Ear wax is made from oil and sweat produced inside the ear canal which is then mixed with dead skin and hairs.
Wax forms a protective acidic coat. Normal ear wax makes the canal waterproof and has a natural protection against infections. Wax is only made in the outer ear canal, and makes a sticky mound that keeps out water and traps dust and insects.
Your ear canal is lined with skin. New skin cells grow from the centre of your ear drum, outwards, and down the canal like a conveyor belt. This forms a protective layer called keratin. It takes six months for the skin to move from the ear drum to the outer ear.
Wax is made only in the first 1cm of the canal. It is made up of dead skin, oil, and hairs, and constantly dissolves the keratin coming down the canal. The wax and keratin make the ear waterproof, antibacterial, and antifungal. Wax also keeps out water, insects, and dust.
Most people have golden brown coloured wax, but the colour of people’s ear wax can vary from almost colourless grey to nearly black. All wax becomes darker over time.
There are many types of wax. When there is a high skin content it can be very hard. If it is mostly wax it can be very runny and soft. Some people’s wax is dry and flaky and in some it is extremely sticky. Normal wax has no smell.
All ear canals have curves, these protect the ear drum when objects enter. Some people have more severe curves than others. As we age the outer canal drops with the wrinkle process (so even our ears get wrinkles!) but the bony inner canal remains the same, this causes the ear canal entrance to become oval, therefore more narrow. At the same time as we age our skin production slows down tending to make wax thicker and stickier – so it’s no wonder it gets stuck!