Study Says Your Race Determines Your Earwax Scent

Kat Chow, NPR, March 20, 2014

I’m not sure what type of situation would lead you to compare your earwax with anybody else’s earwax. (Because, gross.) But researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center have found that the smell of ear gold varies by race. The volatile organic compounds in earwax—call it cerumen, if you’re in a scientific mood—can contain key information about your body and your environment.


The head researcher, George Preti, has been looking into animal and human body odors for more than 40 years. He tells me he’s had a “long-standing interest” in underarm odor. Preti came across an article from Japanese researchers that examined the scents of East Asians and people of European backgrounds, and he says it linked earwax to underarm odor.


Preti says that regardless of race, we all produce the same odors—just in different amounts. For instance: White men have more volatile organic compounds in their earwax than Asian men.

The researchers compared samples from East Asian and Caucasian men. (They’re planning on sampling women—whose scents change during menstrual cycles—in the future, and don’t think the results will change.)

If you’re East Asian, for example, the scents of your earwax and underarms are most likely different from those of non-Asians. The earwax from the study’s East Asian donors was “consistently drier and colorless.” The samples of the white donors were “yellow and sticky in nature.”

Also mentioned in the study: “Africans” have “wet, yellowish-brown wax,” and Native Americans—similar to East Asian folks—typically have “dry, white wax.”

“The difference between [the earwax] is caused by a single gene in the genome. And a change in that single gene gives you different earwax and different underarm odor,” Preti explains.


One of the burning questions I had for Preti after learning about the research was: Does earwax really have a scent that’s strong enough for me, a mere human, to notice sans equipment?

“If you take a Q-tip and roll it around in your ear and stick it around in your nose,” Preti tells me, “I think you’d be able to smell it. Give it a try.”

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  • D.B. Cooper

    Jeezus H. Kryst! Look at the name of whatever wrote this article! I think he’s been sniffing too many ear wax candles.

  • MekongDelta69

    This gets my nomination for AmRen’s ludicrous article of the month!

    • Martel

      A breakthrough for the HBD community. Case closed egalitarians!

    • Oil Can Harry

      If you recall the movie Blue Velvet (1986) it begins with police finding a human ear in a field.

      Maybe with this technology the authorities would at least know the race of the victim in a similar real life situation.

      • Bon, From the Land of Babble

        Forensic scientists can already determine the race of an individual from DNA samples…but to keep their jobs, these same scientists have to claim that “race doesn’t exist.”

    • Black Swan

      A lot of liberal ideas, when they’re first proposed, are laughable – all the way up until the time they’re implemented.

      It won’t be long until the government creates a new Department of Ear Wax Analysis complete with an Earwax Diversity czar

      • LHathaway

        Being a racist is something abhorrent. . . Being gay, that’s just fine. .. .

    • Jim

      That’s why AMREN doesn’t post their own news items. So they can’t be accused of making this stuff up. They take the articles from the media. So technically, this is “NPR’s ludicrous article of the month.”

      Not real hard to figure out.

  • David Ashton

    We had a cat that loved eating human earwax and also loved music jumping up on the piano stool, dribbling and yowling with pleasure at the treble notes. (I don’t see why useless personal anecdotes on the AmRen site should be the exclusive prerogative of Nordic Episcopalians.)

  • WR_the_realist

    This is one of those articles that makes you suddenly very self conscious. I didn’t even know my ear wax had a scent.

  • At the risk of starting another sectional dispute the way I did last week, we southerners told you Yankees that “N*****s stink! We don’t want to be around them cause they stink and they’re stupid.” You Yankees told us we were crazy. Well, boo on you. We were right. My dogs recognize that jungle smell, which proves my dogs are smarter than a Yankee! Pugg will support me on that, I’m sure.

    • Reverend Bacon

      It’s also their breath. Mouth bacteria also is a characteristic property of race.


    • Puggg

      I’ll vouch for pugs. The other breeds are on their own.

    • LSD

      That is correct, bigone4u. Negroes stink!
      My first experience was in 7th grade gym class. I walked by the lockers where two blacks classmates were at and the smell made my spine freeze.
      I’ll never forget that and immediately thinking, “they are different”.
      I’m from Pennsylvania with a very liberal background but nothing can cover up that body odor.
      Yes, Southerners, you were right. Too bad our teachers never mentioned it.

    • John R

      All right, all right! Enough of the “I told you so’s” I agree with you, or I wouldn’t be on this website. And I am sure, by now, many other “Yankees” do, too.

    • capnmorgan5150

      I was at a convenience store about a month ago. As I walked in the door, I got hit with this disgusting pungent scent. Then I saw two fat black women and realized where it came from. Ugh! They totally stink!

    • Brian

      They claim we whites smell like wet dogs. I can’t detect it, but put a blindfold on me and I can sniff out whether a man in front of me is white or black, usually.

  • Pelagian

    “If you take a Q-tip and roll it around in your ear and stick it around in your nose,” Preti tells me, “I think you’d be able to smell it. Give it a try.”

    Except you are not supposed to use Q-tips to get your wax out. It says so right on the box. (-:

    • Who Me?

      Why? Why in the name of all that’s holy would ANYBODY do a study on the different scents of ear wax? WHY? Why would anybody pay for this?

  • Pelagian

    I knew that when there was some sort of distinction being drawn by race, there would be a clawback in the article pretty quickly. And sure enough there is. But this one doesn’t even make sense:

    Here’s the clawback:

    Preti says that regardless of race, we all produce the same odors—just in different amounts.

    How does that square with the thesis:

    researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center have found that the smell of ear gold varies by race. …{and} Preti came across an article from Japanese researchers that examined the scents of East Asians and people of European backgrounds, and he says it linked earwax to underarm odor.

    • Brian

      The same way that the same twelve notes get combined in different ways to make different songs.

  • dd121

    I KNEW blacks stunk. Now science confirms it.

  • pcmustgo

    Blacks are always saying “whites smell like wet dogs”. It’s one of the top racist things they say about us. My friend was accosted the other day by a racist black woman screaming that on the bus.

    • Reverend Bacon

      I love the smell of my dog when he’s wet and just had a bath. It’s unlikely I’d say the same about your friend’s bus lady.

  • Bon, From the Land of Babble

    Will Affirmative Action obamacare doctors be required to check ear wax to see if you’re getting getting enough gay sex?

    This could lead to massive fines or even jail time!!

  • DudeWheresMyCountry?

    Even if they are very hygienic and clean they just have a funky smell. It is hard to get past that funk if you get close to a female. The males I imagine probably smell like feces and BO.

    • 1stworlder

      Where are these hygienic and clean blacks?

  • r j p

    I found a paper on this a few years ago but can’t find it anymore.
    blacks kidneys don’t function the same as White.
    blacks essentially sweat urine, called bromhidrosis, also known as bromidrosis I believe.
    Of course the internet is being sanitized so you won’t likely find anything mentioning blacks.

    • 1stworlder

      They need their glomerular filtration rate calculated differently because they evolved to retain more salt. They are also the only ones that have a significant modification on lung tests.

    • Pelagian


      This sort of research is going to die out because it won’t get funding any more. Old studies are valueless studies. Academia will make sure of that.

  • The only thing I know about ear wax is that from whites it is yellow and waxy, while from east Asians it is grey and crumbly. There’s really no such thing as biology, though: is there?

    • mia

      Michael, my Asian coworker gave me an ear cleaning wand that had 2 different ends to deal with either Asian or Caucasian ear wax. I had gotten a wad of 99 cent store faux Q-tip faux cotton stuck in my ear and it was driving me batty. She told me to use the scoop (Asian) end to remove the offending stuff. It worked! Now I use the Caucasian end to clean my ears. It looks like a honey wand.

      • I use Q-tips soaked in a 50-50 mix of isopropyl alcohol and acetone. The way I see it, if one can’t get a cleaning job done well enough, one should use chemicals. .

        It stings a bit but also feels good.

        I also use a little “pool shock” to clean the toilets at home. If I didn’t use my own name here, I’d have to post as “Uncle Fester”.

      • That might be the weirdest post I’ve ever read. Thanks.

  • IstvanIN

    When I was a kid we always thought blacks smelled funny because they ate so much cat fish. Who knew it was natural.

    • r j p

      They eat river carp in Kansas City.
      Carp eats feces and garbage off the bottom.
      I couldn’t believe it when I saw an ad for it.
      In WV if caught a carp we cut it up and used it as bait.

    • Catfish are really good, but one must cook them thoroughly.

      • Who Me?

        I kept various freshwater fish in large home aquariums for over 25 years, including some cute dwarf catfish. I know what they eat. You couldn’t pay me to eat a catfish!

        • Malgus

          Oh, you’d be surprised what you will eat when you get hungry enough… trust me.

    • Einsatzgrenadier

      Everyone knows that blacks stink more than whites. This is old knowledge too. For example, in his 1784 book A Tour in the United States of America, the English tourist John F.D. Smyth wrote:

      As I observed before, at least two-thirds of the inhabitants are negroes, whose difference of features and colour, and rank offensive smell, are extremely disagreeable and disgustful to Europeans: but, poor creatures! they are all humility and submission; and it is the greatest pleasure of their lives, when they can please the whites.

      This scientific review of the evidence (1980) concludes that Africans are capable of producing significantly greater quantities of malodorous axillary substance than either Caucasian or Mongoloid populations:

      Variation in the axillary apocrine sweat glands of various human populations is explored with a view to establishing whether to commonly-held notion that different varieties of humans may be distinguished by their body odor. A review of the mechanisms of axillary sweating is provided, and the various effects of skin flora, axillary hair, clothing and certain disorders are shown. Although there is some controversy on the subject of “racial” variation in body odor, it is determined that African blacks probably produce the greatest amount of apocrine sweat, which is the known substrate for axillary odor. They are also found to have the highest eccrine gland count, which may play a role in thermal radiation of body sweat. Mongolian populations are found to be quite high in the number of eccrine sweat glands, but have a general paucity of functioning osmidrotic apocrine sweat glands, which would seem to account for their known lack of body odor.


      • Pelagian


        but, poor creatures! they are all humility and submission; and it is the greatest pleasure of their lives, when they can please the whites.

  • John R

    Why don’t they just come out and say it? “NI%^ERS SMELL!!”

  • This is good news because I was just saying we need more diversity of earwax.

    • Brian

      How can we disrupt the deodorant-to-prison pipeline?

  • Malgus

    And to think, us poor schmoes paid for this earth-shaking research via some Government grant….


  • Jim

    Astute American Indian scouts could discern the race of people by smell. White southernors knew first hand about the aroma of blacks. (I’m not a southernor, but I’ve heard this often.) All of this has been called racial “mythology.” Apparently, this research refutes that.

    If you can tell the difference between a white person and a black person based on sight, then why not smell? How is one way more “racist” than another?

    There are also some sonic differences between black and white voices, differences that go beyond accent and diction. I can hear it in voice over narration. Those differences don’t occur all of the time, but they do occur. Black male voices sometimes have a grainy or gravelly character to them, even when they speak with white diction. As I said, not all of the time, but sometimes.

    As far as smell, this may explain why black males sometimes prefer kind of a musky more pungent cologne than men of other races. (Or maybe their perspiration affects the scent of the cologne.)

    • TL2014

      The differences in vocal quality are attributable to different anatomies: a differently shaped vocal tract as well as vocal folds with more muscle mass in people of African descent. These factors contribute to what is commonly perceived as the distinctly increased resonance of “black” voices.

    • Pelagian

      All this is considered “rayciss”, just as bad as Hiler lol.

      But ill throw another log on the fire: opera.
      Black opera singers rarely sing as well as Whites. Because opera has been written for white voices. Though I did see some sort of Hispanic from Miami sing opera and he was really really good. Heavyset guy of course.

      • Jim

        I’m not aware of any great black male tenors in opera, but then I don’t follow it very closely.

    • My grandmother told me one reason they made the blacks sit at the back of the bus is because they stunk to high heavens.

      • Pelagian

        Well yeah… the “back of the bus” thing is now ranked as the #2 All Time Worst Human Rights violation behind the Shoah. But it was a customary rule (albeit codified into law in a few places for the benefit of transients ) … which had its roots in a lot of common sense, including the fact that people use buses to get caught up on the gossip of their respective communities.

    • DiversityIsDeath

      In Bergen County NJ all the Koreans smell of pickled garlic. It’s because of their diet. Ever get in an elevator with them?

  • Jim

    Or maybe “good” from their perspective.

  • Carney3

    My doctor, an Oriental female, is amazed at my earwax whenever she examines me, both its quantity and texture.

    My wife, who is Mediterranean, says she has never come across anything like it, and now is equally astonished that our kids have inherited that trait from me. So it’s not just racial, I think there’s a northern European / southern European thing there too.

    To me my wax always smelled vaguely like dried fruit. Never tasted it though.

  • Keep Honkin, I’m Reloading

    So their ear wax smells like feet and ass?

  • Pelagian

    One of the most perduring race-based customs is for American blacks to have one of those car fresheners hanging from their rearview mirror. This has been going on since the 70s, and is a one-for-one marker of a black vehicle. I can see that jagged-tree swinging from the mirror at 100-yards … even before I can determine whether the occupants are white or black (as easy as that is – a car full of blacks seems to just suck out all the light).

    I would have thought that this custom of hanging a “stink tree” (as we used to reverently call them) would’ve fallen into abeyance after the 1970s and the “pimp wagon”, but it hasn’t.

    I wonder if it is the consciousness of the black community that they smell “different” than the majority community and are trying to hide it?.

    FWIW, I also thought cars of gays smelled different whenever I was riding with a gay co-worker. Or is it all just psychological?

    ps those car fresheners smell awful to me.