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What Does Your Earwax Smell Like?

Your earwax's odor is unique

smithsonian.com

Have you ever smelled your own earwax? How about your friend's earwax? Here's a fun game: go over to your coworker, your family member, the person at the coffee shop next to you, and ask them if you can smell their earwax. Tell them it's for science. We'll wait.

Back? Good. The science we're interested here isn't about personal space, or a measure of how awkward a request needs to be before you get bopped on the nose. It's actually about earwax, and the smell of said earwax. Because, apparently, people's earwax smells differently, and the variations depend on your race. Racial differences are based on the genes you bear, and according to a new study, earwax odor is just one of the many variables these genes determine.

First, picture scientists in white lab coats hunched over, smelling people's earwax. Ok, fine, the research was more scientific than that. (But it's a fun image, isn't it?) In the study, led by Katharine Prokop-Prigge, the researchers measured the types and quantities of volatile organic compounds coming off of earwax samples. “Regardless of race, we all produce the same odors — just in different amounts,” says Kat Chow for NPR, summarizing the results. “For instance: White men have more volatile organic compounds in their earwax than Asian men.”

And, as Prokop-Prigge explains in this video for the Monell Center, a person's earwax odor is so unique that you can identify people by its smell.

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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