Ear candling, a popular method for removing earwax, might not be up to snuff.

A buildup of earwax — and the muffled hearing that usually accompanies it — ranks among one of the most annoying sensations out there. And since manually removing earwax with a cotton swab is confirmed to be a bad idea, there aren’t many other DIY options available.

Enter ear candling, which often is marketed as a safe, “natural” method for removing earwax. Spoiler alert: It’s not.

The ear candling technique requires lighting one end of a hollow, cone-shaped candle on fire and placing the opposite end into the ear canal. It’s held there for about 15 minutes. Afterward, you can usually find a brown, wax-like substance in the remaining stub, which proponents believe to be a mixture of earwax and dirt. Some fans claim that the candle creates a low-level vacuum, which sucks out excess earwax and debris from the canal. Others believe that the heat just softens the wax, making it more likely to fall out.

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It might sound appealing — and even relaxing — but that’s not actually effective. Not only does ear candling generally not remove earwax (or doing anything to melt or soften it), but it also can have harmful side effects to boot.

According to Courtney Voelker, MD, PhD, assistant professor of clinical otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, ear candling actually “pushes the ear wax deeper into the ear canal towards the ear drum, which can cause irrigation/damage to the ear drum and pain.”

“Deposition of hot candle wax into the ear canal can cause burns to the ear canal, skin and or ear drum,” added Dr. Voelker, who also is a neurotologist at the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Keck Medicine of USC. “This can even lead to eardrum perforation, with burns to the middle ear and possible hearing loss.”

Instead of lighting up, stick with effective and safe methods of removing earwax at home. One good one: Using an eyedropper, apply two or three drops of mineral oil, glycerin, baby oil or hydrogen peroxide into the clogged ear. This will soften the wax over the next day or two. Then, gently squirt warm water into your ear canal using a rubber-bulb syringe. Lean your head to the side and tug your ear up and back, which will irrigate your ear canal. Then, tip your head to one side to drain the water from your ear. Gently pat it dry with a towel. Repeat this process as needed. If it doesn’t help, make an appointment with a doctor, who can either help or recommend an earwax removal kit.

By Deanna Pai

If you are suffering from excess buildup in your ears, make an appointment with one of our otolaryngology specialists at Keck Medicine at USC. If you are in the Los Angeles area, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.