Earwax is normal. You need it, too. It helps trap dirt and keeps bacteria from growing in your ear canal. But if you don’t clean your ears regularly, or if your ears just produce a lot of wax, it can build up and block your ear canal. It’s natural to want to clear your ears of that wax. But, there are right and wrong ways to do it.
Some people use a technique called “ear candling” to try to get rid of wax. But, this practice isn’t safe. And it isn’t an effective way to remove earwax. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Ear Candling?
Some people purchase ear candles or kits to use on themselves at home. Or someone, such as an aesthetician, can perform the service for you at a spa or similar place. There, you lie on your side or lie down flat with your head turned to the side. Then the aesthetician places a long hollow cone covered in wax (the “candle”) into the opening of your ear. She then lights the end of the candle that’s sticking out of your ear and lets it burn about halfway down. That takes around 10 to 15 minutes. Then she blows out the candle and removes it from your ear.
Some people say heat from the candle causes suction, which pulls earwax out of the ear and into the hollow part of the candle. Others believe the heat melts earwax, allowing it to come out of the ear on its own later -- for example, during a shower.
Does Ear Candling Work?
The simple answer is “No.”
Ear candling isn’t an effective way to remove earwax. Studies haven’t found any proof that the heat from the candle causes suction that pulls earwax out of your ear. And your internal body temperature is already higher than the temperature of the burning candle. So the candle would not provide enough additional heat to melt the wax -- which is already in a liquid or semi-liquid form.
Is Ear Candling Safe?
Again, no. Several studies show that it can lead to serious injuries.
Ear candling can:
- Burn your ear canal, eardrum, face, hair, or scalp
- Leave deposits of candle wax in your ear canal
- Lead to holes (also called punctures or perforations) in your eardrum
- Push wax deeper into your ear, which can lead to a buildup of wax that requires medical treatment
No study has ever shown that ear candling has any health benefits. That, along with the risk of injury, is why doctors don’t recommend it.
How Can You Safely Remove Earwax?
When you shower and softly dry the outer parts of your ears, that’s often enough to remove excess earwax. But if your inner ears feel dirty or you think you have a buildup of wax, there are other things you can do to safely remove the wax.
You can try this at home:
- Use an eyedropper to place a few drops of baby or mineral oil, glycerin, or peroxide into your ear canal.
- Give the wax a few days to soften.
- Tilt your head to one side and pull your outer ear slightly up. Then, gently squirt body-temperature water into your ear with a rubber bulb syringe. (Cooler or warmer water can cause brief but intense dizziness or vertigo.)
- Tip your head to the other side to let the water drain onto a cotton pad or towel.
- Dry your ear canal with a towel or hand-held dryer on a low heat setting.
You may need to do this a few times before extra earwax falls out. You can also purchase an over-the-counter earwax removal kit at the drugstore.
Never use cotton swabs, hairpins, or other instruments to try to “dig out” earwax. You can push the wax deeper into your ear canal and damage your eardrum.
When Should You See Your Doctor?
It’s a good idea to see your doctor if:
- Your ear hurts
- You start to have trouble hearing
- You suspect extra wax is blocking your ear canal
The doctor can remove wax with a special curved tool called a curette or with suction and warm water.
Mayo Clinic: “Is ear candling a safe way to remove earwax?” “Earwax Blockage.”
Canadian Family Physician: “Ear candling: Should general practitioners recommend it?”
The Journal of Laryngology and Otology: “Ear candles: a triumph of ignorance over science.”