What Your Earwax Says About You

A new study suggests earwax is not the same between races, with some people having more odor-causing chemical compounds in their earwax than others.

The number of volatile organic compounds, which are molecules that often produce a smell, is generally higher in Caucasians than in East Asians, found researchers from the Monell Center.

"Our previous research has shown that underarm odors can convey a great deal of information about an individual, including personal identity, gender, sexual orientation, and health status," study researcher George Preti, Ph.D., an organic chemist at Monell, said in a statement. "We think it possible that earwax may contain similar information."

Indeed, researchers noted that past findings have shown that people of East Asian descent, as well as people of Native American descent, possess a form of a gene that makes them have dry-type earwax -- versus wet, yellow-brown ear wax -- and less underarm body odor.

For the study, published online in the Journal of Chromatography B, researchers examined the earwax from eight healthy Caucasian men and eight healthy East Asian men. They heated the collected earwax in vials for 30 minutes so that the volatile organic compounds would be released from the earwax, which is known scientifically as cerumen. Then, researchers used a device to collect the compounds from the vials before using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to analyze the compounds.

Twelve different volatile organic compounds were identified in all the study participants' earwax. But the levels of these compounds differed between the Caucasian men and the East Asian men: The Caucasian men had higher levels of 11 of the 12 compounds, compared with the East Asian men.