More recently, maybe two months ago, I stumbled across a seemingly random reference to them (if memory serves, in a SWIFT bulletin from the James Randi Educational Foundation). In any case, I began to do some reading and some light Google-assisted research.
One of the first articles I found was this one. It gives a brief description and overview of ear candling and lists different benefits that are claimed by the products or their proponents, and summarizes normally suggested procedures and techniques. Then it describes, at some length, the actual research that's been done to test the efficacy of ear candles. In every test or experiment described, ear candling has been repeatedly proven to be completely ineffective.
It turns out that the claim that an ear candle can produce enough negative vacuum to literally suck wax and other material out of the ear canal is preposterous on its face. According to Doctor Roazen, a vacuum powerful enough to actually suck wax out of the ear canal would be powerful enough to rupture the eardrum! Second, the medical research indicates that ear candling is actually dangerous. Patients and doctors have reported not only external burns caused by the candles (whose flames are actually quite large), but also candle wax burns in the ear canal and damaged (sometimes perforated!) eardrums.
The research described in this article is even worse. Experimentation demonstrated no negative pressure was created by ear candles, and furthermore that a powdery substance was actually deposited into the ear canal during candling! Before and after photographs were taken of waxy ear canals, showing no change whatsoever after candling was performed.
The FDA has issued an alert, warning that ear candles are often labeled or advertized in a misleading way and that there is no scientific evidence proving their usefulness, and they are evidently illegal in Canada.
A detailed description of this experiment (including pictures) demonstrates the above summarized findings. But, I decided to run my own experiment and to take my own pictures, hoping that I might convince anybody who reads this to avoid ear candles and never ever use them. All pictures can be clicked to view them in a larger size.
For my experiment, I used a set of "Wally's Natural Plain Paraffin Ear Candles." For candle #1, I chose the vertical method that I've always seen done (where the person would lie down on their side). I used the funnel because the hole was small enough that the candle tip fit snugly, but big enough that it didn't actually seal tightly, which is exactly how the instructions say the candle should be used in an actual ear.
Note the two-to-three inch flame. I was almost immediately surprised by an incredible amount of smoke coming out of the bottom of the funnel! Contrary to the claims of negative pressure and an upward vacuum, the candle was actually sending air (and smoke) downward. Following the directions, I used scissors to remove the ashen tip of the candle any time it exceeded one inch in length, waiting for the candle to burn down to its final four inches.
Upon completion, I found that an incredible amount of smokey residue had been deposited on my plate. Imagine all of that in your ear canal! I proceeded to cut open the last bit of the candle, as is normally done to show people how "well" they work, and even though I had used the candle without a waxy ear canal, a whole bunch of material was found inside the candle.
As you look at the above picture (and note the clever corporate logo placement), consider that the average human ear canal is less than 8.5 cubic centimeters in volume.
To be thorough, I used candle #2 to test the angle method (where the person sits up and holds the candle up at a modest angle). The four pictures below show my setup, the even larger flame produced by this method, the waterfall of smoke pouring out of the bottom of the candle, and that I once again trimmed the candle as it burned down, as per instructions.
My results were very similar. Lots of smokey residue was left on the plate, and plenty of yucky-looking wax (that didn't come from anybody's ear) was discovered inside the magic candle.
My experiment corroborates the other experiments I've read about, and matches up with all of the medical research I've been able to find. The wax and debris found inside of ear candles post-candling is created by the candle itself and does not come from the ear canal. Ear candles, rather than creating a negative vacuum or any kind of suction, actually create downward airflow which deposits a dusty residue into whatever unlucky thing is placed beneath the candle.
My conclusion? Ear candles are a dangerous fraud. They have been proven to be not only completely ineffective, but harmful. Please forward this article to anybody you know who uses or has used ear candles. A person's ear canal, and hearing, is put at risk any time these fraudulent devices are used. If you have some ear candles sitting in a drawer, throw them away or perform your own experiment to confirm the above, but whatever you do, please do not stick them in your ears.