Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ear Wax: Not Just an Every Flavor Bean Anymore

For everyone who's ever wondered why, how, or isn't it weird that human ears secrete wax, Pharyngula lays it all out on the Q-tip:
What's the difference between an oil, a fat, and a wax? Nothing but the melting point. All are esters (the products of condensation reactions between carboxylic acids and alcohols) with an aliphatic chain of carbon molecules. The length of the chain determines the volatility of the molecule; short chains are more fluid, long chains more solid. Something like olive oil will have shorter chains than something like beeswax, but all are fundamentally similar. They are all classified as lipids.

. . . .

So what, exactly, is in earwax, or cerumen? Here's where it gets ugly. It's a combination of things:

  • Desquamated keratinocytes. Dead skin cells, in other words, that have peeled off of the epithelia lining the ear canal.
  • Sebum. This is an oily substance produced by the sebaceous glands that are scattered over most of your body. If you don't wash your hair for a few days, you know that oily, greasy substance that builds up? That's sebum.
  • Various waxes. The dense, waxy part of cerumen is a secretion from specialized glands in the ear canal, the ceruminous glands.

All of these combine into a greasy paste that helps protect the passageway into the ear from invaders. I know I wouldn't want to set foot in it.

Link. But does that mean it's okay to make a candle out of it, or just to use candles to extract it?

Indexed by tags science, nature, biology, human, ear, wax, candle.


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