Why Caucasians Have Smellier Earwax Than East Asians

Ethnicity happens to have something to do with earwax, in case you haven’t heard yet.

As a matter of fact, Whites and Blacks have earwax that’s yellow and sticky, while Native Americans and East Asians have white and dry earwax.

But as what this trivia of a post is about, that yellow sort of earwax is actually smellier than the white one — the science behind it being linked to underarm odor.

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That’s according to scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, who wanted to know whether ethnic groups had different earwax odors.

Using analytical organic chemistry, they identified the presence of odor-producing chemical compounds in earwax and found that the amount of such compounds differ between Caucasians and East Asians.

Katharine Prokop-Prigge, chemist and lead author of the study, said:

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“In essence, we could obtain information about a person’s ethnicity simply by looking in his ears. While the types of odorants were similar, the amounts were very different.”

The researchers collected earwax from 16 men: eight Caucasian and eight of East Asian descent.

The samples were placed inside vials, which were heated for 30 minutes to facilitate the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — odorous airborne molecules.

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What they found next was interesting: while all men had 12 VOCs each, the amount of the molecules varied.

As it turned out, Caucasians had more molecules — 11 of the 12 — than East Asians.

The researchers were inspired to investigate differences in earwax odors upon learning that a gene called ABCC11 is related to both underarm odor and the dryness or wetness of earwax. Last year, we explored why most East Asians and nearly all Koreans lack this gene — thereby saving them from the embarrassment of stinky armpits.

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Feature Image via Wikimedia Commons / Ricky Qi (CC BY 2.0)

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