No, ANC earbuds should not be confused with a hearing protection device, and experts agree.
"Nobody should ever think of them as, in my opinion, pure hearing protection. They're not," says ENT Dr. Joe Donzelli. And while noise-canceling earbuds can offer some passive protection like any sound wave boundary, Dr. Donzelli assures that they don't deter the culprit of hearing loss: Inner ear trauma.
"Everything is all about the sound you're delivering through the headphones, so you can get the greatest noise cancellation ever, but if you just turn up the volume and expose yourself to high decibels for long periods of time, you'll then create inner ear trauma," Donzelli explains.
However, since listening to music at high volume for long periods of time can damage hearing, a good pair of ANC headphones may have some secondary hearing protection benefits.
"If someone is using ANC earbuds to get rid of ambient noise, they may not have to turn the volume up as loud to hear the in-ear sound," Donzelli says.
Essentially, here's how ANC earbuds may help: You find your ANC earbuds effectively cancel out distracting noises. Before, you had to blast the volume just to hear accurately, but thanks to the magic of ANC, the sound is clear at half the volume. Now, you're listening at a lower volume for longer, and therefore likely have less exposure to damaging decibel levels, which means less inner ear trauma.
But Donzelli reiterates that the "tighter you put something in your ear and the louder you make it, the more damage. So if somebody runs around with their [earbuds] turned up all the way with or without noise cancellation, it doesn't make a difference."