A Brief Interlude For Earwax


What has two thumbs, two ears, and no impulse control? You, probably—because even though it says “Do not insert swab into the ear canal” on every box of Q-tips, 12 million Americans per year end up at the doctor’s with a bad case of earwax impaction. The warning, which was placed on the box in the ‘70s, is a bizarrely limp attempt at dissuading consumers from the pleasurably tingly yet objectively bad for you reason everyone really buys Q-tips. Imagine if, for example, the Surgeon General’s warning on a box of cigarettes replaced graphic photos with a vaguely-worded suggestion that cigarettes be used as home decor only. (It would certainly help explain the enigmatic bowls of cigarettes at Mary-Kate Olsen’s 2015 wedding, but not much else.) To stretch the metaphor, even though most people know they’re not so safe, quitting Q-tips is surprisingly hard. It feels good, and you’re used to it, and it’s what your parents did, and you’re scared of gunky, orange wax spilling visibly out of aforementioned inner ears, even though it would never really do that.

Which isn’t to say Q-tips are the only things out there to mitigate the hypothetical embarrassment of someone noticing your ears behaving like ears. There’s ear candling, where the bottom end of a lit candle is placed in the ear for around 20 minutes to “draw out” excess wax. It’s controversial—ear candling practitioners say it works very well, while doctors and the FDA say heck no it does not. There’s this spiral-y guy that looks great in targeted ads but comes with a handful of one-star reviews. Gentler methods include ear wax removal drops, or just a little bit of hydrogen peroxide or mineral oil to soften it right up. And some people have a doctor remove their earwax. The procedure is often done by forceps or irrigation, and though it won’t feel as good as a Q-tip (actually, it might feel quite bad), it’s a lot more effective.

Of course, you could also just not clean your ears. They don’t really need cleaning in the first place! If they do have excess wax, it kind of just falls out on its own without you realizing. Anyone who tells you you need to clean your ears is probably… trying to sell you something to clean your ears. Please see the robust product offerings to clean that other self-cleaning body part, the vagina, in case you’re doubtful.

Could gooey, yellow earwax be the final frontier of taboo beauty topics? Vaginal discharge was obliquely mentioned just two sentences ago, and you didn’t even bat an eye! If it is, let’s go where no beauty site has gone before. We’re not here to pass judgment on how you clean (or don’t clean!) your ears. You’re armed with the facts, you know what’s up. And still… many of us use Q-tips, or other methods, to de-gunk our ear canals. What about you? What do you do (if anything) to clean your ears, and why do you keep doing it? Let’s discuss.

Photo via ITG