Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biology Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students. It's 100% free, no registration required.

A human, at some time in life or the other, must clear the auditory canal. This is usually achieved using soft-cotton buds, or such similar device.

Where does this wax come from? What purpose does it serve? Is it really wax? Is it the inner fluid leaking out?

share|improve this question
add comment

1 Answer

up vote 6 down vote accepted

As quoted from the wikipedia page on Earwax:

Cerumen [earwax] is produced in the outer third of the cartilaginous portion of the human ear canal. It is a mixture of viscous secretions from sebaceous glands and less-viscous ones from modified apocrine sweat glands. The primary components of earwax are shed layers of skin, with 60% of the earwax consisting of keratin, 12–20% saturated and unsaturated long-chain fatty acids, alcohols, squalene and 6–9% cholesterol.

It's purpose -- further quoted -- is that it:

protects the skin of the human ear canal, assists in cleaning and lubrication, and also provides some protection from bacteria, fungi, insects and water

Some interesting (and stomach churning) earwax trivia:

  • In medieval times earwax, and other substances such as urine, were used to prepare pigments used by scribes to illustrate illuminated manuscripts.
  • The 1832 edition of the American Frugal Housewife said that "nothing was better than earwax to prevent the painful effects resulting from a wound by a nail [or] skewer"; and also recommended earwax as a remedy for cracked lips.
  • Before waxed thread was commonly available seamstresses would use their own earwax to stop the cut ends of threads from fraying.
share|improve this answer
2  
in case you want some more nitty gritty details: this boingboing post records some actual TLC of earwax (original link is off line). note the huge squalene/cholesterol ratio.boingboing.net/2006/08/08/scientist-analyzes-t.html –  shigeta Nov 30 '12 at 18:03
2  
Gnarly! P.S.: Good news: thanks to the invaluable Archive.org, we can view the original article here: web.archive.org/web/20060829233236/http://blog.tenderbutton.com/… –  Doc Dec 7 '12 at 17:04
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.