The Calgary Journal’s Conor Mahoney tries alternative procedure to ‘clear your head’

“Face down!” she says, giggling.

An unlikely statement for me to hear from anyone – let alone my mother. Now she’s flicking a Bic lighter – jeez. She looks at me in this weird way like this is my cue; she’s ready to be “Dr. Mom” once again.

She begins to cut a hole in a paper plate then rests it on the left side of my face. This is necessary for ear candling as it prevents ashes from getting on your face. Mom smiles at me like she did when I was five, you know, like, when it was her job smile at me like that.

She inserts the wickless candle in my ear. Meanwhile I’m L-shaped over our kitchen countertop in northwest Calgary.

The time is 8:35 p.m. on a Wednesday. The last thing I should be doing is ear candling with Mom during the last week of classes.

In an ironic twist, Madonna’s Lucky Star is playing in the background from an ’80s Galaxie music channel on TV.

The procedure – touted by some alternative health proponents as a home remedy to improve general health by removing toxins in built up ear wax – might be disputed as ineffective by some, but I thought I’d try it for myself to see if the candles do work.

As we get started, I carefully remind Mom of the rules: do not burn my hair, and make sure you do not burn this face you gave me.

She nervously laughs pretending to know what she’s doing, even though she doesn’t, and has no formal health care or spa training.

The plan, or so I thought, was to get one of my 20-something friends to perform this “Dare Us” ear candling experience on me. You know a fun activity after wings or dancing.

But, everyone bailed.

So, who is the last person you can rely on in the whole entire world? Yep, Mama.
However, she may not have been the smartest choice since she’s one of those lawyers who never sleeps and always answers a ringing phone.

“If spring cleaning represents cleaning your home, car, and office, why not clean out your orifices as well?” Mom says, laughing. I ignore her.

She lights the candle and is overly enthusiastic, at first. “Do you hear that? That’s the dirt being sucked out!” she shrieks. I ignore her.

The procedure is painless and odorless. Calgary Journal reporter Conor Mahoney’s experience with “ear candling,” supposedly cleansing his ear canal.

Photo by Conor Mahoney

It involves placing a cone-shaped wax candle in the ear canal and supposedly extracting built-up ear wax and other toxins with the help of smoke, heat and suction. The origins of candling are said to have taken place in Ancient Tibet, China, Egypt and the pre-Columbian Americas.

The procedure is said to create a low-level vacuum that draws wax and other debris out of the ear canal. Some advocate that the procedure removes impurities from the inner ear, facial sinuses, or even the brain itself, all of which are connected to the ear canal.

But ear candling has been much disputed, including a Health Canada advisory (updated in 2011) that calls the procedure “popular,” but “dangerous.”

“There is no scientific proof to support claims that ear candling has medical benefits,” the advisory says. “In fact, Health Canada ran lab tests that showed ear candling creates no significant heating or suction in the ear canal.”

Meanwhile, in a separate letter to anyone selling the product, Health Canada writes, “Ear candles represent a potential health hazard to users.”

Ear candling nonetheless continues to be popular, and kits for the procedure can be bought for an average price of $15 at general nutrition shops such as GNC. Instructions in the kits note possible burns from hot wax, ear canal obstruction and fires.

But Mom carefully supervises the burning wax as it sucks God knows how much gunk out of my ear that has accumulated from the last time I used a Q-Tip, and beyond.

“What does it look like?” I ask. “Shhhh, stay still,” she says. “Calm down,” I reply.

After five minutes of giggles and apprehensive comments on my part, she seems focused. She’s in full-fledged Dr. Mom-zone now…. Or so I thought.

Then the phone rings.

She’s now reaching for the landline. In the corner of my eye I can see the flame inching toward my face.

She takes the call, just as the song switches from Madonna to a terrible-sounding ballad I do not recognize.

I begin to feel around for my iPhone, I can’t find it. I’m trapped until she gets off the phone with her business call.

Eventually, the candle is so close to my face, Mom blows it out. Now we’re ready for the reward.
We open up the bottom of the candle, where we see a sizeable amount of debris that has been extracted.

Serious gunk.

The gunk looks like it could have been extracted from a drainpipe, better yet a vacuum cleaner.

Alternative medicine is a subjective practice. I feel no different after the procedure, so even after trying it, can’t say whether or not it works. But I felt the activity was interesting, and worth giving it a try…

cmahoney@cjournal.ca