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First – what exactly is ear seeding?
Also referred to as ear reflexology or auriculotherapy, the practice of ear seeding originates in traditional Chinese medicine. It involves taping tiny metal balls to certain pressure points on your ear, which engage the reflex centres of the brain to soothe a multitude of symptoms. Like acupuncture, stimulating these points is believed to help energy flow better through your organs, in turn strengthening and nourishing your body’s systems.
How does it work?
Think of it like acupuncture but focused solely on your ears. As acupuncturist Siwan Quinn Bratton, who’s also the co-principal of the College of Auricular Acupuncture in the UK explains, “To understand how auricular acupuncture works from a western viewpoint, we have to imagine the outer ear like a switchboard to the brain. There are over 200 acupuncture points on each ear. Points relating to our head, teeth and face are located on the ear lobe, while internal organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, stomach and intestines are positioned in the deep ‘well’ or conchae region of the ear. Each acupuncture point being treated triggers electrical impulses that travel from the ear via the brain and neural pathways, to the specific part of the body it relates to,” he says. Depending on the type of ear seeds you buy, they can be made of either metal or vaccaria seeds, sourced from the vaccaria plant, which is popular in traditional Chinese medicine. The metal or seeds are placed on adhesive tape, which you then place on your ears.
What are the benefits?
Advocates for ear seeding believe it has the potential to treat myriad health concerns. Mona Dan, an LA-based herbalist, acupuncturist and founder of Vie Healing, which sells ear seeds via Cult Beauty, told SL, “Ear seeds can ease a wide range of ailments including PMS, migraines, headaches, jet lag, digestive problems, insomnia and so much more. When the nervous system is able to relax, proper blood flow will assist in all these issues.” Acupuncturist Renata Nunes adds ear seeding is particularly effective in treating stress, anxiety and depression as well as alongside fertility treatments. “Auriculotherapy also has good results in digestive disorders, balancing the better functioning of the stomach and spleen energy. It can even help in the treatment for nicotine addiction and weight loss by reducing anxiety,” she says.
What does the science say?
This may all seem far-fetched, but ear seeding was recognised as a treatment by the World Health Organisation in 1990. Renata also told us about French physician Dr Paul Nogier, who is often referred to as the modern founder of ear seeding. In 1951, he began experimenting with ear acupuncture on patients with sciatica and soon discovered every point on the ear corresponds to a part on the body. When it comes to treating particular conditions, a 2015 review of 15 studies found ear seeding appeared to reduce symptoms of insomnia when combined with acupuncture. In a separate study, women in active labour were treated with auriculotherapy to investigate its effects on pain and anxiety – the results were promising and suggest the potential use of ear seeds as a calming intervention when giving birth.
So, can you do it at home?
Absolutely, but if you’re looking to troubleshoot an ongoing concern or ailment, it could be worth booking in with an acupuncturist before doing it yourself. Your therapist will take a detailed medical history, covering everything from your sleep to diet and menstrual cycle, and then will be able to tailor a treatment plan specific to your needs. Your therapist will show you where the most effective acupuncture points are on your own ears and how to apply the seeds. Brands like Vie Healing are also worth trying – they offer ear seeding kits that come with annotated guides. “You just need to get comfortable with your ear and get familiar with the different areas and crevices,” advises Mona. “Our ear seeds are really simple to use – just swab with alcohol to sterilise the area, peel the sticker off, apply it to the area and press down. The adhesive will hold your ear seed down, and you can keep them on for around five days. If they haven’t fallen off by this time, you can remove them.”
How quickly can you see results?
“Seeds have a slower effect than using needles,” Renata says, so expect something subtler than body acupuncture and reflexology. “It’s common for there to be greater sensitivity on the first day of using the ear seed. On the second day, the sensitivity will be reduced, and the effect will be greater. It is recommended that the seeds remain in place for three to five days, and that the patient presses gently on the seeds three times a day to stimulate the pressure points.”
The bottom line?
Given their wide-ranging benefits, ear seeds could be worth a try, especially if you’re feeling anxious about the return to normal life post-pandemic or struggling with your sleep. “Patients with high-stress levels, anxiety and depression tend to experience more chronic pain than an emotionally healthy person. Auriculotherapy can help relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, and consequently decrease the pain,” Renata says. However, steer clear if you’re pregnant or allergic to metals, Renata advises.
Want to try it out?
If you have a specific health concern you are looking to treat or would rather start by speaking with an expert, book in with a fully insured, degree-level acupuncturist. Check out the British Acupuncture Council’s list here. If you live in London, Renata Nunes, John Tsagaris, Ki People and The Hale Clinic all come highly recommended.
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