Ear seeding is an ancient practice currently en vogue, due to its natural ability to ease anxiety, relieve pain, and encourage deep sleep
Scroll through the discovery page of your Instagram feed and you’ll probably see a mashup of TikToks, sunset-soaked vacation photos, savory cheese pull content, and a wide range of social media-endorsed wellness trends. Once such trend has people flocking to cover their ears in doctor-approved bling known as ear seeds.
Ear seeds are adhesive-backed vaccaria seeds (or small stainless steel balls) that are strategically placed in and around the ears.
The vaccaria plant, also known as Wang Bu Liu Xing, is an annual plant native to China. The ripe seeds from the vaccaria plant (or their metallurgic equivalents) are applied at points in and around the ear depending on which ailments need to be treated. Ear seeds are non-invasive, needle-less (and cute!), appealing to people who are more hesitant to try traditional acupuncture.
The list of purported mind-body benefits from using ear seeds are extensive. They are said to encourage wellness and alleviate everything from anxiety, insomnia, back pain, sciatica, headaches, digestive issues, menstrual cramps, brain fog, nausea, infertility, and depression, to stimulating libido, lactation, and weight loss.
Given this array of potential health benefits to this practice, it is understandable why it is currently at the forefront of the alternative health world. But it’s not just wellness gurus and Goop groupies who are promoting ear seeds. Good Morning America, Refinery29, and MindBodyGreen have all been extolling the virtues of this growing trend. The New York Times first reported on ear seeding back in 2008, and rehab centers, like Promises Treatment Center in Malibu, have also used them for years to relieve psychological symptoms and promote mind-body healing.
Although the stateside popularity of ear seeding has been growing rapidly in recent months, this practice has its roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Ear seeds have been used for thousands of years as part of the holistic treatment called auriculotherapy…
…the stimulation of the auricle, or external ear, using needles or pressure in the form of tiny, stick on “seeds” to treat symptoms and conditions throughout the body.
The anatomy of the ear is its own unique microsystem, and each point corresponds to a different bodily system or function. For example, Point Zero or the Ear Center, corresponds to digestion and organ wellness, and the Shen Men, or upper part of the ear, corresponds to muscle tension and overall energy. There are dozens of other points that can be stimulated throughout the ear to help resolve issues throughout the body.
Tsao-Lin E. Moy, an alternative and Chinese medicine specialist and founder of Integrative Healing Arts in New York, points out that “there are mapping systems located on several areas of the body with the ear being one of them that reflects the whole body and organ system…
The ear is a microcosm of the body, similar to reflexology on the hands and feet it is a way to tap into the nervous system and promote self-healing.”
The working theory is that applying pressure to the external ear stimulates neurotransmitters that can help you relax and reduce pain throughout the body after the ‘seeds’ are left on for 3 to 5 days (yes, you can sleep and shower as normal during that time).
The 2014 edition of the Auriculotherapy Manual notes that in order to sustain the benefits of auriculotherapy, the seeds or balls need to be left in place for multiple days and stimulated consistently for best results. Research has also found that there are self-healing physiological processes taking place during auriculotherapy, and that applying pressure to your ear seeds can improve peripheral blood circulation by delivering more oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.
Aimée Derbes of Align Acupuncture in New York points out that “many types of healthcare practitioners use auriculotherapy — acupuncturists, naturopaths and osteopaths, physicians, dentists, chiropractors, and even therapists. Many acupuncturists credit it as an addition to traditional acupuncture, but also point out that it acts well as a standalone modality.”
As someone with persistent anxiety and occasional migraines, I’m always looking for new ways to try and manage my symptoms holistically. After reading up on the numerous benefits, I made an appointment to try it for myself. I was cautiously optimistic, but not expecting much in the way of a dramatic change. I left my appointment with an earful of miniature balls that I caught myself repeatedly looking at in the mirror, and that I absentmindedly touched for the rest of the day. After the initial application I was feeling spacey and slightly disoriented, but decidedly more relaxed than when I went in.
I also noticed a definitive “Acu-high” or the blissed out, euphoric feeling that often follows an acupuncture treatment.
Thanks to the sudden boom in interest, it’s fairly easy to find locations that offer ear seeding. If you want to try this practice, in New York you can go to WTHN, Align, or NAO, where you can choose from stainless steel balls or colored Swarovski crystals. Vie Healing in Los Angeles even offers 24K gold balls that resemble miniature piercings.
It’s recommended that you have a professional application done in the beginning so you can get a sense of best practices and application tips for those difficult-to-reach spots. But if you’re feeling up to DIY, you can also purchase sheets online to try it for yourself. Most sets of sheets come with instructions and tools to apply, although my professional treatment lasted a full two days longer than the ones I bought and applied myself.
So, the real question — does it work? Yes, according to my personal results and a 2017 study at the University of São Paulo that sought to treat anxiety and pain in nurses using auriculotherapy.
The study concluded that there were “significant positive differences in the reduction of anxiety” among the nurses who received the treatment…
And concluded that further studies with “new populations and in different contexts and situations” was necessary so that the results can be confirmed.
Ear seeding is currently only FDA registered, so more in-depth research needs to be done to determine whether it’s an effective treatment for a variety of issues. That being said, my overall experience was positive. Skeptics may chalk it up to placebo effect, but I did feel less anxious for a few days and was able to fall asleep much faster than I normally do. Factoring in affordability, accessibility, and results, I’ll definitely be adding ear seeding to my wellness repertoire.
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