I Tried Ear Seeds For Anxiety & This Is What Happened
There I was on a crowded New York subway after a workday. If you've ever spent time on one, or any major mode of public transit, you might know it's not exactly relaxing—a similar sort of anxiety as being in heavy traffic on a highway or in a crowded elevator. I was flipping through emails that I hadn't gotten to during the day when I came across one with the subject line "Ear Seeds." Not being an acupuncture regular, I had no idea what these were. I also only wear earrings once a year, max, so any sort of adornment in the area seems completely foreign. The email explained that ear seeds could be a solution for a variety of issues—stress and anxiety included.
"Cool! I'd love to try!" I typed as fast as my fingers would allow. And next thing you know, I had an appointment with the founder of Vie Healing to get mine done.
Vie Healing is a Los Angeles–based wellness company and spa founded by acupuncturist and herbalist Mona Dan, LAc, MTOM. Not only do they host appointments at their L.A. spa for acupuncture, facials, bodywork, and consultations, but they sell their own line of herb supplements and tea. But one of their most famous services is 24K Ear Seeds.
Ear seeds are a longtime practice in traditional Chinese medicine and fall under the acupuncture umbrella. They are small pellets about the size of mustard seeds that apply continuous pressure to specific points on the ear to stimulate various mental or physical effects. While not all ear seeds are the same, they typically come pre-attached to adhesive paper for easy application. The metals or materials they are made of can also vary from actual plant seeds to 24K-plated magnets (like the ones I got). And much like acupuncture, what healing benefits you want to get out of it determines the exact placement: There's a spot for the upper back, liver, kidney, neck, and so forth. And the points or combination of them can also address different behaviors: anxiety, insomnia, quitting smoking, or just daily stress.
Most TCM experts will recommend you see an acupuncturists for placement, at least for the first few times, as it's a very precise art. But, if you feel confident in your own hands, you can also do it yourself. A quick Google search will show you plenty of at-home kits and tutorials, including Vie Healing's own set (which you can get here for $34).
Fast-forward to my appointment. "So what we're about to do is place these little seeds on pressure points on your ear that send signals to the reflex centers of the brain to relax your nervous system," she says. "You have four main interventions in your ear, and they send signals directly to the brain. The distance is so close, it happens almost instantly."
She explains to me that her specific seeds are 24K-gold-plated magnets, which she says improve circulation. "Because these are magnets, you get that micro-stimulation over that five-day period," she tells me. "You don't need to manipulate them—you can if you like playing with them, but it's not necessary." Most seeds require applying pressure throughout the day—or when you need it—for the intended effect.
From there she cleans my left ear with a sterilizing wipe to remove natural oils, which can inhibit the adhesive paper. And then she picks up the seeds—one at a time—and places them on five pinpoints on the ear. As she does it, she tells about the various points starting with the shen men, said to ground and calm—putting me in a "state of receptivity." Then there's point zero to bring the body into balance. The heart point regulates blood flow and is said to balance emotions. The brain point is supposed to regulate our brain chemistry. And it ends with the endocrine point, known as our hormone regulator. All in all? It takes no more than a minute to complete (although she's an expert, so it might take a bit more time if you're doing it on yourself). She instructs me that in five days I'd have to remove them, as gold does oxidize.
I feel them pretty quickly. To start, you feel pressure on the ear. They looked so small, I previously assumed there wouldn't be anything to it, but you can tell there's something there. I imagine it like a few hours after getting your ears pierced. The pain's dulled, but you still feel the warmth and sensation of something new. (Worthy of note: This feeling doesn't really go away. You always sort of feel like you have something in your ear, especially when you lie on a pillow or put on headphones. It's not painful or deeply uncomfortable—but it's there.)
In the days to come, I also get the occasional compliment on the aesthetic. I mean, first I have to point them out to people—they're that small—but once they catch someone's eye, they really do look cool. Tiny, low-stakes piercings. I know it's not why you should get them, but when something looks chic with well-being benefits? Yes, please!
As for the rest: The full-body sensation washes over pretty quickly, too. It felt like having half a glass of wine or CBD supplement: You're fully there and present, but perhaps your shoulders have relaxed a bit or you've let go of some the tension you didn't know you were holding. There's truth to this: Research shows1 that auricular therapy (the fancy name for ear seeds) is effective at easing anxiety, as well as relieving symptoms of jaw tension. Shout out to those of us who hold tension in our faces and scalp!
This lasted all day and into the next (I got it done on a Friday morning). At work, the day rolled on, and I was able to be productive, without having to deal with racing thoughts (but that could have also just have been because it was Friday, and Fridays have a certain sort of energy in and of themselves). At home the next day, I was able to tackle a huge organizational project, which is just a generous way to say my apartment needed some decluttering and rearranging. Well, you know that spot right in the middle of reorganizing your home—when things are even more of a mess and you fear you'll never put anything back in place ever again—that spot didn't seem so daunting. As Sunday rolled around, however, my new chill attitude didn't save me from the Sunday scaries, that ping of anxiety you get before the start of the new week. I'm pretty confident nothing can temper those. Monday and Tuesday, the sensation had more or less subsided: Saily stressors had gone back to stressing me out. But each time I really needed a moment of pause, I would press them. Even though Dan said that they'd do the work for me, manually manipulating them did give an extra shot of ease—in the same way you feel relaxed when you pinch an acupressure point midday.
"As much as I'm tempted to believe it because of the amazing results I've seen, acupuncture is not magic," Dan Hsu, DOAM, LAc, tells us. "In reality, it is a form of therapy and should be seen as such. As with any therapy, such as physical therapy or psychotherapy, there is always a treatment plan." Translation: A one-time appointment in one modality isn't going to cure you of all less than ideal feelings.
By the end of the day Tuesday—Day 5—I took them out as instructed. On two of the points, it left little red dots (after doing some reading, this is from rubbing and is normal). I don't know if I would do this regularly, but I will definitely do again.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.