It appears, based on the countless number of compilation videos on YouTube of barbers using fire to cleanse the ears of their clients, there are two ways to approach this death-defying act of hair removal. There’s the one-step method, which includes using a shitty gas station lighter to wave a flame in a zig-zag motion, just barely grazing the edges of the man’s ear with the flame while the barber’s free hand blocks the fire from the rest of the guy’s head.
The second version is slightly more complicated and includes wrapping a cotton ball at the end of the barber’s scissors, soaking said cotton ball in alcohol and lighting that little white fluff with a lighter before using it to quickly, but theatrically, wave the flaming wand against the edges of the ear.
Either way, this pyrotechnic hair removal tactic has been used in Turkish barbering for centuries to get rid of stray hairs. “Originally this technique was also used as a sealant in hair cuts by Turkish barbers, who believed that hair was a living, breathing part of the body,” reports The Grooming Guide. “When it was cut, they felt it was bleeding, so to put it out of its pain and misery they would singe it!”
In 2015, Time magazine reported on a variation of hair singeing known as candle cutting, or velaterapia (its Brazilian term), “that involves running a candle flame along twisted strands of hair to singe off stray and unhealthy ends.” “Popular for decades in South America, velaterapia possibly originated in ancient civilizations among pioneering beauties such as Cleopatra, who supposedly had her locks singed regularly to get that thick, glossy, waterfall look for which she was known,” per their report.
These days, it appears that using fire to remove unwanted stray hairs, like ear hair, is simply a more theatrical approach to trimming or waxing. Or as GQ asserted in 2014, using the Turkish method of hair removal is the “manliest way to remove your ear hair” (which tells you everything you need to know about GQ).
But according to Melanie Gardner, a certified aesthetician who tells me that she’s well aware of the videos, although the method may appear impressive, it’s not very effective — and it smells bad. “First of all, you can burn off the skin,” she explains, citing some of the dangers of this hair removal tactic. But more importantly, Gardner tells me that despite the flashy flame action, waxing your ear hair works a lot better. “The difference between waxing and burning off the ear hair is that using fire doesn’t get down to the root of the hair the way waxing would,” she continues. “So it’s going to grow back more quickly. And even if the flame does get to the root, you’re going to burn your ear.”
This is especially true, she says if you use the singeing method to get rid of “giant, terminal ear hairs.” “It’s one thing to burn off baby hair, but if you’re going to get big terminal hairs, it’s more likely to cause more damage,” she explains.
Some barbershops in the U.S. do offer the service, such as MC Barber in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Per his website, MC is a world champion barber who offers the singeing service at his shop — he even has a YouTube tutorial on how to do it.
But again, Gardner doesn’t recommend trying it. “Here in the U.S., it’s out of the scope of practice — we [aestheticians or barbers] legally can’t do it,” she says. And if she can’t do it, you, too, are better off either waxing or plucking your ears. Although honestly, it’s not a great idea to pour hot wax into your own earhole — for obvious reasons — either, so how about just sticking to that trimmer for now?