Ear candles boast ‘made in Costa Rica’
Ear discomfort, whether caused by water, altitude or infection, can be painful or disruptive to daily life. But Harmony Boulton, an Escazú-based specialist in holistic medicine and owner of Harmony’s Candles, manufactures and sells ear candles that she says encourage the body to relax so it can heal naturally.
“You light the candle and it burns down and creates a relaxed meditative state. When that happens, your body relaxes and it naturally decongests,” says Boulton, who prefers to go by Doc Harmony.
A team of five Ticos works with Doc Harmony in her home, where they handcraft candles using muslin cloth and either food-grade wax or beeswax. The 10-inch candles can be used in the home by lighting them and gently inserting one end in the ear and holding it in place until the flame reaches a clearly marked stopping point. Doc Harmony emphasizes that the candles create a slight temperature change in the ear, which induces a parasympathetic state.
“When your body temperature changes by half a degree, you feel miserable. Our glaciers melt because the Earth’s temperature has risen slightly. Temperature is very powerful. A slight change in the ear relaxes the body so it can do what it’s supposed to do,” she says.
Doc Harmony first tried ear candles in 1990. After watching her then 1-year-old son suffer from ear infections and failed antibiotic remedies for six months, she consulted a naturopathic doctor who suggested using ear candles.
“I didn’t believe it at first, but I didn’t know what else to do. My child was sick and it was sheer desperation,” she says.
Doc Harmony says her son’s ear infections ceased after she candled his ears. While the candles improved her son’s life, it was around this time that Doc Harmony began to question the path of her own life.
“At that time I didn’t know anything about natural health. I had a great job in corporate America but felt like something was missing,” she says.
To fill this void, Doc Harmony quit her job with Southern Company, a U.S.-based Fortune 500 utility conglomerate, and began manufacturing and selling ear candles. She went on to complete studies at the now-defunct Clayton College of Natural Health, a nonaccredited distance-learning natural health college formerly based in the U.S. state of Alabama, in 2007.
That same year, Doc Harmony and her family moved to Costa Rica after years of traveling here from their home in west Georgia. She says safety, weather and new opportunities all factored into the permanent move. Since the relocation, Harmony’s Candles has been approved by the Costa Rican Health Ministry and works closely with the Foreign Trade Promotion Office.
“Now that I’m here, my whole life revolves around organic lifestyles and healthy living,” she says.
But that dedication has been tested by critics. Despite success in Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Panama and Singapore, ear candles have faced scrutiny from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In February 2010, the FDA sent 17 letters to ear candle producers warning them of circumstances that could arise if manufacturing processes weren’t improved. Of those 17 manufacturers, only five are still in business.
Doc Harmony says her business thrives because of a stringent manufacturing process, use of a patented safety tip in all candles, and attention to safety concerns.
“It’s fire, for Pete’s sake; it has to be taken seriously,” she says. “There has to be some semblance of responsibility involved with this.”
But, according to the FDA’s online database, ear candles are “ineffective and risky.” The database also cites a 1996 study published in the medical journal Laryngoscope that “reported 13 cases of burns of the ear, seven cases of wax occlusion of the ear canal, and one case of a perforated eardrum.”
While the FDA stands by its claim that it has “found no valid scientific evidence to support the safety or effectiveness of these devices for any medical claims or benefits,” Doc Harmony says she believes the FDA is swayed by government alliances with pharmaceutical companies.
“The only place I’ve had an issue is in the United States. They say they have no documentation or proof, yet they won’t let us submit our documents,” she says.
These documents include four clinical studies completed in Germany. Doc Harmony adds that she does agree with the FDA on one account: she is against the false advertising that some manufacturers use to boost sales.
“It doesn’t remove wax, bacteria or anything like that from the ear. One producer even claimed that the candles purify blood, and now that is all over the FDA website. I’ll be the first one to call up my competitors and tell them to stop saying these things,” she says. “Making these claims irresponsibly hurts the whole industry because then no one will believe in the products.”
Ear candling remains popular despite the controversy and official statements from the FDA. Doc Harmony jet-sets from September through December, attending health fairs around the globe. This year, Harmony’s Candles won second place in the people’s choice category at the Organic Expo and Green Show International in Sydney, Australia.
“It’s great for Costa Rica because not a lot of stuff is made here and then exported. We love packing up stuff and pointing out on a map where it’s going,” Doc Harmony says. “To me it’s the epitome of what we all dream, to be able to create something and sell it.”
For more information on Harmony’s Candles and to find out where to buy them, visit www.harmonycone.com.