Ya, I know. Billion with a B. It's still incredibly hard for me to wrap my head around that number.
Sure enough though, that’s how many views #EarWax has on TikTok as of writing this article, 5/25/2022. Even more peculiar is the rising popularity in Earwax celebrities like Dr. Emily Taylor, an audiologist in Pikesville, Maryland, who boasts 1.1 million followers, showing videos of dinosaur sized balls of wax dribbling out of ears of all shapes and sizes.
With this kind of rise in popularity, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Dr. Taylor getting her own TV show on TLC, right after Sandra Lee’s Dr. Pimple Popper.
So what’s the deal with this fascination? Where did this all come from?
For the better part of the last decade, I’ve owned a medical device company called Blue Echo Care that specializes in ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) products. During that time, our ear wax removal brand, Cleanse Right, has seen a variety of ups and downs in the market but nothing like the last few months; sales on our marquee ear wax irrigation device has ballooned 300% on Amazon.
The above video is me getting a 3-D render of my ear for perfect-fitting ear plugs! These types of videos are immensely popular on Tiktok, some garnering millions of views. Thanks to Radha Joy At Pepp Now for this “Rad” video!
So why the sudden excitement about ear wax? Earwax removal remedies are literally thousands of years old – ear candling can be traced back to the Egyptians in 2500 BC (side note; absolutely under no circumstances should you, your family, your dog, your grandma or anyone engage in “ear candling”; it does not work and the FDA explicitly states it as dangerous).
Cotton swabs, a more contemporary choice for ear cleaning, were invented back in 1923 by Leo Gerstenzang (another side note: cotton swabs are awesome; just not in your ears. it even says on the packaging; “Not for use in ears”)
I spoke with a friend of mine, Portland based audiologist, Vanessa Rentschler, Au.D., CCC-A, to get some insight into this strange and sudden trend and her initial response made me laugh, “As an audiologist, who has been working in and around ears for almost 20 years, is… I have no idea!”
Which was quickly followed up by some insightful perspective, a deep dive into behavioral research and something called “disgust response”, and a comparison to the aforementioned pimple-popping videos,
“Cerumen (ear wax) is like any other bodily substance- a biological trait that has evolved to keep the organism clean and healthy. Using brain imaging (fMRI), researchers have found a pattern of activity that connects brain regions that encode pleasure and aversion, with the region that predicts the outcome of physical actions. Greater activation of these networks was found in the test group who enjoyed watching pimple popping videos, as compared to the group that did not. Not unlike the feeling of watching a scary movie for fun, the autonomic nervous system activation can be enjoyable when one is safe in the knowledge that it is not real. It is perhaps this act of modulating the disgust reaction that makes these videos appealing, as watching a video of pimple-popping (or earwax removal) involves no real risk of pathogen exposure. (1)”
In other words, the science behind this behavior can be boiled down to the following:
Just like watching a scary movie can be enjoyable, some people like to watch videos of bodily functions (like ear wax removal) because it allows them to observe without any risk of contracting disease, even if that inherent risk (in this case, touching ear wax) is essentially none.
What I find so interesting about all of this though, is when you scroll through the comment sections of some of these videos. You start seeing the same type of comments over and over again:
Why is this so satisfying,, I NEED THIS! ! !
𝔖𝔱𝔯𝔞𝔫𝔤𝔢𝔯 𝔱𝔥𝔦𝔫𝔤𝔰 writes:
Why is this actually satisfying
Why is this so satisfying
It makes me laugh seeing how even the people watching the videos are having trouble pinpointing why they’re so interested in them.
Alright, that’s it for the day. Keep those ears clean and thanks as always for checking out the site. Oh, and if you ever make one of these videos and realize you need your ears cleaned out, we got every at-home device you could need, from drops to irrigation kits.
1- Wabnegger, A., Höfler, C., Zussner, T., Freudenthaler, H. H., & Schienle, A. (2021). Enjoyment of watching pimple popping videos: An fMRI investigation. Behavioural brain research, 402, 113129. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2021.113129