Ear Seeds: 4 Benefits From These Acupressure Tools + Guide To Apply
Not too long ago, I was introduced to ear seeds, or auriculotherapy. A licensed acupuncturist came to my office, adhered these tiny, gold-plated magnets onto the inner part of my ear, and almost instantly my body slid into a more relaxed state. I wore them for the next five days—noticeably more chill for the first few—until I took them out as instructed. I got mine specifically for anxiety, but the results had me wondering, what else can they do?
But first, what are ear seeds?
An ancient acupressure tool, ear seeds are tiny seeds made from a variety of materials (traditionally from the vaccaria plant) that are placed at various points of the ear to encourage different outcomes. It falls under the more general umbrella of acupressure and traditional Chinese medicine. According to mbg contributor Dan Hsu, DOAM, LAc, who writes that acupuncture works by stimulating areas of the skin with lots of nerve endings, mast cells, lymphatics, and capillaries—that then trigger biochemical and physiological changes. For auriculotherapy, in particular, all of the stimulation is done on the ear. Researchers have suggested that this therapy, in particular, works closely with the vagus nerve, or what connects the brain to the body.
What are the benefits?
As ear seeds fall under TCM and are a form of acupressure, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence surrounding their health claims. There aren't as many large-scale studies that we might think of in the traditional sense, however. But there are smaller studies that look at auricular acupressure and acupuncture. Here's the research that's out there—then try for yourself and draw your own conclusions about whether it's right for you:
1. Anxiety reduction
One of the most cited reasons for ear seeds is anxiety reduction. In this 2016 study, researchers found that students who said they had regular anxiety and even suffered from temporomandibular disorders (jaw tension), saw a significant reduction in both areas with regular therapy. Another small clinical trial found that women in labor reduced anxiety during the "active phase" with crystal ear seeds. Of course, if you are pregnant, always consult with your health care provider.
2. Improved sleep hygiene
This sleep study found that ear seeds helped those with primary insomnia (however, the researchers note that it was a very small sample size and needs more evidence). Other research also suggests that while there might be promising evidence toward this claim, the available trials are all too small at the moment.
3. Decreased pain and increased pain tolerance
This 2013 study found that 70% of patients reported lessened back pain after a four-week trial, with a one-month follow-up. (The study authors noted that similar trials in acupuncture literature only see about an average of 30%.) And this more recent study actually found that study participants—who all identified as "healthy" and no chronic pain—had an increased pain threshold.
4. It may help weight management.
Take this one with a big grain of salt. But because there are many weight loss claims floating around ear seeds, it's important to address this, nonetheless. There have been a few small studies that suggest there's a connection with weight and ear seeds. For example, this 2010 study showed that it helped improve the BMI of study participants ages 18 to 20. However, many of these studies combined the auricular therapy with other measures like diet education or the like. So ultimately, these should be viewed as a complementary method, not a tool in and of itself.
How do you use them?
For best results, visit a practitioner who will better be able to identify your specific needs and place them. Not only are these studies very small, but the area of placement is very precise—plus, it's a challenging angle to apply something to your own ear. That being said, if you can't see a professional or want to chance it out yourself, licensed acupuncturist and herbalist Mona Dan, LAc, explained the process to me as she applied mine. Here, the application techniques:
- Find a set for you. These come at a variety of price points and materials—each promising a different benefit or specialty. I used Vie Healing 24K Gold Ear Seeds (founded by Dan), which are gold-plated and magnetized to help increase the effects. But you can also use other materials like crystals or seeds from actual Vaccaria flowers.
- Clean your ear. Oils on the ear can get in the way of the adhesive paper, so make sure you're disinfecting and drying the area. We recommend using a sanitary wipe.
- Identify your points, and carefully place the seeds. This is where a professional can help greatly, especially for your first few times. Not only can they help you identify what points you should be targeting, but they’re likely better at applying it in the exact spot, as many spots are very close to each other. Again, if this isn't an option, many sets come with an ear map, or you can find quality ones online. Then take your seeds, which will be pre-attached to adhesive tape, and place them as needed. Apply pressure between each placement to ensure it's on the skin.
- Massage them, if needed. Most ear seeds come with the instructions to manually manipulate the seed throughout the day to stimulate the area. (If you use a magnetic seed, it's said to already do this with micro-simulations; although, you can apply pressure as well). Manual manipulation is as easy as pinching the seed between your finger and thumb (the finger being on the inner part and the thumb on the back) and applying pressure for a few seconds.
- Remove. Some ear seeds fall out on their own. Others you'll likely need to remove—around the five-day mark. You should manually remove them at five days if you use metals, like gold, as it can oxidize and start to irritate the skin. The removal process is typically no more than peeling off the tape.
- Replace! Most will take time off between sessions—or time out their seeds for when they need it most—but when you're ready for another dose, you can reapply.
Are there any downsides?
At this point, you're likely thinking Why don't I just always have in ear seeds! Well, according to Hsu, there can be very serious consequences when care instructions are not taken seriously: These can become lodged under the skin, causing irritation and possibly infection. In very serious cases, this can mean surgical removal by a doctor. And because of the delicate anatomy of the ear, there's also the risk of scarring, nerve damage, and tissue damage. Always take them out at the five-day mark, and give your ear a break between sessions.
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