Acupuncture is fairly mainstream, with people turning to it for pain, anxiety, and even fertility. While the list of benefits is long, it can be time-consuming and expensive, which is why when I first heard about ear seed acupuncture, which you can do on your own at home, it piqued my interest.
The Amazon reviews for a product one of my Well+Good colleagues found retailing for about $19 were mixed; 63 percent of reviewers awarded the product five stars, but 15 percent gave it only one. I couldn't tell from the comments alone if this was something legit or not, so I decided to ask a couple licensed acupuncturists what they thought—including what the heck ear seeds are actually used for.
What exactly are ear seeds?
Depending on the type you buy, ear seeds are made of either metal or vaccaria seeds, sourced from the vaccaria plant and popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The metal or seeds are put on adhesive tape, which you can then place on your ears, applying the pressure by rubbing them in a circular motion for a few minutes; you can do this all at home and don't need an acupuncturist to do it.
"Ear seed acupuncture seeds are different from traditional acupuncture needles called acuneedles. These seeds are used as a complementary approach and are rooted in the same belief system as traditional acupuncture," acupuncturist Ani Baran, LAc, of New Jersey Acupuncture Center explains. "Essentially, they are small seeds with an adhesive backing that are applied along the ear, and work with the pressure points found in your ears. This method of treatment is also called auriculotherapy which translates to ear therapy—acupressure or acupuncture that focuses on ears."
Acupuncturist Kate Reil, LAc, MS, who works at the Yinova Center (which has a third location opening this month) adds that for the needle adverse, they can be a great way to reap the benefits of acupuncture. "Ear seeds work by placing light pressure on acupuncture points throughout the ear because they’re not puncturing the skin—like an acupuncture treatment using needles," she says, adding that they're perfectly safe to do at home on your own. "You have more freedom than you might think when you have ear seeds on. You can shower with them, exercise, sleep with them on, talk on your phone, and generally live your life however you normally do!" She adds that the ear seeds will fall out naturally over a three to five day period, but you can also remove them whenever you want, using tweezers.
While she thinks it's better to go to a trained professional for anything acupuncture-related because part of what makes it so effective is being able to clear your mind in a relaxing environment, Baran isn't against people trying them at home. "[It's safe] because it's non-invasive, as long as they are familiar with the process and thoroughly clean their ears," she says. Still, it's best to consult a trained professional on your own.
What ear seeds work for
Now that I knew they were safe, I was curious as to what exactly they were used for. "For everything!" Reil says enthusiastically. She explains to me that the ears are essentially a hotbed of acupressure points, which is why no matter what your specific reasons are for seeing an acupuncturist, chances are you'll end up with some needles in your ears. "Ear acupuncture can be an addition to whole body acupuncture or as a treatment on its own," Reil tells me.
While some claim that ear seeds claim may work as part of a treatment plan for stress or other ailments, it's still best to work with medical experts to fully treat the problem—especially when it comes to pinpointing the exact reasons for what you're experiencing. "They’re great for those moments where you could use a little self-care, however, if you’re looking to troubleshoot an ongoing concern or ailment, I’d recommend seeking out a licensed practitioner, as they can be a resource for ongoing support," Reil says. "They will be able to identify root causes for your symptoms, consider your internal landscape when prescribing herbal formulas, and offer diet and lifestyle advice as needed."
Mistakes people make with ear seeds
One common mistake Baran says people make with ear seeds is putting them inside the ear canal, which she says is a big no-no. "They should be placed along the outside of the ear," she says, adding that improper placement can result in discomfort, redness, swelling, and the ear seeds simply not working effectively. She also adds that if you don't gently massage the ear seeds into place for a few minutes, they might not work as well. For best results, gently rub each one for three to five minutes as you apply.
Besides sticking the ear seeds literally in your ear, both experts say there's little risk in trying them at home. At best, they'll bring a bit more balance to your body and mind. Or, you might not notice much of a difference and you'll be out $20. But sometimes, taking a moment to prioritize yourself with a little ear massage is a win all on its own.
Speaking of self-care rituals, here's how to create a routine you'll actually stick to. And here's how to use Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat acne.
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