Whether you've recently heard celebs rave about their benefits (hello, Rachael Finch) or you've seen some people rocking a little extra ear bling lately – ear seeds are definitely growing in popularity. But what exactly are ear seeds and why do many people swear by the auriculotherapy practice? We spoke to two experts in the field – Chinese Medicine Practitioner and founder of Salubre Skin Clinic, Dr Irene Prantalos, and Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association President and Acupuncturist, Waveny Holland – to find out.
So... what are ear seeds?
Ear seeds are used as a form of acupuncture specifically for the ears. Using ear acupuncture points whether with ear seeds or acupuncture needles is known as auriculotherapy.
Traditionally, ear seeds come from the flowering herb vaccaria but today acupuncturists often use metal or ceramic beads.
"In the west, Chinese medicine practitioners use tiny, tiny stainless steels pellets or balls which have the same effect as the original ear seed," AACMA President and Acupuncturist Waveny Holland told Women's Health.
"The seeds when applied to specific regions of the ear can stimulate a specific organ to invoke a therapeutic affects," Dr Irene Prantalos told Women's Health. "As this is not penetrating the skin, it is more accurately considered to be acupressure."
What are the health benefits of ear seeds?
Proponents claim that ear seeds can help with a range of health issues including chronic pain, insomnia, mental health, stress, infertility and weight loss.
"To help you understand how this works, the ear is divided into small segments each correlating to a specific part of the body," Prantalos explains. "When treating patients for a variety of health concerns, an acupuncturist can choose to incorporate ear acupuncture (also known as auriculotherapy) in their treatments by using ear seeds."
"The benefit is that they are left in situ to maintain stimulation of the acupuncture point thus prolonging the treatment," Hollands adds. "The patient would be asked to gently press on the seed to stimulate the point as needed."
For example: dealing with sugar cravings.
"Often the treatment protocol for helping manage cravings especially sugar cravings is to apply ear seeds to the following areas: shenmen, endocrine system, stomach and reduce cravings/appetite," Prantalos says. "By retaining the ear seeds in the ears, the patient can stimulate them regularly during the day especially at times when sugar cravings present."
However, Prantalos says that ear seeds alone are unlikely to garner huge results.
"The overall benefits are specific for individual conditions," she says. "I don’t believe on their own, enough of a benefit will be noticed but as part of a patient’s treatment protocol that incorporates herbal medicine, body acupuncture, dietary advice and lifestyle changes will collectively improve the overall health and well being of the individual."
How are ear seeds applied?
While it’s possible to buy and place ear seeds yourself, it’s best to see a trained acupuncturist for your first time.
"The ear seeds are very small so it may require the practitioner to use tweezers to apply the ear seeds to acupuncture points on the ear," Prantalos says. "The ear seeds stay on the ear by a gentle adhesive tape that won’t irritate the skin."
How long do you wear ear seeds for?
"This depends on the activity the person enjoys," Prantalos says. "Swimming in the pool or the ocean will see the ear seeds come off quite quickly, perhaps in just a few days, but if the patient keeps the area clean and dry they can easily stay on for up to two weeks."
Are they better than regular acupuncture, how are they different?
"Not better just a different form of treatment," Holland says.
"It is my personal opinion as a qualified acupuncturist, that ‘regular’ or body acupuncture is better when used on its own, but when the ear acupuncture is incorporated together with the body acupuncture, then I would see the treatment being improved and more beneficial in improving the overall health and wellbeing of the patient," Prantalos says.
Are there any dangers associated with using ear seeds?
Unless you're overzealous with pressing on the seeds which might lead to bruising, there's little danger associated with the practice.
"There are no dangers in using ear seeds," Prantalos says. "If they fall off, most of the time people don’t notice and when they come in for their next treatment we can simply replace them. The skin is not pierced at all so there are no issues surrounding infection, so there are absolutely no adverse reactions in using ear seeds."