Ear seeds are the latest wellness trend popping up all over social media. “Ear seeding”, which has been around for years, is seeing a resurgence - especially on Instagram. What exactly is ear seeding? Is it truly a painless, drug-free way to help people with their chronic pain, menstrual difficulties, anxiety, insomnia, and weight? Or are ear seeds simply hyped decorations with no real benefit?
What Are Ear Seeds?
Ear seeds are tiny vaccaria flower seeds, metal pellets or ceramic beads that are applied to the energy points in the ear with adhesive tape to stimulate the points naturally and non-invasively. All of the different styles are equally effective. The metal pellets are sometimes covered in gold or have a crystal top, making an attractive fashion statement while they assist your health.
You can shower, exercise, and sleep with ear seeds on. You can talk on your phone and generally live your life however you normally do. The ear seeds will fall off naturally over a three to five day period, and you can also remove them whenever you want. While it’s possible to place ear seeds yourself, it’s best to work with a certified ear seeds practitioner first so you can learn where to place them and how to place them safely and effectively.
What Is Ear Seeding & Auriculotherapy?
Ear seeding is used as a complementary approach to wellness and is rooted in the same traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) system that includes acupuncture, acupressure and electrical stimulation of the energy points. Through a certified practitioner, ear seeding can be a realistic way to reap the benefits of acupuncture, especially if you don’t like needles.
According to the US National Library of Medicine, ear seeding is a type of auriculotherapy. Auriculotherapy is defined as the stimulation of specific points on the auricle (aka our external ear) in order to have a therapeutic effect elsewhere in the body. Like reflexology of the ear, the goal of ear seeding is to stimulate the acupoints and open the flow of chi, or life force energy, that flows along the body’s energy meridians.
Ear seeding can be used as a stand-alone treatment or as support for another treatment. Ear seeding treatments are available in specialized clinics and spas and through do-it-yourself kits. Many nurses, massage therapists, and other holistic healers are expanding their skills to provide ear seeding for self-care and the care of their family, friends and community, and finding auriculotherapy to be a wonderful tool in their toolkit.
How Is Ear Seeding Supposed to Work?
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), our health depends on the flow of chi or qi (life force energy) in our body, and this energy travels along invisible pathways, known as energy meridians. Meridians are found throughout our body, including our ears, but they can often become blocked. From the TCM view, ear seeding unblocks stuck chi, similar to the way acupuncture needles are placed in specific acupoints along meridian lines. This allows the life force energy to flow freely again, which may help with a variety of health conditions.
There are hundreds of acupoints on the ear, with different areas corresponding to different organs and systems in a pattern that roughly represents a microsystem of the whole body, including both its physical and emotional aspects. According to the Journal of Medical Acupuncture, French neurologist Paul Nogier was among the first to map the ear in the 1950s and determine that each part of the ear affected a corresponding part of the body.
Ear seeding works by placing light pressure on specific pressure points, which in turn “talks” to the central nervous system and triggers neurotransmitters that help us relax. The continuous mild pressure from the ear seeds is further amplified by giving the seeded points a few seconds of gentle massage every few hours, which creates a key difference between ear seeding and acupuncture: ear seeds work for several days at a time, whereas acupuncture needles stay in the body for only a few minutes.
Is Ear Seeding Really Effective?
The short answer is… maybe. There are some limited scientific studies to support the health benefits of ear seeding, but the exact biological reasons for why ear seeds may work has not yet been discovered. A few studies show that ear seeding can improve peripheral blood circulation and elevate endorphins, our body’s natural painkiller. However, further studies are necessary to prove that ear seeding is an effective treatment for health conditions, especially serious ones. Overall, ear seeding is safe and non-invasive if you learn how and where to use the seeds and if you follow a few precautions. Effectiveness varies greatly depending on how accurately the seeds are placed on the points.
Is There Evidence to Back Up Using Ear Seeds?
There are not a lot of high-quality studies about ear seeds and other forms of auriculotherapy. However, the few that do exist suggest that ear seeds may be beneficial for certain conditions, especially when used as a complement to other treatments. More research is needed to fully explore the benefits and effects. Here are a few studies that showed effectiveness.
A 2013 Study on Low Back Pain
This study looked at 19 people living with chronic low back pain. It suggested that ear seeds could help reduce pain and improve mobility. Participants were randomly divided into two groups. The first group had ear seeds placed on points associated with low back pain. The second group had ear seeds placed in random points on the ear. After four weeks of treatment, the first group noticed better results than the second group. Participants in the first group noted an overall decrease in pain intensity of 75%, and their improvement lasted for at least a month.
A 2015 Literature Review on Insomnia
This literature review looked at 15 studies on auriculotherapy using acupuncture and ear seeds for insomnia. Together, the studies indicated that the combination of ear seeds and acupuncture seemed to reduce insomnia symptoms. However, the authors of the review noted that several of the studies they analyzed had small sample sizes, low-quality study models, and/or potential biases.
A 2015 Study on Pain Tolerance
This study compared the minimum and maximum sensations of pain felt by 16 healthy people before and after using ear seeds. The results suggested that using ear seeds might increase pain tolerance, or how much pain a person can stand.
Are Ear Seeds Safe to Try?
Ear seeds are generally considered safe. They’re noninvasive and they don’t require the use of needles, so there’s no risk of infection or bleeding compared to a small risk of those with acupuncture.
However, if you have sensitive skin, you should choose ceramic beads or vaccaria seeds because metal seeds might cause some irritation. If you have a sensitivity or allergy to latex, be sure to choose the latex-free products.
Rarely, some people develop small sores around the seeds. This is most often due to massaging the seeds too frequently or not letting the ears rest before applying new seeds.
If you’re pregnant, don’t try ear seeds or other forms of auriculotherapy before talking to your healthcare provider because some points may induce early labor.
In addition, some people have experienced unwanted effects while using ear seeds, including brief spells of:
While these unwanted effects aren’t very common, it’s best to avoid driving or operating heavy machinery immediately after massaging your ear seeds until you get familiar with how your body reacts.
Why Do People Use Ear Seeds?
Like acupuncture and reflexology, ear seeds can assist relaxation, helping with anxiety. Some people say that ear seeding has helped them lower their stress and anxiety levels, reduce their muscular discomfort, or helped them feel more "grounded." In addition, people also use ear seeds to treat a handful of health conditions, including:
- Chronic pain, especially in the lower back
- Stress and stress eating
- Weight loss or weight gain
Remember: When you are ill, it’s always recommended to work with a licensed or certified health practitioner in order to fully understand your symptoms and get their input on your best treatment plan. If you’re looking to troubleshoot a chronic concern, it’s best to seek out a practitioner who will be able to identify root causes for your symptoms, consider your unique personal situation, offer diet and lifestyle advice as needed, and be a resource for ongoing support. After you’ve worked with a practitioner, it’s pretty easy to apply ear seeds at home.
10 Tips for DIY Ear Seeds
Ear seeds are definitely trending, and for good reason: there are hundreds of positive testimonials from people who have used ear seeds; there are no negative side effects; there’s a bit of science to back up the benefits, and ear seeds are generally safe and easy to use.
While it’s possible to place ear seeds in your own ears, it’s usually best to see a certified ear seeds practitioner at least the first time. They can review your symptoms, help you find the right points for your condition, and show you how to properly place the seeds. For DIY ear seeding, follow these tips to ensure you get the best results:
- Clean and dry the outside of your ear. Make sure the outside of your ear is thoroughly cleaned and towel-dried.
- Identify the correct points. It’s best to work with a certified ear seeds practitioner to help you find the best points to apply the seeds. Some ear seed kits also include a chart that shows the location of points specific to a condition, but a kit is always a general map, at best. It can never take into account a person’s unique situation.
- The most common mistake people make is putting ear seeds too close to their ear canal. Do not put ear seeds inside the ear canal! Always place the ear seeds on the outside surface of the ear. Better yet, have a certified ear seed practitioner show you exactly where they should go for optimal results.
- Use tweezers to apply the ear seeds. Your ear seeds will likely already be attached to adhesive tape. Avoid touching the sticky side and use tweezers to place them on the correct points. Press gently on the tape all around the seed, to make sure it sticks.
- Apply gentle pressure. Gently massage the seeds in a circular motion for 1 to 3 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day.
- Check your ears each day for signs of irritation and remove the seeds right away if you notice any of these symptoms:
- Change the ear seeds regularly. The ear seed adhesive tends to loosen and fall off after about 3 to 5 days. If your ear seeds are still in place after five days, remove them. You can use tweezers or your nails.
- Make sure the ear seeds don’t fall into your ear canal: Tilt your head so your ear faces the ground before taking them off. If a seed does fall into your ear and doesn’t come out, contact a healthcare provider as soon as possible.
- Rest your skin. Try to wait at least eight hours before applying new ear seeds because your skin needs to rest between ear seed placements.
- Replace with a fresh pair if you still need ear seed support.
Where Can You Get Ear Seeds?
There are several companies that sell sheets of ear seeds attached to adhesive tape that you apply yourself at home. These come with detailed instructions on how to place the seeds. And if you’re feeling weird about wearing ear seeds socially, you can get a version from EarSeeds.com that uses attractive Swarovski crystals on the top. Here are three recommendations for where to get ear seeds:
The Bottom Line on Auriculotherapy
Scientific evidence is limited, but it does suggest that ear acupressure, aka ear seeding, can be a cost-effective complementary approach to managing stress, insomnia, chronic pain, and other conditions. This is especially true if you are interested in acupuncture but prefer a noninvasive and longer-lasting approach. Consumers should find a certified auriculotherapy practitioner for at least their first treatment, and they should always consult a licensed health professional for any severe health concerns.
If all of this sounds potentially fun and profitable for you, check out our new EarSeeds Auriculotherapy Certification Course and become a certified auriculotherapy practitioner.