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No Judging: At one point you've probably put a finger in your ear and dug out some rather unsightly ear wax, but why does your body produce this yellowy substance in the first place?

Hosted by: Michael Aranda
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Sources:

https://www.britannica.com/demystified/why-do-we-have-earwax
http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v38/n3/abs/ng1733.html
https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000979.htm

https://academic.oup.com/qjmed/article/97/8/477/1588624/Impacted-cerumen-composition-production
http://commonhealth.legacy.wbur.org/2012/11/q-tips-ears-danger
http://www.entnet.org/content/earwax-and-care
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16835926
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ar.a.20356/full
http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/1870171
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I know you've all done it. You've either stuck a finger in your ear or a q-tip and taken 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, as doctors and scientists call it, cerumen, is a complex mix of things like oils, dead skin cells, and any dirt, dust, or microbes the waxes manage to trap. The stuff helps keep your ear canal moisturized, waterproofed, and safe from any invaders, which is pretty awesome for something 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 replenishes itself from the bottom up, they need to go somewhere. Earwax is 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 except for your palms and soles of your feet. 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 well as antimicrobial proteins.

The dead skin cells mix with the secretions 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 protect 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 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, but please, for the love of all things aural, do not use a q-tip.

There are earwax removal kits that dissolve the earwax so that it flushes out, or you can let your doctor do it. But cotton swabs just push the wax in farther, and you risk rupturing your eardrum or introducing an infection. So try to resist the urge, and know that unless you have a blockage, the wax is actually doing you a favor.

Thanks to Patreon patron David Sven the Third Radbourne for asking this question, and thanks to all of our patrons who keep these answers coming. If you'd like to submit a question to be answered, you can go to patreon.com/scishow, and don't forget to go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe.

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