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Dear Matt:

What is ear wax, and where does it come from?

-- M.S.G., San Diego

Inspired by your question, Ma Alice, always looking for a fast buck, is saving earwax in a little jar. Once she has enough, she plans to make candles and sell them at the swap meet. She's also found out that it will put a nice shine on the pickup, so she's looking for some venture capital hoping to put Turtle Wax out of business. It's got to be cheaper to get wax out of ears than out of turtles. Anyway, that gummy stuff (cerumen, technically) is chemically similar to beeswax and carnauba wax, so it should work.

Ear wax is actually a cousin to sweat. At any rate, it's exuded by modified apocrine sweat glands (ceruminous glands) located in the outer ear canal. Its purpose in life is to protect the eardrum from dust, bugs, and anything small enough to wander in there by trapping it in the gummy lining. Ear wax hasn't been the subject of major medical studies, but from what doctors can tell, it's produced at a more or less constant rate that is determined for each of us genetically.

So the next time you have a romantic candlelight dinner for two, stick a wick in your ear and light it. If you plan carefully, you could be finished with dessert just before your hair catches on fire.

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