Friday Weird Science: Honey, that wasp is back! Hand me the…earwax?

First of all, did you know that the scientific word for ear wax is “cerumen”? Learn something new every day.
I’m sure we’ve all had ear wax encounters. Sci has often wondered, if she let her ear wax build up enough, if she could make a candle out of it like that Shrek guy.
(Image via imdb. For the record, Sci LOVES Shrek. A lot.)
Unfortunately, I always got too grossed out by myself before ear wax levels ever got close to candle level. But what if there was a good use for earwax? What if…you could use it for insect repellent?
(Via wikipedia. This image grosses Sci out a lot.) Ahmadian S, Fakhree MA. “Earwax (cerumen) might be formulated into a safe and biodegradable insect repellent.” Med Hypotheses. 2009 Mar;72(3):370-1. Epub 2008 Nov 13.

I’m sure we all know about malaria, yellow fever, and other insect-borne diseases. Malaria alone accounts for 250 million cases annually and 1 million deaths. There are lots of things that one can do to try and stay safe, including insect netting, controlling mosquito spread, etc. The cheapest and easiest is…insect repellent. Unfortunately a lot of insect repellents that are the most effective contain things like DEET, which isn’t biodegradable, and which also can’t be used on children under 3. Children under 3 can still get malaria, and so it’d be really good to find an insect repellent that was a little safer.
Apparently ear wax has a bitter taste, but is also a fungicide, antibasterial AND an insect repellent! (Tell that to all the bugs that have flown in my ear while I’m running. I’d like to think it’s by accident). It has both lipid (fatty), and non-lipid portions, which means that it is partially waterproof (another plus). So this paper says: why not try and make an insect repellent from ear wax!
To Sci, this seems like a pretty cool idea. Think of the possibilities!! In these tough economic times, you could sell your earwax! There could be charity drives for earwax. Ear wax is a continuously renewable resource, and completely biodegradeable. Of course, no one has ever actually tested to see if ear wax is in fact a bug repellent. I say we do it. I need some hardy soul out there willing to store up their ear wax, rub it on their body, and let me know if it works! Living in marshy environments a plus, excessive ear wax production would be an unanticipated bonus. I would like the see the data in five months’ time, which will give you the whole summer to have multiple tests. Any takers?
(Via Candy Addict. At least I’m not asking you to eat it!)
Ahmadian, S., & Fakhree, M. (2009). Earwax (cerumen) might be formulated into a safe and biodegradable insect repellent Medical Hypotheses, 72 (3), 370-371 DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2008.09.036

8 Responses

  1. The only wax you need be afraid of is Forty Wax – the kind Lizzie Borden supposedly gave her mother. It’s so deadly it apparently killed her….

  2. Um… that’s kinda ew-y. It just makes me feel a little gross to think about it…

  3. I am a bit confused. On one hand you say it has insect-repellent properties, then you write “Of course, no one has ever actually tested to see if ear wax is in fact a bug repellent.”
    Maybe that is what gives MedHype its reputation.
    I made dermatological products (including insect repellents) back in the 70s, in my professional opinion the stuff cannot be used. The reason is: cerumen is not soluble in anything (unpublished research).
    After a trip to the Jersey shore, I developed a blocked ear, with an annoying bit of water trapped inside despite a small opening that allowed me to hear pretty well. So I went to the lab and tried all the general-purpose solvents (e.g., acetone, isopropanol, methylene chloride, etc.). None of them works; but, because of the afore-mentioned “small hole,” they all made it down my eustachian tube and tasted terrible.
    In the end, I went to my doctor and had the ear flushed. Apropos this post, there were no insects in the effluent.
    I should add that I have a colleague in the candle industry, she says there is no interest in cerumen candles.

  4. Am I the only sicko that has wondered how much of different gross bodily products one could amass over a lifetime? Like how much earwax could one person collect over their life? Or boogers? Or nose hairs? Or zit splooge? Or…ok, I’ll stop.

  5. This reminds me of one other classic posts on disgusting bodily products: Shelley Batts of the former Retrospectacle wrote about The Sperm Cube.
    Have a nice day.

  6. *ahem*
    Gross Domestic Product

  7. I remember being obsessed with my apparent lack of earwax production in the late 50s or early 60s after reading (in Reader’s Digest probably) that people who produced copious amounts of earwax were less likely to get cancer.

  8. couldn’t we find the chemical(s) responsible for the insect repelling and use THAT instead?

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