WTF is sebum?

So this first blog post is going to be a bit, shall we say, icky.

We're going to talk about sebum.

"See what?" you say?

Sebum. No, it's not a Beavis and Butthead pun/joke, it's real stuff. More commonly known as:

"Ear Wax"

Yep. Bet ya didn't stop to think there's a technical name to that gunky yellowish stuff in your ears! Your mom probably never told you to clean the sebum from your auditory meatus (ear canal).

Sebum is actually a secretion from the sebaceous glands in the ear. You know that shiny oil on your face that you so diligently scrub off daily? That's from the sebaceous glands on your face. In fact, all your skin contains these little glands, and they excrete (quit laughing, Beavis!) sebum, a waxy/oily substance that actually protects your skin. Keeps it moist and healthy and helps protect against microbial infections.

Well, in the ears, the same thing happens. However, because of the shape and location of the ear canal (aimed down/in to your head, and surrounded by nice and warm body parts), it tends to accumulate and coagulate into earwax.

Gross, eh?

So why the heck are we even talking about this stuff, right? Well it turns out that sebum is actually ACIDIC! Yes, you're literally like the alien in Alien - except they had acid INSIDE their body, not oozing on the outside! How cool is THAT?

Anyway, sebum is acidic, with a pH between 3 and 5 (Durkee, 2006). Now, to some of you, that will give you an instant idea of how caustic earwax really can be. To the rest, you'll go "pH what"? So let's cover pH a bit...

pH is a measure of how acidic or basic a water-based solution is. The range goes from 0 to 14. A value of 7 is considered "neutral" - neither acidic or basic. What are acids and bases? Chemical substances that either donate or steal hydrogen ions (acids donate, bases steal).

Think about water - you know, H2O. Steal a hydrogen ion from water, and you've changed the water; it now has a negative charge and will become reactive with other things. It is akin to a chemical burn. Likewise, force an extra ion in, and you get positively charged molecules and again that chemical burn. And those burns come because the acid or base are pulling or pushing those ions from or into YOUR BODY.

(The real, full explanation is pretty intense and deep; for now, we're using a really high-level "good enough" analogy of the basics).

How far away the pH value is from 7 - neutral - tells us how strong the acid or base really is. Here's some values that will be of interest:

Lye - that powder used in Breaking Bad and other shows, that bad guys use to dissolve bodies - has a pH around 14 (really strong base)

Ammonia - wicked strong cleaner, has a pH around 11.

Seawater - yes, good ol' ocean water, is around 8 (bet ya didn't realize the ocean was base!)

Blood - yes, your BLOOD - is around 7.4 - slightly base.

Purified, distilled water, is around 7.

Coffee is around 5 - it's acidic (and that's why it's hard on tooth enamel).

Lemon juice? It's around 2 - strong, but that's why we find it in organic cleaning solutions. Because it actually dissolves stuff!

Battery acid/hydrochloric acid - around 0. Incredibly strong stuff.

So, now that we have a range of pH values to familiarize ourselves with, where does sebum fit in? Remember, it's around 3 to 5 - so it's somewhere between lemon juice and coffee. So somewhere between organic kitchen cleaners and stuff you consume to stay awake.

Why does this matter? Go back to what we make - in-ear products. What touches that inner part of your ear? The earbuds! Yep, those tips. Now put 2 and 2 together (or 10 and 10 for you binary counters), and you SHOULD have an "a ha!" moment. If not...

Your earbuds are, effectively, constantly in contact with an ACID. Yep, those little tips are essentially bathed in an acid, something along the lines of kitchen cleaner. Eek! Kind of surprising, isn't it? And this is why your earbuds start to decompose. Ever wonder why foam earbuds die after a month or so? Because they're literally SOAKING IN ACID. Acids break down things like silicones and polyurethanes.

There are ways to delay this - use materials that are blended with medical-grade compounds so they better resist acidic reactions. It's why our foam earbuds will last 3-4 months, while our competitors dissolve and fall apart in 4-6 weeks. It's why our silicone earbuds stay flexible for 3-6 months, while others harden up in half that time.

However, even our earbuds made with medical-grade silicones and urethanes aren't bullet-proof. They WILL BREAK DOWN. They last longer, but won't last forever. And that's why we sell replacement sets. Because your current set WILL GET EATEN AWAY BY YOUR OWN BODY SECRETIONS. You need to replace them every 3-4 months to maintain a quality fit and seal (and, really, just to be hygenic).

(This is also why we pack 4 pairs to a set - so you can replace your set every 3 months, and have replacements for a full year. Every 90 days, pop out a new pair and put them on, and continue with great audio sound)

So there you have it - everything (and more) that you probably wanted to know about earwax and why you need to use quality replacement earbuds - like our Hydrogen units - every 3 or so months, to keep the sound going great.