Hey, the stupid really DOES burn

By Phil Plait | December 22, 2009 9:59 am

So there’s a video of actress Jessica Simpson which is burning up (hahahahahahaha!) the internet right now. Her friend gave her an ear candle for Christmas, and she’s using it in the video:

I love this video, for a lot of reasons. First, as should be obvious to anyone who prefers not to set their head on fire, ear candling is dangerous and ineffective. Unless you’re trying to set your head on fire. Then it’s very effective.

Second, Ms. Simpson clearly thinks this is a bad idea as well. She titled the video "Who gives this kind of candle for a christmas gift?", and her reactions to it in the video is pretty clear. I love how one purported benefit of ear candling is relief of vertigo, but Ms. Simpson complains of nausea constantly in the video.

Third, and related to the second, the video shows how painful and awful this procedure is. It may set antiscience "alternative medicine" back a thousand years. Which is where alt-med is anyway. So I guess that’s a wash.

Fourth, it makes me wonder if anyone has sent Ms. Simpson to this website. I’ll refrain from commenting on any potential video of that.

Fifth and finally, it gives me a chance once again to use this drawing, which has been lonely lately:

The stupid, it burns

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Debunking, Humor

Comments (58)

  1. Hahaha, butt candles? I’m at work and didn’t want to risk spending too much time perusing that site, but (ha) that’s gotta be a joke no?

  2. If you must use alt-med, stick to homeopathy. You won’t be cured, but you probably won’t set your head on fire either.

  3. RAF

    With friends like hers, who needs enemies. Must be one of her dancers.

  4. This crap is banned from sale in Canada, thankfully. What’s wrong with other countries like the US? Can’t they see how obviously harmful and worthless these are?

  5. Charles

    Banning things in the US? Sorry, I’d rather not, thanks. The US purports to be the “land of the free”, and I’ll take it whenever I can get it.

    Now, requiring a label that says “putting more wax into your ear than it already naturally creates is a BAD IDEA” would be just fine.

    Let’s just keep away from flat out banning things.

  6. rob

    i see the “twit” part of twitvid applies here.

  7. JackC

    Awwww… I was expecting flames and running around and maybe fire extinguishers. What I got was just a lot of lousy fake carols and some overloud talking. Booooring.

    Oh and stupid. Lots of stupid. Where’s the carnage? Where’s the charred flesh?


  8. JonA, apparently most americans are incredibly gullible, and are blithely scientifically iliterate… It’s a billion dollar industry here selling water as medicine, ear candles (or Butt candles), etc… Sometimes makes me ashamed, and at the same time jealous that I didn’t think to sell this worthless crapola to them and get rich doing it. Damn my ethics!

  9. You use a burning candle to suck ear wax out of your ears? (While laying your head on sheets that are likely flammable no less.) No thanks. I’ll stick to Q-tips and the occasional flushing with water. If your ear wax issues are so bad that you need to burn your way through it, you really ought to see a doctor!

    Oh, and candles that go in your rear? I think I’ll skip those also. Not least of which is because I’ve got Bean Soup for lunch!!! 😉

  10. John Powell

    I couldn’t even watch that. I was so disgusted by the public display of stupidity and the way the guy was mocking her pain made me feel awful. That was not entertainment.

  11. @Larian LeQuella,

    I’ll second that ethics cursing. “Buy the new and improved TechyDad Ear Wax Removal Rock! Guaranteed to remove ear wax! Just hold it up to your ear and it’ll draw out the wax! If it doesn’t work, it just means you’re not pushing it against your ear hard enough or long enough. No, it’s not just some ordinary rock I found lying around. It’s an Ear Wax Removal Rock!!!” (Hey, at least it wouldn’t light the user on fire.)

  12. Levi in NY
  13. Jim

    …and did you happen to check out the FAQ?!? Laughing so hard I almost fell out of my chair.

    Q: Will my health insurance cover the cost?
    A: Most current plan providers are skeptical about less mainstream, alternative health practices. Sadly, the ButtCandle . falls under this category. Fortunately ButtCandles . are an economical choice and no one need forgo their use simply due to lack of coverage.

  14. John

    Naw, market the “Ear Douche™”

    It’s a blend of medicinal herbs and essential oils that help cleanse your ears of any unwanted wax and help restore your body to a healthier level of being!

    Comes with two applicators. Just submerge each applicator in 8 ounces of hot water (165°F) for five minutes and carefully fill the ear canal. You will immediately feel the herbal mixture working, melting the wax and invigorating your body. After a minute, drain the ear canal and repeat until the applicator is empty. Repeat with the other applicator to your other ear.

    Remember, you can’t be your best until you clean your ears with the Ear Douche™! Only $19.95!

  15. Gus Snarp

    Phil, I’ve got to know if there’s a series of numbers to go with that 2! Where did it come from?

  16. Improbus

    I had to go through this with my family but I refused to do it myself on the grounds that it was totally stupid. I will stick to q-tips and hot water, thanks.

  17. Adrian Lopez


    “Let’s just keep away from flat out banning things.”

    Even products that are outright fraudulent, like ear candles?

  18. Sean

    Butt Candle. Butt + candle. I never thought I’d see those two words side by side. Is there a nose candle? Would one be required to stand on one’s head? I’ll bet mouth candles cure asthma! Oh, wait, they cause cancer. Gosh medicine sure is confusing! I’m going to use my Brain Candle (TM) to clear the confusion up RIGHT AFTER I DRILL A HOLE IN MY HEAD.

    How surprised can we be? After all, people bought Chia Pets.

  19. Jamey

    I actually have to disagree.

    My first exposure was at a RenFaire, where the person doing it protected the side of my face with a wet towel.

    My second exposure, I did myself. *I* had the sense to use a small piece of metal to shield my face from any flame, and lay watching what I was doing in a mirror – but it really did help me quite a bit. I didn’t get nauseous from the sound of the air being pulled through, but I can see where some might. It really is easier with someone helping you, but it’s quite possible to safely do it by yourself.

    Like many things, your milage may vary. It may look stupid – but if it’s stupid and it works, it isn’t stupid.

    Oh, and as for the idea of “nose candle”? Feel free to look up the “neti pot”, and please – feel free to scoff at that too. Skeptical is one thing – dismissive is another.

  20. drow

    but if we outlaw STUPID, the INTERNET may DIE

  21. I know someone who swears by these things, and nothing I can say will change his mind. He says that he uses them while sitting up so the wax won’t drip down into his ear.

  22. ndt

    4. JonA Says:
    December 22nd, 2009 at 10:08 am
    This crap is banned from sale in Canada, thankfully. What’s wrong with other countries like the US? Can’t they see how obviously harmful and worthless these are?

    As in most liberal democracies, the legislative bodies in the US are almost entirely controlled by business interests. What’s different about the US is that almost the entire news media is controlled by those same business interests. So even the small percentage of voters who do give a damn do not have easy access to the necessary information.

  23. Wow, that is really insane. And the annoying friend who is laughing as she cries in pain, nasty. I couldn’t watch the whole thing, I had to skip it forward a few times to shut up the annoying videographer/friend/torturer.

  24. ndt

    Jamey, a neti pot works by pushing water through the nose and sinuses. That’s simple physics. Not at all the same as this ear candle business.

  25. I love “The Stupid” Please make liberal use of that cartoon. I have it in my rotating desktop art folder.

  26. @Jamey,

    I’m familiar with neti pots. My wife used one recently to help prevent a sinus infection. I can understand how that works: Water flushes from one nostril through the nasal cavity to the other nostril. Doing so, it thins out mucus in the nasal cavity. It wouldn’t be a cure for ailments, but might alleviate some symptoms. (In my wife’s case, cleared things out before an infection formed.)

    Ear candles, though, I just can’t see working. The claim is that they provide suction to pull wax out of the ear? That should be easy to test. Hook an ear candle to a tube about the width of the human ear and check how much suction there is.

    Calling Mythbusters! Come on, you know they would stick a few in Tory’s ears. And, if it didn’t work, they’d build an Ear Menorah to really pull the wax out! 😉

  27. Charles

    @Adrian Yup. Even things that are fraudulent. I used to work in quality control for an automotive manufacturer. One of our competitors was (and is) Volkswagen. Their ads tout their “quality German engineering”, yet their products are of much poorer quality then most American/Japanese/Other German vehicles.

    Should they be “banned” for being fraudulent? Of course not, they are merely stretching the truth based on our misconception that all German cars are better engineered than our American vehicles. In fact, I have now hit a hot button and some people will probably defend with how great their Jetta is. That is all fine and acceptable; and it is legal and should be.

    Somewhere you have to draw the line though, right? I say no, that is impossible. There is no line, thus there should be no laws prohibiting something where you cannot draw a finite line.

    Similarly, though, you can require thru the FDA, et al, that products be labeled properly. Ear candles should be labeled with “this is stupid”, and VW’s should be labeled with a table showing their JD Power quality raking listed next to their competitors. Caveat Emptor.

  28. Who the hell was that guy with the camera? He seems like a total psychopath.

  29. Misuse of ear candles can lead to problems:


  30. Embarrassed Skeptic

    I have mixed feelings about this.

    I know a few people are into all sorts of hokum, from homepathy to Reiki healing to those ridiculous electric foot spas (where the water discolors as metal comes off the electrodes). It’s all rubbish (although some of the aromatherapy oils smell nice), as I sometimes point out as politely as possible. Pretty sure they’ve stopped selling the foot spa after I told them what it did.

    Anyway, after several months of horrible, repeated viruses over the summer I was left with virtually no hearing in my right ear and about half in the left. I’d been like that for about two months, never had anything like it and it was horrific. Felt like being underwater. One of them kept insisting on sticking “Hopi ear candles” in me. I eventually gave in because I was tired of saying no, and the moment it got uncomfortable I was going to be off. To be fair, they were pretty good about it – don’t do this by yourself, they insisted (not likely), while watching carefully to make sure I didn’t combust. I was pretty sure heat and the chimney effect weren’t go to do a thing, though, and I was just hoping nobody would find out about this because I’d never hear the end of it. I wouldn’t have paid for it, either (this was returning a favor).

    Anyway, within half an hour it was significantly better and I could actually hear, and when I woke up the next day I was completely fine.

    Of course, that’s the kind of anecdotal evidence that means absolutely nothing! Correlation does not imply causality, and it’s entirely possible I would have got better anyway. I’m pretty certain I don’t have any chakras and I don’t even know what an auric body is meant to be. And I’m certainly in no hurry to stick anything in my ears again, burning or otherwise. Lots of people would draw hasty conclusions from one case and passionately declare that they work; I certainly wouldn’t do that – it strikes me as at most “a suspicious coincidence.”

    The thing about that Quackwatch page is, I imagine the vast majority of people flogging these things don’t think twice about safety, or whether it gets too hot, and think they can cure anything up to and including plague. Whereas the person doing this basically said, well, it’s a bit of warm air, might help a bit, say if it’s at all comfortable.

    I sincerely hope nobody interprets this as a recommendation, though. Sticking burning things in your ears strikes me as generally unwise and I have no intention of repeating the experience. I’m just glad I can hear again and my hair’s not on fire.

  31. RG

    my ex g/f swore to me these things worked but I totally refused to try it. Which for some reason made her mad every time the subject came up. It bothered her that I wouldn’t believe they worked when I haven’t even tried it. She would say, you can see the earwax when you’re done. to which I replied, how can you tell the difference it’s made OUT OF WAX and you’re melting it with FIRE. So one day I gave in.. I figured what the hell I’ll just do it and at least she can’t say I didn’t try. I had to stop after a few minutes on one ear.. and not only because I felt like a complete idiot.. but it got really hot believe it or not! I had an ear ache for a few days afterwards! Whenever I mentioned my ear hurt, it just made her more angry with me… (yeah I’m glad we broke up) … She was so sold that this worked she was actually offended by my pain. I think she thought I was just saying I had an ear ache because I refused to believe these things worked.

  32. !AstralProjectile

    “putting more wax into your ear than it already naturally creates is a BAD IDEA”

    Unless you may run into Sirens, but I mentioned that already.

  33. jonathan

    Why don’t all these ear candling idiots try some cerumenolytic products if their ears are waxy? My left ear got clogged up once. After pumping warm water into my ear with a spray bottle to clear the obstruction, my doctor told me olive oil would work just fine if I had the problem again. Q-tips apparently do more harm than good.

  34. David Vanderschel

    I think the BA embedded a version of this different from the one he intended. This one: http://www.twitvid.com/429C9
    does include some comments the BA attributes to Jessica (in particular the comments about nausea), but which do not occur in the embedded video.

  35. ggremlin

    Come on, this is like shooting chicken in a barrel.

  36. DrFlimmer

    The last drawing is never lonely, Phil. It is right on my office door next to some other nice comic strips from my room mate. Who ever enters my office will see it – and he/she can think about what it might want to tell him/her! 😀

  37. Cynicide

    I dunno, whenever I get excess wax in my ears I go to the doctor and he flushes it out with water. The whole thing takes about two minutes and I feel safe in the knowledge that he’s a qualified and certified professional, has liability insurance and I’m not sticking burning things in my ears.

    Forgetting for a second, the physics of ear candling, which simply don’t add up. Why would you choose jamming a burning candle in your head over a two minute doctor visit?

  38. Daniel J. Andrews

    Good thing ear-candling doesn’t work. If it actually did create enough suction to pull wax out of your ear, it would likely pop your eardrum as well. Test the suction yourself. Light the candle, and then place the bottom end near some smoke to see if it can pull smoke into the end. If it does, try and suck up some flour particles. They’ll just sit there forlornly and won’t be sucked up in a swirling vortex into the ear candle.

    Why risk damaging your hearing when hot wax/material from the candle drops down the tube and scars your eardrum for a procedure that doesn’t work in the first place? I’m sure if someone told people that staring at the sun balances their auras optometrists and doctors would be overloaded with people complaining that they can’t see properly anymore.

    Incidentally, how many people who have too much common sense to stare at the sun then go to loud concerts, crank their iPod music, push their car speakers to the limit, and don’t protect their hearing from loud noises such as engines (motorcycles, chain saws, lawn mowers, airplanes, monster truck and race car rallies), sirens, and banging metal? Staring at the sun is stupid, but damaging your hearing isn’t?

  39. Michael Swanson

    You have a Plognark drawing! Your coolness factor just went way up, Phil. Not only is he a great artist, but he is also a very funny, very intelligent skeptic and really, really nice guy.

  40. One Eyed Jack

    Am I the only one that doesn’t think this is Jessica Simpson? It doesn’t look like her and the voice sounds wrong.


  41. Jeff Keogh

    Charles @ 5

    “Banning things in the US? Sorry, I’d rather not, thanks. The US purports to be the “land of the free”, and I’ll take it whenever I can get it.

    Now, requiring a label that says “putting more wax into your ear than it already naturally creates is a BAD IDEA” would be just fine.

    Let’s just keep away from flat out banning things.”

    Which is why you can just rock up to a pharmacy and buy heroin, right? And isn’t it marvellous how flamethrowers can be picked up at any good supermarket?

  42. The fine senator Orrin Hatch (the one from Utah with the angry wattle and hatred of anything like women’s rights) is in the pocket of the herbal and vitamin supplement industry. With friends like this to “watch out for our health” the American people don’t need enemies.

    Jamey — the neti pot is nowhere near as stupid as the ear candling. It’s actually the same as “nasal lavage” which doctors can prescribe to patients with severe sinus problems.

    I use one daily to “flush out” my sinuses and keep them moist (I live at very high altitude) and it works well. Actually, my “old school” MD was the one who recommended it.

  43. Gerard

    My ex had an incense shop. Someone came through selling these. I am happy to say that I was skeptical. I was also a fun loving lad and got her to give me two to try. With one I followed the directions. I could hear moist crackling which some might have interpreted as sucking noises. When I was done, and one ear came off the pillow, and one ear had a wax plugged tube removed, it surprised me not one bit when everything seemed louder.

    The other ear candle’s bottom I wrapped in aluminum foil and stuck in a potted plant. After burning, this candle also had orange wax plugging it’s end.

    A fun debunking all around.

    I understand that these things can be unsafe so no encouragement intended.

  44. i fail to understand why people talk about governments banning moronic items like this. federal governments do not exist to protect you from your own stupidity. if a famous moron wants to jam a candle in her ear, and other morons want to follow the example because they saw a famous person doing it, more power to them. maybe we will get lucky and breed out the moron gene.

  45. Michael

    That doesn’t look anything like Jessica Simpson.

  46. Numbskull

    It doesn’t look like Jessica Simpson and the guy in the video calls her “Tina”.

  47. Petrolonfire

    @ 38. Daniel J. Andrews Says:

    Staring at the sun is stupid, but damaging your hearing isn’t?




    @ 47. Numbskull Says:

    It doesn’t look like Jessica Simpson and the guy in the video calls her “Tina”.

    Exactly. Methinks the BA could’ve been a bit more skeptical himself here. If that’s really Jessica Simpson then I’m really a sentient pumpkin! 😉

  48. @Numbskull and Petrolonfire (or should I say sentient pumpkin) 😉

    The vid comes from the “official” Jessica Simpson twitter feed. Within the first 8 seconds the dude says “I love your christmas decorations Jess”. They’re also talking about Jessica Simpson’s mother whose name is… drum roll…. Tina.
    The video might be someone else but it looks fair dinkum to me.

  49. Mike

    I had to watch it again to really convince myself that it was Jessica. On second viewing though it does seem like her. It’s really been a while since the MTV reality show days and she has changed a bit.

    I wonder if Tiger Woods was in the house?

  50. Stephanie

    Ear candling is idiotic and potentially dangerous, but it’s definitely not “painful and awful”. Well, maybe awful, but not painful.

  51. Chanelle

    I’ve done the ear candle thing before too, about a decade ago. I didn’t believe in it, but my aunt wanted to try it on about 10 of us cousins.

    I tend to build up ear wax very badly, to the point that I can’t hear in one ear or the other. As a child and teenager, I had to have my ears vacuumed out about a half dozen times, as even the water flush didn’t work well enough. So I was the perfect candidate to see results on. If they worked, I should have had a large, loose chunk of wax come free after doing this.

    I remember hearing crackling, and seeing little tiny bits of wax on the plate afterwards, but none of us had any real effect, either positive or negative. The wax that was seen did look like earwax, sort of a dark orange, while the candles were white, but I have no idea what color the wax produced by the candle when NOT in an ear would have been. I don’t remember any significant heat, or getting an earache, or anything. Not even being able to hear better (which definitely was the case after getting them vacuumed or even flushed).

  52. Article in today’s USAToday about celebrities who give medical advice: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-12-23-celebrity23_CV_N.htm

  53. Edwin

    Woah, Charles, you’re right, I want that neutronbomb (goes really well with my radiant personality). I would agree on marihuama, though. I’ve never used it but it should be legal.

  54. JB of Brisbane

    I reckon Jamey @#19 is a distributor for these things.
    He (I hope) writes, “I had the sense to use a small piece of metal to shield my face from any flame”… but what about your hair?
    Actually, didn’t I hear once that the Hopi nation made a statement along the lines of, “Hell, no! Don’t blame us – we didn’t invent them!”

  55. Samuel

    No matter what your take is on ear candling, you have to check out this video. A parody on jessica simspon’s ear candling video.



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