Creators on TikTok are touting the benefits of ear seeding—from relieving knee pain to soothing anxiety—and people everywhere are going nuts for its therapeutic benefits. But even though it's trending hard in 2021, ear seeding is far from a new treatment. In fact, our experts, trained in traditional Chinese medicine, explain that ear seeding is part of a holistic healing modality that is thousands of years old.
Ahead, two doctors of traditional Chinese medicine explain everything you need to know about ear seeding—from how to receive the treatment in an office to how to do it yourself at home.
Meet the Expert
- Gudrun Snyder, D.Ac., MSAc, LAc, is a doctor of East Asian acupuncture and founder of Moon Rabbit Acupuncture in Chicago. She is board-certified by the NCCAOM as an acupuncturist and specializes in a root-cause resolution approach to treatment.
- Shannon Lawrence, LAc, Dipl. OM, is a doctor of Chinese medicine at Seyhart in Santa Monica, CA. She has treated patients at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Being Alive West Hollywood, Yo San University Blount Community Clinic, Yo San University Orthopedic Specialty Pain Clinic, and Tong Ren Hospital in Beijing.
What Is Ear Seeding?
Ear seeding dates back 3,000 years and is a technique used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). "The original ear seeds were actually seeds of the vaccaria plant (thus the name 'ear seeding,'" notes acupuncturist Gudrun Snyder. "The vaccaria plant is native to Eurasia and was most often used in conjunction with acupuncture." According to doctor of Chinese medicine Shannon Lawrence, the technique is "also known as auriculotherapy." Ear seeding is a modality of TCM in which small vaccaria seeds (seeds, gold, stainless steel, or ceramic) are placed on acupuncture points or pressure points on the ear."
Ear seeding works much like acupuncture, but without the needles. "Each ear seed is placed on a specific acupuncture or pressure point. The stimulation of these points sends a message to your brain that alters biochemical responses and helps to achieve your desired result," Snyder explains.
When it comes to overall relaxation and wellness, why target the ear? Snyder explains that the ear is a microcosm of the entire body. Additionally, ear seeding works on "the TCM meridian system, which is a series of pathways of energy that are found throughout the body," she says. "Thus stimulating certain points on the ears will help with the smooth flow of energy and restore balance."
"When acupuncture or acupressure points are stimulated on the ear, they activate the vagus nerve, which stimulates the nervous system as well as the brain," Lawrence explains. "This benefits all types of pain as well as stress, anxiety, focus, memory, and digestion, and promotes relaxation."
Why Do Patients Seek Out This Treatment?
According to Snyder, there are no published studies on the benefits of ear seeding. "We don’t have a good scientific explanation for how it works. However, given that ear seeding is very similar to auricular acupuncture (ear acupuncture), for which there are a number of studies demonstrating its benefits, [we can conclude that ear seeding benefits] include decreased cortisol (a stress hormone) as well as reducing addiction cravings, insomnia, and pain, among others."
She notes that people seek out ear seeding primarily "to treat anxiety. However, ear seeds are an easy way to also treat digestion issues, insomnia, addiction, weight loss, and pain management."
Who Are the Best Candidates for Ear Seeding?
Lawrence explains that ear seeding is an excellent healing modality for people who are interested in acupuncture but averse to needles. "Ear seeding is a gentle and effective method of stimulating the nervous system and organs and is free of needles," she says. "Thus for those with needle phobia or just want a faster and gentler approach, ear seeding is suggested."
She goes on to say that "ear seeding can be safe for all ages, but since we all are different, it's important to see a licensed acupuncturist or a doctor of acupuncture to make sure ear seeding is a good fit for you." She also makes the following recommendation: "Ear seeding is not suggested for early stages of pregnancy, [anyone with a] history of miscarriage, fainting, or seizure history. Ear seeding should also be performed sitting or laying down."
Snyder adds that some people with skin allergies should be careful when using ear seeds. "There are some people who either have a metal allergy or other sensitivity or can be sensitive to the adhesive," she says. "For those people who have these sensitivities, they may develop an irritation to ear seeds. They should remove them as soon as they see or feel the irritation, and wipe the area with an alcohol swab."
How to Prepare
If you've never tried ear seeding before, you can start by visiting a licensed acupuncturist for an in-office treatment. According to Lawrence, the best way to prepare is "to make sure you have eaten and are hydrated. Be sure to have a good night's sleep and avoid caffeine, alcohol, or THC."
Once you have a sense of how your body will react, you may try your hand at at-home seeding kits. Moon Rabbit's kit includes 20 gold ear seeds, 20 Swarovski Crystal ear seeds, tweezers for application, and a guide for at-home use.
To prep and achieve the best outcome, Snyder gives the following advice: "The best way to make your ear seeds last the longest is to apply them to a clean ear. This can be done by wiping your ear with an alcohol swab prior to application. There is no other special preparation except to be ready for some restoration and rejuvenation!"
When purchasing an at-home kit, look for ones that "include instructions and tweezers to aid in application," says Snyder. "There are a number of good ear seeding kits out there, but be wary of too good a deal—often the seeds or adhesive are of poor quality and may give a rash to people with sensitive skin."
What to Expect During Treatment
Expectations from ear seeding are dependent on the individual. Snyder says that the length of time and the relative effect of the ear seeding really depends on the person. "Some people are incredibly responsive to acupuncture and ear seeding; they will likely see results the same day," she says, noting that some people may require a few applications to see a difference.
Lawrence says that for an in-office treatment, patients can expect the process to begin with a gentle cleansing of the ear with "cotton and alcohol. Tweezers are used to gently apply the seeds and check for any tender spots on the ear. The seeds are then gently placed on the ear."
Aftercare and Removal
Ear seeds are easy to remove, and aftercare is nonexistent, making the process super easy for most.
Keeping your ears and ear seeds clean is the most important part of the practice, but that's relatively easy to deal with. Snyder says, "Once the ear seeds are on, there is no special care. Simply shower and bathe as usual. We do recommend that they be removed after approximately five days, as the adhesive can become gunky, just as a band does if you leave it on for too long."
Lawrence advises switching seeds out a little more frequently, noting that "ear seeds should remain on the ear between three to four days. After four days, the seeds should be removed. They can easily be removed with soap and water or rubbing alcohol on a piece of cotton."
Snyder explains that removal is quick and painless. "Ear seeding removal is done by simply peeling off the ear seed adhesive," she says. "People are often afraid that the bead underneath the adhesive will fall into their ear. Based on the anatomy of the ear canal, this would be extremely unlikely, and could happen only if you physically pushed them into your ear."
The Final Takeaway
For those looking to stimulate meridian pathways or acupuncture points but who are needle-phobic or cannot make it to the acupuncturist for a session, ear seeding is a quick and effective way to achieve a similar result. Because the unique anatomy of the ear allows for the gentle stimulation to work holistically, people can benefit from ear seeds, either in-office or at home.