Earwax, known technically as cerumen, is produced by glands in your ear canal. Made up mostly of dead skin cells, earwax also contains other substances, including lysozyme, an antibacterial enzyme, fatty acids, alcohols, cholesterol, and squalene.1
In fact, earwax isn't "wax" at all; it's a mixture of water-soluble secretions. And although you probably don't give your earwax much thought, it actually represents one of your body's most ingenious protective mechanisms. Earwax isn't simply a hygienic nuisance… far from it.
Earwax Benefits: Why Your Ears Need Wax
Your ears produce earwax constantly so that, ideally, you'll maintain just the right amount in your ear canals. Unless you have an earwax blockage, which I'll discuss below, it's actually best to leave your earwax alone – don't try to remove it with cotton swabs or other devices.
In fact, if you have too little earwax in your ear canal, your ears may feel dry and itchy. This is because earwax is there for a reason – to protect your ears and provide lubrication. It does this by:
· Preventing dust, bacteria, and other germs from entering and damaging your ear
· Trapping dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria
· Protecting the skin of your ear canal from becoming irritated by water
Your Ears Are Self-Cleaning: Keep the Cotton Swabs Out
Your ear canals are self-cleaning, and earwax is the self-cleaning agent. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF), under ideal circumstances your ear canals should never have to be cleaned.
Excess earwax should move out of your ear canal automatically, as cells there actually migrate naturally. The removal of earwax is also helped along by movements of your jaw (talking, chewing, etc.), and once it reaches your outer ear it will simply fall out or be removed when you shower or bathe. AAO-HNSF states:2
"Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe that earwax should be routinely removed for personal hygiene. This is not so. In fact, attempting to remove Earwax with cotton-tipped swabs, bobby pins, or other probing devices can result in damage to the ear, including trauma, impaction of the Earwax, or even temporary deafness. These objects only push the wax in deeper, and can block the ear canal entirely."