Coning? Are you a barbarian?

Abstract: Ever thought of candling to remove ‘negative energy’. Then you need a smack to the head. Or to read this…

Few things catch my eye in store windows nowadays. Blame it on old age and my perfunctory disregard for all things fashionable. But not so long ago I did a double take when walking past a health shop near my apartment in London. In the window was a picture of a woman lying on her side with a candle sticking out of her ear. It was an advert for a procedure they offered called coning, and which it claimed could cure all manner of ills. I thought it looked rather medieval, even barbaric.

That’s because it is, and modern science can prove it.

Coning, sometimes called ‘ear candling’ or ‘auricular candling’ (to try and sound like a proper medical procedure), involves sticking a candle into the ear and lighting it. The ‘candle’ is really a hollow tube, usually shaped like a narrow cone, and can be made of a number of flammable materials such wax, cotton dipped in beeswax, or even newspaper soaked in paraffin. It’s sometimes scented.

If the product sounds a little rudimentary, the ‘procedure’ of coning is equally so. The narrower end of the ‘candle’ is pushed through a hole in a paper or aluminium foil plate (designed to catch any burning wax), placed in the person’s ear while they’re lying on their side, and the slightly wider end (that’s not in the ear) is lit. If that sounds like I’ve oversimplified coning, then here’s a video demonstration to show that I haven’t

Right now, the sceptic in you should have several obvious questions buzzing around inside your brain, including:
1. What on earth is coning supposed to do;
2. How is it supposed to do this; and,
3. Isn’t it, perhaps, just a little dangerous?

It’s claimed coning removes excess wax, ‘toxins’ and ‘negative energy’ from the outer ear and the Eustachian tube – a canal that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat. This, according to its proponents, helps with problems such as sinusitis, earache, sore throats, feelings of imbalance, and even candida.

How it’s supposed to work is where science wags its finger and says, “Er, I don’t think so”.

Proponents claim smoke spirals down the hollow, burning candle and flushes out the Eustachian tube. At the same time the heat of the burning end of the candle creates a pressure differential – a mini vacuum – inside the ear, thereby sucking out the earwax and any impurities.

Again, the sceptic in you should have several questions buzzing around inside your brain, guided by an understanding of basic school biology and physics:
1. How can the hollow tube encourage smoke to go down, but, at the same time, earwax to come up and out;
2. Earwax is a solid, so surely in order to be sucked out it would either have to be melted (requiring sufficient heat energy to change its phase), or if remaining solid the vacuum would have to be so powerful that it would pop the eardrum; and,
3. Of course…the eardrum…how does the smoke get past the eardrum to access the middle ear and the Eustachian tube?

Now that we know coning can never do what it claims to do, let’s address that other niggling question: isn’t it, perhaps, just a little dangerous?

Again, let’s turn to school science to answer that one: the person having the procedure is lying on their side with the candle sticking upwards, out of the ear. When the other end is lit, the melted wax will, under the influence of gravity, naturally flow downwards towards the ear.

Proponents claim the wax only melts on the outside and is therefore caught by the other piece of high technology: the paper plate through which the candle has been jammed. However, it’s a hollow tube remember, not a normal candle, so of course melted wax can still flow down the inside. This will explain why those having the procedure risk severe damage to the ear.

What makes the procedure even more dangerous is that coning – or ear candling – ‘kits’ are sold online to be used by anyone willing to take the time to read the instructions. As a result, coning seems have developed into something of a home industry. However, home candle making is one thing, DIY medical procedures with melting wax are another!

So, if it cannot work, why is it still being offered in London health shops and in online kit form? Because not everyone is a sceptic, and there will always be people, unfortunately lots of people, who are sufficiently ignorant of science that they’re willing to believe anyone who dazzles them with a little magic. Throw in a little ancient mysticism (it’s claimed coning dates back to everyone from the ancient Chinese, to the Mayans, Aztecs, even the people of Atlantis), and it also sucks in those who eschew modern medicine for pseudoscientific ‘new age’ practices.

Of course, you may disagree, see the virtue of coning, and consider it neither ineffectual nor barbaric. If that is the case, you may want to try the following: boiling bleach enemas, anti-dandruff scalp sandblasting, nitro-glycerine nasal hair removal, and vaginal tar-and-feathering.

Originally published in Issue 12 of Guru Magazine