Is earwax biodegradable? (7 materials of earwax)  

In this article, the biodegradability of earwax will be discussed. Other covered topics would be: 

  • What is earwax?
  • Is earwax good or bad?
  • What is earwax made of?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • Is ear wax biodegradable and eco-friendly?
  • FAQs

Is earwax biodegradable?

Yes, earwax is biodegradable. Earwax is made from natural materials like dead skin cells or glandular secretions and therefore can be degraded by the action of microbes. 

Earwax is involved in lubrication and protection applications while also warding off microbes. Excess earwax may also cause medical complications like irritation, loss of hearing and heaviness. 

Earwax may also act as an indicator if something is not right in the body by showing abnormal colours and frequency of build-up.

What is ear wax?

Do you remember the last time you used a cotton bud after a really long time? You might have noticed that there was white-yellow-coloured debris on your cotton bud which may have provoked an ‘eww’ reaction by you. 

In this article, we shall detail the debris that is collected when a person uses cotton buds. This debris is called ear wax and is also termed cerumen. 

It turns out that ear wax is not gross after all and is linked to many important functions in the human body. Ear wax serves as a protective layer and also as a lubricant. Ear wax protects your sensitive ear parts from all sorts of damage. 

Studies have elaborated that ear wax also has antimicrobial properties. What this means is that ear wax not only protects from visible dangers but also from invisible dangers such as microbes. 

If there is no ear wax then chances are that your ability to hear may be affected badly while also exposing your inner vulnerability to the attacks of microbes such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. 

However, it is claimed that the excess of everything is bad. It is known that excess amounts of earwax in the ears are also harmful and are associated with various negative impacts on the human body. 

Is ear wax good or bad? 

It already has been discussed that the primary function of earwax is to protect the ears from mechanical damage because ear wax acts as a lubricating agent. It also acts as a protective cover not only against physical harm but also against biological harm. 

Earwax is also claimed to be having antimicrobial properties and because of that, it protects the ear from the attacks of microbes like viruses, bacteria and fungi. 

However, it is not all glittery when it comes to the matter of ear wax. Studies have explored that excess earwax in the ears can cause medical complications which may include: 

  • Hearing loss
  • Sense of heaviness 
  • Pain in the ear
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Itchiness
  • Dizziness 
  • Behavioural abnormalities due to ear irritation and itching 

These complications can further aggravate or worsen if left untreated and therefore, it becomes incumbent to not take the matter of earwax lightly. 

It is also claimed that ear wax can also have other potential benefits as well. Ear wax can act as an indicator if anything is bad in your body. This can be done by analysing the frequency or colours of earwax buildup. 

If earwax buildup happens more often than usual and also you see abnormal coloured earwax then it is an indication that something is wrong in your body and you need to consult a doctor in this regard. 

If earwax is dry then it usually will be of dark white or light grey colours; whereas wet or oily earwax may exhibit honey or yellow colours. Genetics also have a role to play in the distinct subjective colours of ear wax. 

However, earwax should not be of other colours like green or blue and in this case, a medical checkup is necessary. The following people may be more prone to the excessive buildup of earwax: 

  • People with medical complications or developmental disabilities
  • People who use hearing aids
  • People who use cotton buds excessively 
  • People who use a lot of earphones or headphones
  • People who have a lot of ear hair which can result in excessive wax buildup 

What is earwax made of? (7 materials of earwax) 

The composition of earwax is important to unearth because the composition of earwax can unveil a lot about the reality of earwax. 

What ingredients makeup ear wax can reveal the extent of harm or benefit that earwax has on the environment and human health. 

If earwax is made from any harmful material then it is a possibility that earwax may be harmful to human health as well; however, if earwax is made from natural, non-harmful materials then earwax can be assumed to be good for both humans and the environment. 

The molecular deliberations have unveiled that ear wax is made from dead skin cells and hair of various glands situated in the periphery of the ears. If earwax remains for a long time, dust and debris might also add up to the composition of earwax. 

The glands from which secretion ear wax is made are: 

  • Ceruminous gland
  • Sebaceous gland

The reason why there are dead skin cells in the earwax is that in the region where earwax is made, there is a constant renewal of skin cells. As a result, there is an increased discharge and accumulation of dead skin cells in these areas. 

As per the molecular analysis, earwax is fundamentally made of: 

  • Fatty acids
  • Squalene
  • Alcohols
  • Cholesterol

What is biodegradability?

In order to proceed further and build a stance on the biodegradability of ear wax, it is important to know and acquaint yourself with the concept of biodegradability. 

Did you ever wonder what happens to dead animals, plants or even humans? Have you ever seen a dead dog by a highway with a very bad odour?

If you have, then you have also seen biodegradability. Biodegradability is the degradation by the action of microbes such as bacteria, fungi, viruses or decomposers. 

Biodegradability is the process of conversion of waste into simpler substances by the action of microbes. It can be said as a natural dustbin because if there is no biodegradability, there will be waste accumulation. This accumulated waste will be quite bad for life as well as the environment. 

Natural materials like animals, crops, and plants can degrade readily by the action of microbes. This degradation might take from some days to a few months to the max. 

However, man-made substances are not easily biodegradable. This is because these synthetic materials are not compatible with the microbes’ ability to break down and degrade. As a result, these synthetic materials might remain in the environment for hundreds of years. 

A good example can be plastics. Plastics are polymers that are synthesised in the lab. Polymers are non-biodegradable and may take more than 900 hundred years to degrade. 

Non-biodegradable products are associated with countless negative impacts on the environment as well as life. 

Since non-biodegradable waste can not be degraded, it may remain in the system for several hundred years and cause various harmful impacts. These impacts may include: 

  • Loss of life
  • Greenhouse gas emissions 
  • Pollution
  • Global warming
  • Destruction of habitats 
  • Infiltration into the food chains 
  • Destruction of ecosystems 
  • Soil erosion 
  • Deforestation
  • Depletion of water reserves
  • Damages to the crops 

The non-biodegradable waste can also impact human health. Several impacts of non-biodegradable waste on health are: 

  • Skin allergies
  • Cancer
  • Reproductive problems 
  • Neurological problems 
  • Eye infections
  • Rashes
  • Inflammation 
  • Necrosis 
  • Organ damage 
  • Psychological impacts 

Examples of non-biodegradable wastes are: 

  • Plastics 
  • Pesticides
  • Fertilisers
  • E-wastes
  • Rubbers
  • PET 
  • Shopping bags 
  • Packaging materials
  • Plastic bottles 
  • Nuclear Wastes

Is ear wax biodegradable? 

Yes, ear wax is biodegradable. This conclusion is made on the basis of the following key points: 

  • Natural materials can be degraded by the action of microbes like decomposers. 
  • Dead skin cells and glandular secretion are natural materials and not man-made
  • Studies show that earwax is usually made up of dead skin cells and glandular secretions 

Therefore, earwax is biodegradable. What this means is that earwax can be removed from the environment and will not cause any negative effects that have been mentioned in the previous sections of this article. 

As per analysis, earwax is fundamentally made of: 

  • Fatty acids
  • Squalene
  • Alcohols
  • Cholesterol

These substances are naturally occurring and thus microbes are able to degrade these substances readily. 

The next question is, is earwax harmful to the environment? 

Earwax can not be called harmful to the environment primarily because it is made from natural materials in the natural systems. There are no synthetic materials involved nor is there any usage of harmful chemicals or non-renewable resources used. Therefore, earwax is also eco-friendly and poses no harm to the environment as well. 

A product or a substance is termed harmful to the environment when: 

  • It is made from fossil fuels
  • It is made by using non-renewable resources
  • It is made from harmful chemicals 
  • It is non-biodegradable
  • Its disposal affects life
  • It can not be recycled 
  • It adds negative value to society and the world at large 
  • It disrupts natural ecosystems

Earwax does not checklist any of these points and therefore, it can be summed that earwax is not only biodegradable but also inert to the environment. 

Conclusion 

It can be concluded that earwax is made from natural materials like dead skin cells or glandular secretions and therefore can be degraded by the action of microbes. 

Earwax is involved in lubrication and protection applications while also warding off microbes. Excess earwax may also cause medical complications like irritation, loss of hearing and heaviness. 

Earwax may also act as an indicator if something is not right in the body by showing abnormal colours and frequency of build-up. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is earwax biodegradable?

Should you clean earwax with cotton buds?

No, you should not use cotton buds to remove earwax as they may damage your ears. There are various lotions available that can be used to soften and remove earwax. You may also use baby oil, mineral oil and glycerine to remove earwax. 

Is earwax harmful to health?

Excessive buildup of earwax may lead to medical complications such as irritation, itching or loss of hearing. The ringing of the ear may also happen because of earwax. 

References 

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