What Type of Earwax Do You Have?

What Type of Earwax Do You Have?

by Morgan Heinrich

Did you know that there are two different kinds of earwax? Most people have one of two types of earwax, and the kind you have depends on your genetics!

1. Wet earwax: sticky, and yellowish-brown to a dark brown color

2. Dry earwax: is crumbly, gray to tan in color, and appears ashy or flaky 

According to the University of Delaware, a small number of people (<1%) have earwax that is intermediate or unclassifiable. The type of earwax you have is caused by a single variation in your DNA that is located on the 16th chromosome.

Now What Kind Do You Most Likely Have?

The gene (allele) for dry earwax has frequencies close to 100 percent in people from nothern China and Korea which originated from a mutuation about 2,000 generations ago. However, Native Americans also are more likely to have dry earwax. Research suggests that there seems to be something about cooler climates that favors the dry earwax allele. 

On the other hand, wet earwax is associated with warmer areas in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. 

What does that mean for you?

Chemist Katharine Prokop-Prigge, of the Monell Chemical Sense Center said scientists can now obtain information about a person’s ethnicity simply by looking in their ears.

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Earwax and Body Odor

Let me start by explaining that there are two kinds of sweat glands in the human body...

1. Eccrine sweat glands: found throughout the skin

  • Produces sweat that is mostly a combination of water and salt
  • Do not contribute much to body odor

2. Apocrine sweat glands: found in the armpit and groin

  • Contains proteins and lipids, and... 
  • When bacteria on the skin metabolize this sweat, they can STINK

Well now you're asking what this has to do with your ears- I hate to break it to you but your earwax glands (called cerumenious glands) are a form of an apocrine gland. That means your ears can STINK! Therefore, wet earwax is more commonly associated with body odor (or stinky ears). 

According to a Japanese study, 860 out of 896 patients who consutled a doctor about "stinky armpits" had wet earwax in a population where most people have dry earwax.

Today, most East Asians and nearly all Koreans lack a chemical in their armpits that bacteria munch on to make body odor, because they carry this variant of the ABCC11 gene.

About 98 percent of Europeans have the smelly-armpit version of the gene and along with it comes stickier and smellier earwax!

Believe it or not, that gooey stuff in your ear has a lot more to it than you think!

So which earwax do you have? Share this article with your friends to compare and remember to use the hashtag #LoveYourEarwax.

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