CLOSE
Original image
istock

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Wax

Original image
istock

What do sperm whales, lipstick, and gummy bears have in common? They all contain wax. Read on to find out what wax is, what it’s done for you lately, and where exactly earwax fits in to the picture.

What Is Wax, Anyway?

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines wax as any of a class of pliable substances of animal, plant, mineral, or synthetic origin that differ from fats in being less greasy, harder, and more brittle and in containing principally compounds of high molecular weight. 

Like paraffin, which is a byproduct of petroleum refinement, many waxes are manmade—but a surprising waxy smorgasbord also appears in the natural world. We’ve all been told to mind our beeswax, which worker bees secrete from glands on their bellies, but what about our sheep wax? Lanolin—the oil that makes sheep wool so soft—is technically also a wax.

And then there’s whale wax. The head cavities of sperm whales are filled with a wax called spermaceti. Scientists aren’t sure what the wax does, exactly, but they think it may help with buoyancy or echolocation. Early seamen mistook the head wax for semen, which is how the sperm whale got its malapropic name.

But the animal kingdom doesn’t have a monopoly on waxes. The carnauba palm and the candelilla plant both produce wax to help their leaves retain moisture in the heat, and the stem of the sugarcane plant is swaddled in a thin layer of wax. Carnauba wax is the hardest natural wax and is known as the “Queen of Waxes” (what an honor), but all three varieties are harvested on a grand scale, processed, and applied to some very unlikely targets. 

How Is Wax Used?

The applications of our friend Wax are nearly endless, and range from the obvious—candles, crayons, and cars—to the downright sneaky. Eagle-eyed consumers can find wax in…

Cosmetics. Going far beyond the basic bikini wax, beauty products have embraced the flexibility, shine, and durability that wax has to offer. Paraffin, beeswax, carnauba wax, lanolin, and even spermaceti are added to lipstick, mascara, deodorant, eye shadow, eye pencils, skin creams, shaving cream, make-up removers, and shampoo.

Drugs. Just a coat of carnauba makes the medicine go down—drug manufacturers spray tablets with a thin coat of wax to make the pills easier to swallow.

Fruit. Did you really think apples were naturally that shiny? Did you think pears just last for months in nature? Much of the conventionally grown produce you’ll find in the grocery store has been shellacked with food-grade wax to keep it fresh and make it pretty. (In small quantities, the wax doesn’t do any harm to the human digestive system, but if you’re freaked out by polished fruit, the wax is easy enough to wash off.) For those who are curious: Yes, waxed fruit is still Kosher.

Sugary Snacks. Remember that time you accidentally bit off a piece of those wax lips you were wearing and wondered if it was okay to swallow it? Rest easy—you’ve probably eaten more wax than you’ll ever know. Edible waxes lend gloss and staying power to fruit snacks, chocolate chips, soft drinks, gummy bears, Altoids, Tic Tacs, Skittles, chewing gum, donuts, juice, cake frosting … you get the point.

Where Does Earwax Fit In?

Earwax, tragically, is not really a wax at all, but a water-soluble mixture of ear oils, hair, and dead skin (sorry—you weren’t eating, were you?) that helps protect our tender inner ears from damage and infection. The technical term for this ear gunk is “cerumen,” from the Latin word for “wax,” so at least it’s not like we’re the first ones to make that mistake. 

As gross as it might seem, earwax is supposed to be there, and doctors advise against cleaning it out yourself. They know you won’t listen. 

What Does Your Earwax Say About You?

It may not be wax, but cerumen still has a lot to offer. In recent years, scientists have discovered that the type of earwax you have—the wet, yellow-brown kind or the dry white kind—seems to be determined by your ethnicity. People with roots in China, Japan, and Korea are far more likely to have dry white earwax than folks from other parts of the world.

Earwax type may also be a predictor of disease. In 2007, a Japanese team discovered that a gene responsible for breast cancer can also cause super-smelly armpits and goopy wet earwax. Don’t be too worried if you’ve got the stinky-pits-sticky-ears combo, though—the trifecta isn’t a sure bet. “At this point the research is very early,” USC-LA’s Dr. Christy Russell told WebMD, “and women should not be concerned.”

Other researchers see earwax as a time capsule, recording information like the rings of a tree. Since baleen whales do not use Q-tips, their earwax accumulates in their ear canals as they age. Scientists analyzing these massive earwax plugs can trace the rising and falling of stress hormones, pollutants, and other chemicals throughout the whale’s life, a gunky biography.

Fighting Fire with Earwax

One last little earwax nugget before we close: Cerumen, or cerumen flavor, anyway, can also be a punishment. Researchers at Penn State conducted an experiment in which volunteers—all women of color—conversed via Instant Messenger with a “racist” (actually a research assistant making intentionally offensive comments). After the conversation, the women were asked to choose which flavor of jellybean the offender would be given: cherry, lemon, earwax, or dirt. Volunteers who did not directly confront their conversation partner’s racist statements were far more likely to feed the offender earwax-flavored jellybeans. The experiment seems bizarre, but the world would be a very different place if every racist statement earned its speaker a talking-to or a mouthful of earwax. 

So be kind. Put the Q-Tip down. And wax on, dear readers. Wax off.

Original image
Scott Jarvie
arrow
Design
Optical Illusion Rug Creates a Bottomless Void in Your Floor
Original image
Scott Jarvie

Artist Scott Jarvie doesn’t believe home goods need to be warm and inviting to earn a spot in the house. That’s certainly the case with his mind-bending void rug: When viewed from a certain perspective, the interior design piece inspires feelings of dread rather than comfort.

According to designboom, Jarvie achieved the rug’s bottomless black hole illusion using clever, two-dimensional design elements. To people standing directly over it, the item resembles a shaded crescent moon cupping a flat black circle. But adjust your position, and the simple rug morphs into a stomach-turning void in the middle of your living room floor.

If the circular rug isn’t trippy enough, Jarvie also made a rectangular runner that can turn an entire hallway into an empty pit. Neither rug is something you’d want to forget you own on a midnight trip to the bathroom.

Void rug optical illusion.

Jarvie’s art isn’t limited to floor rugs that trick the eye. The Scotland-based artist’s creative furniture and home decor includes laundry balls, a cling wrap dispenser, and a chair made from 10,000 plastic drinking straws.

Void rug optical illusion.

Void rug optical illusion.

[h/t designboom]

All images courtesy of Scott Jarvie.

Original image
Amazon
arrow
Smart Shopping
This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
Original image
Amazon

As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers (including Amazon) and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

GADGETS, TOYS, AND MEDIA

Funko Pop Television Bob Ross Collectible Figure for $9.99 (list price $10.99)

SanDisk Ultra CZ48 32GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive Transfer Speeds Up To 100MB/s-SDCZ48-032G-UAM46 for $11.99 (list price $19.99)

[Upgraded to 6700mAh] Anker Astro E1 Candy-Bar Sized Ultra Compact Portable Charger, External Battery Power Bank, with High-Speed Charging PowerIQ Technology (Black) for $16.99 (list price $59.99)

Mpow Car Phone Mount,CD Slot Car Phone Holder Universal Car Cradle Mount with Three-Side Grips and One-Touch Design for iPhone 8/8Plus/7/7Plus/6s/6P/5S, Galaxy S5/S6/S7/S8, Google, LG, Huawei and More for $9.99 (list price $23.99)

Solar Charger, 10000mAh Solar Power Bank Portable Battery Pack Cellphone Charger with 2 LED Flashlights, Solar Panel with Compass and Carabiner for IOS and Android Cellphones(Orange) for $23.99 (list price $69.99)

Anker 60W 10-Port USB Wall Charger, PowerPort 10 for iPhone 7 / 6s / Plus, iPad Pro / Air 2 / mini, Galaxy S7 / S6 / Edge / Plus, Note 5 / 4, LG, Nexus, HTC and More for $32.99 (list price $99.99)

Dutch Blitz for $8.96 (list price $12.99)

OontZ Angle 3 PLUS Edition 10W+ Portable Bluetooth Speaker, Richer Bass, 30-Hour Playtime, Dual Proprietary Drivers for Superior Sound, Water Resistant IPX5 Wireless Speaker by Cambridge SoundWorks for $33.99 (list price $89.99)

LEGO Classic Creative Supplement 10693 for $16.19 (list price $19.99)

Cambivo Bluetooth Headphones, Wireless Earbuds w/Noise Cancellation Microphone, IPX7 Waterproof HD Stereo Sweatproof Earphones, for Running, Gym and Workout 10 Hour Battery Headset for $19.99 (list price $49.99)

NEXGADGET Detachable Multi-Port USB Charging Station, 24W 4-Port USB Charging Dock (Gold) for $29.99 (list price $69.99)

KITCHEN

Ado Glo Kitchen Shears - Stainless Steel Multi-Function Kitchen Scissors with Sharp Blade - Professional Poultry Shears for $12.95 (list price $49.99)

TedGem 6 Pack Silicone Stretch Lids, Various Sizes Expandable Durable Reusable Silicone Stretch Wrap, BPA FREE , Heat Resistant, Dishwasher, Microwave and Oven Safe Stretch Lids Covers for $9.98 (list price $19.99)

OMorc Ice Cube Trays 4 Pack, Easy-Release Silicone and Flexible 14-Ice Trays with Spill-Resistant Removable Lid, LFGB Certified & BPA Free, Stackable Durable and Dishwasher Safe for $12.99 (list price $29.99)

Fred UNZIPPED Hand-Blown Glass Bowl for $17.12 (list price $20.00)

MIRA 34 oz Double Wall All Stainless Steel French Press For Coffee or Tea | Insulated Coffee Pot & Maker Keeps Brewed Coffee or Tea Warm for Hours (34 oz French Press with Bonus Long Spoon) for $19.99 (list price $44.99)

Utopia Kitchen Premium Class Stainless-Steel 12 Knife Set with Acrylic Stand for $35.69 (list price $299.99)

GDEALER Waterproof Meat Thermometer Digital Super Fast Instant Read Thermometer BBQ Thermometer with Calibration and Backit Function Cooking Thermometer for Food, Candy, Milk, Tea, BBQ Grill Smokers for $14.99 (list price $33.99)

Emoji Party Wine Charm Set of 12 Funny Unique Emojies Silicone Suction Theme Label Champagne Glass Bottle Mug Glassware Marker Accessories Gift Idea for Women Men Boy Girl kid Happy Birthday for $6.99 (list price $20.99)

SimpleTaste Egg Cooker Egg Steamer Electric Egg Poacher Egg Boiler 7 Egg Capacity for $17.99 (list price $28.99)

The Original GORILLA GRIP (TM) Set of 3 Non-Slip Reversible Cutting Boards, BPA Free, FDA Approved Materials (Set of 3 Boards: Black) for $17.99 (list price $39.99)

Crock-Pot 6 Qt 8-in-1 Multi-Use Express Crock Programmable Slow Cooker, Pressure Cooker, Sauté, and Steamer, Stainless Steel (SCCPPC600-V1) for $67.99 (list price $79.99)

Sistema Klip It Collection Cracker Food Storage Container, Large, 60 Ounce/ 7.5 Cup for $8.70 (list price $12.49)

Icicle Funnel Collapsible Set of 2, Foldable Funnel for Liquid Transfer 100% Food Grade Silicone (Blue & Green) for $5.97 (list price $11.20)

Blendtec TB-621-25 Total Blender Classic with WildSide+ Jar, Black (Certified Refurbished) for $189.99 (list price $224.97)

Kitchen Utensils - 8 Piece Cooking Utensils - Nonstick Utensil Set - Silicone and Stainless Steel Kit - For Pots and Pans - Serving Tongs, Spoon, Spatula Tools, Pasta Server, Ladle, Strainer, Whisk for $24.95 (list price $59.99)

Waiters Corkscrew by HiCoup – Professional Grade Natural Rosewood All-in-one Corkscrew, Bottle Opener and Foil Cutter, the Favoured Choice of Sommeliers, Waiters and Bartenders Around the World for $10.44 (list price $25.95)

Set of 9 Grey Beverage Chilling Stones [Chill Rocks] Whiskey Stones for Whiskey and other Beverages - in Gift Box with Velvet Carrying Pouch - Made of 100% Pure Soapstone - by Quiseen for $10.00 (list price $18.99)

HOME

Printed Blackout Room Darkening Color Block Grommet Curtain Panel 52 inch wide by 84 inch long - Decorative Curtains by Utopia Bedding (Printed Grey) for $21.99 (list price $39.99)

URPOWER Essential Oil Diffuser 130ml Wood Grain Ultrasonic Aromatherapy Oil Diffuser with Adjustable Mist Mode Waterless Auto Shut-off humidifier and 7 Color Changing LED Lights for Home Office Baby for $21.99 (list price $49.99)

Portable Garment Steamers for Clothes, Aicok 200ml High Capacity Handheld Travel Clothes Steamer, 900W Fast-Heat Powerful Fabric Steamer Perfect for Home and Travel, with Brush & Travel Pouch, Black for $25.99 (list price $89.99)

Whitmor Supreme Wide Stacking Shelf, Chrome for $15.35 (list price $32.02)

Mellanni Bed Sheet Set - Brushed Microfiber 1800 Bedding - Wrinkle, Fade, Stain Resistant - Hypoallergenic - 4 Piece (Queen, White) for $19.70 (list price $59.99)

LIHAO 12 Piece Set Rustproof Stainless Steel Shower Curtain Rings Hooks for Bathroom Shower Rod for $5.97 (list price $16.99)

Yankee Candle Large Jar Candle, Guave Coconut Fusion for $17.56 (list price $22.86)

ThermoPro TP55 Digital Hygrometer Indoor Thermometer Humidity Gauge with Jumbo Touchscreen and Backlight Temperature Humidity Monitor for $13.99 (list price $29.99)

TasteLife 105 GSM Deep Pocket Bed Sheet Set Brushed Hypoallergenic Microfiber 1800 Bedding Sheets Wrinkle, Fade, Stain Resistant - 4 Piece(White,Queen) for $14.90 (list price $119.90)

Dirt Devil Scorpion Quick Flip Corded Bagless Handheld Vacuum SD20005RED for $24.99 (list price $29.99)

Body Pillowcase, 100% Cotton, 300 Thread Count, 21x60 Pillow Cover by American Pillowcase, Fits 20 x 54, White for $14.99 (list price $23.96)

StorageManiac 3-tier Folding Water-Resistant Compact Steel Clothes Drying Rack - 22.44x14.57x41.34 - Inches for $29.99 (list price $69.99)

ComfiLife Coccyx Orthopedic Memory Foam Office Chair and Car Seat Cushion for Back Pain and Sciatica Relief (Gray) for $29.95 (list price $59.95)

Nontoxic EVA Shower Curtain Clear, Wimaha Mildew Resistant Anti-Bacterial Shower Curtain Liner Waterproof Water Repellent Shower Liner, 72 x 72, Clear for $15.99 (list price $30.00)

Smart Home Bedding Super Plush Pillow Dust Mite Resistant Down Alternative (Queen/Standard, 2 Pack) for $24.99 (list price $99.99)

LINENSPA Zippered Encasement Waterproof, Dust Mite Proof, Bed Bug Proof Breathable Mattress Protector - Queen Size for $24.99 (list price $104.99)

HEALTH AND BEAUTY

Gillette Fusion Manual Men’s Razor Blade Refills, 12 Count, Mens Razors / Blades for $34.25 (list price $47.99)

Art Naturals Organic Moroccan Argan Oil Shampoo and Conditioner Set (2 x 16 Oz) - Sulfate Free - Volumizing & Moisturizing, Gentle on Curly & Color Treated Hair,For Men & Women Infused with Keratin for $26.13 (list price $26.13)

Dead Sea Mud Mask for Face & Body - 100% Natural Spa Quality - Best Pore Reducer & Minimizer to Help Treat Acne , Blackheads & Oily Skin – Tightens Skin for a Visibly Healthier Complexion – 8.8 OZ for $12.95 (list price $36.95)

DUDE Face Wipes, Energizing & Refreshing Scent, Infused with Pro Vitamin B-5 (3 Packs, 30 Wipes per Pack) for $14.37 (list price $17.97)

Philips Sonicare 2 Series Plaque Control Sonic Electric Rechargeable Toothbrush, HX6211/30 for $39.95 (list price $69.99)

Bed Head Curls in Check 1875 Watt Diffuser Hair Dryer for $29.99 (list price $34.99)

Qivange Makeup Brushes, Synthetic Foundation Eyeshadow Fan Brushes Set+Sponge Puff(12pcs,Silver) for $8.99 (list price $42.99)

Majestic Pure Argan Oil Shampoo, Offers Vitamin Enriched Gentle Hair Restoration Formula for Daily Use, Sulfate Free, Moroccan Oil & Potent Natural Ingredients, for Men and Women 16 fl. oz for $13.95 (list price $19.95)

ArtNaturals Signature Blend Essential Oils Set - (8 x 10ml) - 100% Pure of The Highest Quality - Therapeutic Grade - Recommended Aromatherapy Gift Set for $18.95 (list price $36.95)

Gillette Venus Comfortglide Women's Razor Blade Refills, White Tea, 6 Count, Womens Razors / Blades for $20.47 (list price $22.49)

CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion 12 oz with Hyaluronic Acid and Ceramides for Normal to Dry Skin for $10.49 (list price $13.99)

Zyllion ZMA13BK Shiatsu Pillow Massager with Heat for Car, Home, or Office (Black) for $39.95 (list price $79.95)

Equinox International Dental Hygiene Kit - Includes Tarter Scraper/Scaling Instrument, Dental Pick, Dental Sickle, and Mouth Mirror - Professional Surgical Grade Dentist Approved Tools for $8.97 (list price $29.99)

OFFICE, SCHOOL, AND CRAFTS

rOtring Tikky Graphic Fineliner Pens, 0.7mm & 0.5mm & 0.3mm, Black Ink, 3 Count for $11.13 (list price $12.56)

X-ACTO XLR Electric Pencil Sharpener, Gold for $13.94 (list price $16.23)

Oxford Twin Pocket Folders, Letter Size, Gray, 25 per Box (57505) for $11.89 (list price $15.59)

Ohuhu 40 Colors Dual Tips Permanent Marker Pens Art Markers Highlighters with Carrying Case for Drawing Sketching Adult Coloring Highlighting and Underlining for $19.99 (list price $40.00)

Bukey Cable Clips - Self-Adhesive Desk Cable Organizer, Durable Cord Management, Wire Holder, Wire Management System, Pack of 10, Black for $6.99 (list price $14.95)

Avery Economy View Binder with 1-Inch Round Ring, White, Pack Of 4 (19200) for $12.53 (list price $15.99)

OUTDOORS, GARDEN, AND SPORTS

Kootek 5 Pack Tactical Mini LED Flashlight Ultra Bright 300 Lumens Handheld Flashlights Adjustable Focus Small for Kids Child Camping Cycling Hiking Emergency Torch Light for $15.99 (list price $19.99)

J5 Tactical Pen - 4 in 1 - Black Ball Point, Emergency Glass Breaker, DNA Collector, Personal Defence Device for $14.95 (list price $29.95)

YJWB Swimming Goggles, Anti-Fog, No Leaking UV Protection, Triathlon Swimming Goggles Men/Women Children Swim Goggles, Grey for $10.65 (list price $18.99)

Fit Simplify Resistance Loop Exercise Bands with Instruction Guide, Carry Bag, EBook and Online Workout Videos, Set of 5 for $10.95 (list price $49.97)

WORX TURBINE 12 Amp Corded Leaf Blower with 110 MPH and 600 CFM Output and Variable Speed Control – WG520 for $54.24 (list price $59.99)

Giantex 2 Pcs Patio Outdoor LoveSeat Coffee Table Set Furniture Bench With Cushion for $133.99 (list price $169.99)

Quik Chair Heavy Duty Folding Camp Chair - Grey for $12.91 (list price $29.99)

BlizeTec Survival Knife: Best 5-in-1 Tactical Pocket Folding Knife with LED Light, Seatbelt Cutter, Glass Breaker & Magnesium Fire Starter for $38.98 (list price $89.99)

Intex Pillow Rest Raised Airbed with Built-in Pillow and Electric Pump, Twin, Bed Height 16.5" for $20.54 (list price $39.99)

LED Camping Lantern, Tent Light With USB cable - Survival Kit for Emergency, Hurricane, Outage for $14.99 (list price $25.99)

TOOLS

Etekcity Lasergrip 1080 Non-contact Digital Laser Infrared Thermometer Temperature Gun -58℉~1022℉ (-50℃~550℃), Yellow and Black for $18.88 (list price $20.99)

URPOWER Motion Sensor Light, 10 LED Bulbs Battery Operated Wireless Motion Nightlight Portable Magnetic Security Closet Light Stick Up Motion Sensor Night Lights for Closets Hallway Stairway(3) for $22.99 (list price $32.99)

TEKTON 5941 Digital Tire Gauge, 100 PSI for $10.79 (list price $11.99)

VERY STRONG Magnetic Wristband & Extended Pick-Up Tool - 10 STRONG Magnets Wrapped Around Wrist - Holds Screws, Bolts, Drill Bits and More - Perfect Gift or Present for Handyman, Fathers or Women. for $9.91 (list price $12.39)

2 PCS IPOW Car Safety Antiskid Hammer Seatbelt Cutter Emergency Class/Window Punch Breaker Auto Rescue Disaster Escape Life-Saving Hammer Tool,Big for $8.39 (list price $13.89)

LE Headlamp LED, 4 Modes Headlight, Battery Powered Helmet Light for Camping, Running, Hiking and Reading, 3 AAA Batteries Included for $7.99 (list price $18.95)

Damaged Screw Extractor and Remover Set by Aisxle,Easily Remove Stripped or Damaged Screws. Made From H.S.S. 4341#, the Hardness Is 62-63hrc,Set of 4 Stripped Screw Removers for $11.88 (list price $39.99)

BLENDX 7mm to 19mm Ratchet Universal Sockets Metric Wrench Power Drill Adapter Set - Professional Repair Tools for $9.49 (list price $15.99)

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios