syringing. Those children that have suffered with glue ear, or ever had gromits or even servere ear infections have all seen improvements over a course of 4-6 treatments.

  4. Jon Rowett’s Other Blog » Blog Archive » You can really feel the energy said,

    September 16, 2006 at 9:30 pm

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  5. mdelvis said,

    November 19, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    I have tried using ear candles and was amazed at the amount of debris left in the candle! That is until I tried supporting a candle in a empty glass and lighting it, the debris that I thought was coming out of my ear was actually the result of the candle burning.
    I will now continue experimenting

  6. | Uncategorized | Everything you need to know about candles and candle making said,

    November 18, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    […] White Egret is the pioneer of ear candling products. Our history of over 25 years in the industry surpasses the competition. As you become familiar with our … More on Candles… […]

  7. mattybo said,

    March 10, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    Hi guys, I haven’t tried the lighting a candle and seeing if the same ‘wax’ is in there at the end.

    What i can say is that i have given myself three treatments with the Biosun brand ear candles and so far the have worked absolute wonders for me.

    The last pair i used had a ball of wax left on the very tip (the end that is inserted into the ear) proving that this was in fact wax from my ear and not the residue from the candle.

    Since using the candles my taste buds have come alive as i have never known them before. I CAN ACTUALLY TASTE FOOD!! and to my complete astonishment the smell of COFFEE now makes me want to throw my guts up!

    If any of you have heard about the FDA and the FTC reports regarding ear candling you will know that they have accused ear candles of being ‘unsafe’ and ‘ineffective’. PLEASE, please, please my fellow people, please do not listen to these people. These people do not want people to use holistic therapies to cure ourselves and make ourselves better they want us to take the drugs they approved, manufacture and MAKE MONEY OUT OF.

    As a final word i would like to suggest that if you are skeptical about the ear candles, try two or three treatments (either by yourself if you think you are competent, or by a practitioner) and just see and feel the difference they make to your life.

    Love and peace people.

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  11. Portfolio « NotKeith said,

    July 22, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    […] that has been recommended to me is the Hopi ear candle. Unfortunately, a quick google brought up this, which isn’t too encouraging. Having grown somewhat discouraged, I went to see a doctor. This […]

  12. Ear Candling « Confetti Skin, Beauty Within said,

    May 24, 2013 at 3:40 pm

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  13. Jacquelyn said,

    December 31, 2014 at 2:47 am

    One bit of info. After ear candling started being advertised by some companies as “Hopi ear candles” and presented as an ancient Hopi practice, the Hopi nation got very interested. They sent official requests to the companies involved in this practice. Their request was that the companies involved cease and desist using their name to promote ear candling sales as the Hopi do not now, nor have they ever practiced ear candling. The Hopi drawings the sellers claim depict them practicing ear candling are actually of Hopi ceremonies involving eagle feathers.
    I wonder why a company would feel like they must manufacture lies about an ancient culture to lend themselves legitimacy if their product is a good one on its own?

  14. Tina Mason said,

    September 17, 2016 at 6:40 am


    Partly what you say is correct ” Ear candles do NOT suck out wax ” This is absolutely true.
    No suction is happening.

    What does happen, is that the warm smoke softens the wax in the ear and thereby allows it to come out freely and be removed.

    The wax you are all ranting about, is in fact solidified beeswax which is used to bind the cotton together.

    The powder inside, is the burnt linen which the candle itself from which it is made from.

    It annoys me no end, when people say “look all this has come from you ear” as it is totally untrue and does not help in promoting the treatment.

    I do this treatment for clients and have done for nearly 30 years, it does have fantastic benefits and results but only if done and promoted correctly.

    The treatment itself is thousands of years old, it is not practised by the Hopi Indians as many seem to believe.

    The treatment itself should be classed as Thermal Auricular therapy ~ “Heat Ear Treatment”

    It is a very calming and relaxing treatment and very beneficial when performed correctly.

    If using it for blockages, then it must be teamed up with lymphatic drainage techniques.

    If using it for relaxation it must be teamed up with other relaxing techniques

    Both these types of treatment should be given by a qualified therapist, who has insurance allowing them to practise all treatments.

    There naturally a number of contraindicated conditions which do not allow for the treatment to be done and any qualified, insured therapist will know this and ascertain this, in the in depth consultation done prior to the treatment itself.

    Likewise relaxation time is crucial after the treatment as is aftercare advice on what to not do.

    I hope this has helped to clarify and demystify the treatment somewhat and lay to rest some of the ridiculous claims some people make, making a qualified therapists job even harder, unnecessarily.