Why do we have earwax?

I know you’ve all done it!

You’ve either stuck a finger in your ear or a q-tip and taking a good hard look at your earwax. And while I don’t condone those activities, I completely understand why because earwax might just be the strangest and most unique substance our bodies make.


Earwax, or doctors and scientists called cerumen, is a complex mix of things like oils, dead skin cells and any dirt, dust or microbes the waxes managed to trap. The stuff helps keep your ear canal moisturized, waterproofed and safe from any invaders, which is pretty awesome for something that most people think is gross and sometimes smells funny. But to really understand why we should marvel at our earwax, consider the anatomy of the ear.

Your ear canal is the only spot on your body where there’s skin with a tough, outer layer that isn’t fully exposed. When old skin cells flake off your arm, they can just fly away, but in your ear, they have nowhere to go. That makes it really hard to clean your ear canal, these outer layer skin cells, which are called corneocytes, are actually already dead and as your skin replenisehes itself from the bottom up, they need to go somewhere.


Earwax’s evolution’s rather ingenious solution to this problem, here’s how it works, there are two kinds of glands embedded in your ear canal. There are sebaceous glands which you have all over your body. They make an oily substance called sebum that’s useful in lubricating the canal. Then there are also specialized sweat glands that you have only in your ears called ceruminous glands, which release even more lipids as ell ad antimicrobial proteins. The dead skin cells mix with the secretions from these two glands forming a wax and as you talk or chew food, the wax naturally works its way out of your ear canal.

So really, earwax is just the leftovers from your ear’s self-cleaning process. At the same time, the wax keeps the skin in the canal from getting too dry, plus it can capture dust or microbes and prevent anything dangerous from getting into the part of the ear that hears.


So earwax is the ear’s natural cleaner and defender, you don’t need to go in with a Q-tip to clean your ears out. The only time wax is bad is when too much builds up and it starts to make it hard to hear, which is actually one of the most common reasons why people have hearing loss.

Good news is, in most cases all you have to do is remove the plug.


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