Experts break down everything you need to know about ear seeds, including how to use them and their potential benefits.
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Close Ups of Ear Seeding
Credit: Getty Images

If you're uncomfortable with needles, you may be hesitant to try acupuncture. But what if it was possible to reap similar rewards (e.g. stress relief) without getting poked and prodded with thin needles. Enter: ear seeding. A type of acupressure (i.e. a massage therapy), ear seeding involves applying pressure to certain points in the ear to address health ailments, according to Shari Auth, D.A.C.M., L.Ac., L.M.T., certified doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine and co-founder of WTHN, a wellness studio in New York. "Ear seeds are part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and date back thousands of years," says Auth.

TCM teaches that your ears are covered with dozens of pressure points that can help calm your mind, boost immunity, reduce pain, and more, says Auth. But simply pressing a random spot in your ear isn't necessarily going to leave you feeling better. So how does it work? That answer, ahead — plus, all about the potential benefits (and risks) of ear seeding.

What Is Ear Seeding?

Ear seeds are tiny seeds or beads that are placed on your ears. Think: the size of a sea salt grain or mustard seed. Traditionally, the practice uses literal seeds, derived from the Vaccaria plant, which is native to Eurasia, explains Auth. Nowadays you can choose from various types of ear seeds, including Vaccaria seeds or metal beads. Each seed or bead has a sticker on one side, allowing you to adhere the seed to pressure points on your ear. Some ear seeds even incorporate Swarovski crystals, so they resemble stud earrings once applied, notes Gudrun Snyder, D.Ac. M.Sc. L.Ac., a doctor of East Asian acupuncture and founder of Moon Rabbit Acupuncture.

Ear seeding is a form of auriculotherapy, which is a therapy that makes use of acupressure points on your ears, explains Snyder. The seeds are placed on specific pressure points corresponding to what you're hoping to achieve. For instance, a point at the top of the ear near the fold is associated with stress relief, according to Auth. The stimulation of these points through acupuncture triggers your central nervous system to release chemicals, sending a message to your brain which provokes biochemical responses which help to achieve your desired result, says Snyder. Stimulation via acupressure can offer similar results, according to TCM, says Snyder. (Related: How to Protect Your Energy, According to Reiki Practitioners)

How does ear seeding work?

Before getting ear seeds, it's best to determine your health objectives, so you can strategically place the seed where it can help you the most, says Auth. You can get ear seeds applied professionally at a wellness studio, such as WTHN or Moon Rabbit, or buy a DIY ear seed. The advantage of having your ear seeds placed professionally is that you can speak with your practitioner, who will be knowledgeable in the body's pressure points, about your specific concerns, with the assurance that they'll place your ear seeds in the corresponding area with precision. (The more precise the application, the more likely you are to reap the rewards of ear seeding — if at all, of course.) Typically ear seeding kits, e.g. the WTHN Ear Seeding Kit, come equipped with the tools and instructions you'll need for application.

You can feel free to apply multiple ear seeds at once. "For example, you can use a seed to balance hormones and a seed to calm the mind," says Auth. "The two points will work together to produce greater results. One of our favorite combinations is Shen Men (stress point) and Point Zero (hormones) to relax the mind and balance hormone levels." An ear seeding chart (such as the handy graphic below) can help you determine what placement to use depending one what you're trying to achieve. (Related: I Keep This Acupressure Ring with Me at All Times to Stay Chill)

Ear Seed Map
Credit: WTHN, Shari Auth

It's important to note that ear seeds act as a guide to let you know where the pressure points are on your ear. To get the most benefits of the ear seeds, you need to gently massage or rub those areas about three to five times a day anywhere between one to three minutes. "Ear seeds work by putting light pressure on specific acupressure points on the ear to stimulate that point," says Auth.

Make sure to clean your ear before applying ear seeds by wiping the area with a cotton swab soaked in alcohol to get the longest use, advises Snyder. It's best to remove ear seeds after three to five days by peeling off the sticker, but sometimes they may fall off sooner. You can feel free to reapply ear seeds as often as you'd like, says Snyder.

What are the benefits of ear seeding?

The possible benefits of ear seeding vary based on where the seeds are placed. Some of the potential benefits of ear seeding include sleep support, immunity support, and improved focus, says Auth. Studies have also shown that it may help provide chronic pain relief and improve digestion.(Related: How to Optimize Your 'Energy Trifecta' to Beat Burnout)

The most common request that Snyder receives is to use ear seeds for anxiety, she says. A review published in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine found that acupressure "seems to be effective" at providing immediate anxiety relief in patients anticipating a surgery or treatment. However, not everyone notices immediate effects from ear seeding. "Some people are incredibly responsive to ear seeding and will likely see results the same day," says Snyder. Others may need a few applications before noticing any difference.

Anyone is a good candidate to trying ear seeding, and there aren't any side effects to worry about besides potential skin irritation, says Snyder. With that in mind, some ear seeding kits, including the Moon Rabbit Ear Seeding Kit, feature a sensitive skin-friendly adhesive to limit the possibility of reactions, she adds. Even if you place an ear seed in the wrong location, the worst thing that can happen is that you won't reap the benefits of the acupressure, according to Snyder.

Ultimately, there's no harm in trying ear seeding, and it may offer a wide array of benefits. So you can proceed to give the practice a shot if you're into it.