On Ear Cones and Candles – Brief Article
Three experiments by the authors melt a New Age claim of ear wax extraction.
The advertisement’s banner headline read “Chinese and Egyptian Ear Coning.” The technique is not described, but the benefits claimed include “debris removal from nerve endings,” “detoxification of sinuses and lymph system” and “sharpening of mental functioning, vision, hearing, smell, taste and color sensation.” Ear coning appointments are accepted and cone making classes are offered. The telephone number given is in Los Angeles.
We had heard about ear cones from a friend who had waxed enthusiastic about how ear wax would drawn out from his ears and he would feel light headed and his sinuses clear. He introduced us to the technique. Ear cones are available in New Age or “head” shops. From a store in Venice (California) we bought some for $2.50 each.
An ear cone is made out of a thin layer of bees wax. The sheet is curled into a cone shape with the tip aperture about a quarter of an inch in diameter and the length about ten inches. The wider aperture is about an inch in diameter.
The cone tip is inserted into a person’s ear as they lie with the head resting on one side on a pillow. Once the tip is pressed into the ear canal and the cone held vertical, the upper (wider) end is lit. It burns gently and rakes about fifteen minutes to consume a few inches of cone. At this point the cone is removed from the ear and the flame doused; the thin end is held over a bowl of water. A narrow stick (like a blunted wood skewer) is pushed down inside the cone from the wide end toward the tip. This action pushes out the “debris” stuck in the tip into the water, where it floats and can be safely examined. Our friend assured us that the worm-like wax (about one inch long or more in length and the same diameter as the tip aperture) was the wax extracted from the ear by a mysterious action. Apparently (according to our mutual friend) aficionados of this cleansing method understand the process as vaguely “suction” or “capillary action.”
Our skepticism was compounded of several specific doubts. First, the suction action would not likely be quite strong enough to extract ear wax of that quantity (if derived from convection currents in and around the tip of the cone). The heat of the cone may ease this process, of course, but if the tip is pushed firmly down in the ear canal there is no room for air to circulate down and around the ear canal. Second, capillary action is not known to exist with wax so far as we are aware–hence this mechanism, as accessory or on its own, would seem to be ruled out.
In our first attempt to achieve clearheadedness, we applied the technique to one of our own ears as per the instructions. Indeed, the waxy residue plopped out into the bowl of water as described. But the residue had a coloration and consistency closely matching that of the cone/candle. Close inspection of the wax did not reveal a mixture of two substances, ear wax and candle wax. Instead, the debris seemed quite uniform in appearance. Since we would expect at least some candle wax to melt down the inside of the cone (indeed some drippings were visible both inside and outside the cone) perhaps all of it was candle wax!
With our curiosity unsatisfied we continued with a second experiment: a lighted cone/candle was held above the kitchen counter top without insertion into an ear. At the conclusion of the requisite burning period, the same amount and kind of waxy residue plopped into the bowl of water, when forced out of the tip by the skewer. Again, the consistency of the debris allowed that there was only one kind of residue, not a mixture of ear wax and candle. In this case, no ear wax could have contaminated the residue anyway: a new cone had been used and it had not approached an ear. Hence this waxy residue, was all derived from the ear candle! Conclusion: the cleansing of ear wax by the ear cone is a myth.
However, in the hope of putting the final kibosh on any conceivable competing hypotheses, a third experiment was performed. A two-inch length of plastic tubing of an outer diameter such that it could be jammed tight inside of a cone tip was pushed inside a cone until so jammed, to within about half an inch from the tip of the cone. The rationale was that the tube would allow any “convection” “capillary action,” or “suction” to operate relatively unimpeded, and would not impede the flow of heat down the cone to the ear canal. However the tube would block, from the tip, the accumulation of wax presumably dripping down the inside surface of the cone-candle from the burning wax at the lighted end.
With a new ear cone thus arranged, it was inserted into the other (unused) ear of the same worthy volunteer subject (actually a co-experimenter) and lighted. After the requisite fifteen minutes of burning the cone was removed from the ear and the tip of the cone was visually examined. No wax of any sort could be discerned–the tip of the cone was as clear as it had been before this experiment–except for minute pieces of loose wax apparently broken off (they clearly had not been in molten form) from the edge of the tip, presumably due to the tip’s insertion into the ear canal.
When the tip of the cone was blocked from accepting molten wax from the inside of the burning cone/candle, none was evident at the tip. 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.
In addition, the volunteer subject did not experience any objective or subjective effects at all from the practice of ear coning. Even the sensations of warmth or of unbounded happiness were missing from the procedure; only the sensation of curiosity satisfied–after these experiments were concluded.
As for the advertised benefits of ear coning quoted in the beginning of this article, only the scientifically minded would ask: Where are the experiments and theories that prove these extravagant claims? We would now ask in addition: Where are the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Better Business Bureau?
Philip Kaushall is a clinical psychologist. Address: Psychology Affiliates, 2830 Fourth Avenue, San Diego, CA 92103. Justin Neville Kaushall is a high school student.
(1.) Experimental materials, advertisements, claims and instructions can be supplied on request to the authors.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group