The Grapevine

What Your Earwax Says About You, From Your Ethnicity To Your Health To How Smelly You Are

We often use cotton swabs to remove a built-up sticky, or flaky earwax lodged in our ear canal. The waxy oil can be a nuisance, but it's healthy and good for our ears. It does everything from flushing out dead skin cells, to preventing foreign objects, like dust, from getting in. There's more to earwax than you may know; it can tell us a variety of things about ourselves and overall health.

In Gross Science's video, "What Your Earwax Says About You," host Anna Rothschild explains human beings actually have two varieties of earwax: most people of Caucasian or African descent have wet-type earwax, which is sticky and yellow or brownish. Most people of East Asian descent have dry-type earwax, which appears light and flaky. These earwax traits are caused by different variants of the same gene — ABCCII — the earwax type gene.

Read More: Removing Earwax From An Ear Has Never Looked So Gross, Yet Satisfying

The wet-type is probably the ancient form, while the dry-type is a variant that arose later, likely in a population of early humans who had migrated to Northern and Eastern Asia. Moreover, Native Americans also carry the gene for dry earwax, which supports the idea that their ancestors migrated from Siberia.

Woman Your earwax can reveal a lot about you, from your race and ethnicity to how stinky you are. Photo courtesy of Samuel Dixon, Public Domain

The type of earwax we possess is also linked to how smelly we are. Earwax is secreted in part by modified apocrine glands, which are one of the glands that release sweat. Apocrine sweat is especially delicious to bacteria, who release that gross B.O. scent after they eat it. Previous research has found people with wet-type earwax also have more body odor.

Our earwax can potentially be used as a non-invasive way to diagnose disease. Conditions like maple syrup disease can be detected through the smell of earwax earlier than it can be detected by other methods. It could reveal a lot about our health.

Click on Gross Science's video to learn more on what our earwax can say about us.

See Also:

Earwax Odor Can Offer Information About Disease, Ethnicity

7 Living Things Found Inside The Ear Canal That Will Make You Squirm

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