Why do we have earwax?

Earwax, also known medically as cerumen, is the waxy substance secreted in the ear canal. But why exactly do our bodies secrete this substance, what is it made up of, and what is its purpose?

Earwax is made up of sebum (a body secretion which is made up mostly of fat, skin cells, sweat, and dirt). Earwax is actually produced by the ear to clean and protect itself. It protects the skin of the human ear canal, helps in lubrication and cleaning, and even offers protection against bacteria, fungi, and water.

Cleaning of the ear canal occurs as a result of jaw movement, which helps cells move from the centre towards the entrance of the ear canal. Jaw movements help this process by moving debris attached to the walls of the ear canal, which increases the likelihood of removing it.

Earwax provides lubrication within the ear canal, which prevents the skin from becoming extremely dry. Earwax has high lubricative properties due to the high lipid content of the sebum produced by the glands.

Studies have also found that earwax can reduce the survival rate of a wide range of bacteria, sometimes by levels of as much as 99%. The growth of fungi has also been found to be inhibited by earwax. Earwax has antimicrobial properties due to the presence of saturated fatty acids, lysozyme, and its slight acidity.

Overall, earwax has many beneficial properties, and what’s more, excess earwax is removed naturally from the ears, so we strongly advise that you don’t use cotton ear buds or other objects to try and remove earwax!

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