Are your ears the gateway to wellness? If you're a believer in the healing powers of ear seeds — teeny tiny beads placed on various parts of the ear — you might think so.
A form of auriculotherapy, or ear acupuncture, ear seeds have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, but are particularly buzzy right now for their on-the-go convenience and healing powers.
"Ear seeds work by putting light pressure on specific acupressure points on the ear to stimulate that point, and modern clinical research has shown the effect these points have on neurological pathways," Shari Auth, a licenced and NCCAOM-certified doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine and WTHN cofounder, explained.
So why the ears?
Auth explained that in traditional Chinese medicine, the ear is the home over 200 pressure points that have the potential to transform the body and the mind.
"These points have healing properties such as calming the mind, boosting immunity, reducing pain, and more," she said. They can even be used to help treat lower back pain, PMS pain, and stress, as well as aiding in digestion and supporting immunity. Different combinations of these points can be used to treat different issues at once. "For example, you can use a seed to balance hormones and calm the mind — the two points will work together to produce a greater result," she added.
While ear seeds were originally actual seeds from the Vaccaria plant, Auth said today both plant-based seeds and metal beads are used — some even made with Swarovski crystals.
Now, the question you've been waiting for: do they work?
Auth said that ear seeds have been shown to have immediate results for some, while others with more difficult conditions see more positive results in a few weeks and when used with acupuncture and herbs. In general, she said she recommends ear seeds being used in conjunction with acupuncture.
However, Dr. Tania Elliott, MD FAAAAI, FACAAI, associate attending at NYU Langone Health in New York City, and national spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, said that small studies show incremental/slight improvement when adding ear seeds to a standard weight loss, blood pressure, or anxiety regimen, but they are not "magic bullet solutions."
Ear seeds are typically applied to the ears toward the end of an acupuncture appointment and, according to Auth, are "surprisingly resilient."
She suggested the seeds removing after three to five days if they haven't already fallen off to avoid irritation.
There are also at-home ear seed kits you can purchase and apply yourself. WTHN sells a kit that includes a total of 40 seeds, as well as tweezers and a "how to" map for application; Auth said they are safe to do yourself.
If you are interested in buying an at-home kit, be sure that you're purchasing from a reputable source and that the seeds are made with materials that won't irritate your skin. Dr. Elliott said that the risk associated with a treatment like ear seeds is getting it from someone who has not been trained or doesn't have experience with the therapy. So when in doubt, reach out to your doctor with questions or for advice.