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Asking for a Friend: How Do I Remove Ear Wax?

This is one of life’s enduring mysteries. After all, cotton swaps look like they’re specifically designed to scoop wax out of your ear canal. Plus, using them for that purpose feels good. And even if Hannah from Girls completely, totally schooled us on the dangers of jamming a Q-tip anywhere near our ears, the idea of not cleaning them seems gross. 

So what’s a girl to do? Grab a Kleenex, use it to cover your pinky finger, and use the finger to gently clean out your ear, taking care not to push it in any farther than it wants to go, recommends Nitin Bhatia, M.D., of the ENT And Allergy Associates in White Plains, NY. Do this after your shower, when the wax is soft. (This is also the best time to Pluck Perfect Eyebrows.) 

No, this won’t produce the squeaky-clean feeling your Q-tip delivers. But that’s a good thing, says Bhatia. “A little wax in the ear is important to keep it moist. If you use cotton swabs too often, your ear will get dry and itchy.” That can lead to a vicious cycle: You think your ear is itchy because of wax, so you start cleaning them more, exacerbating the problem. (It can even up your risk of Swimmer’s Ear.) 

If you want a cleaner feeling, drops like Debrox Earwax Removal Drops ($8, cvs.com), can soften the wax, making it easier to remove with the aforementioned tissue-and-finger trick. And if that doesn’t cut it, or you think wax is building up or impairing your hearing, Bhatia suggests going to a doctor (your regular GP or an otolaryngologist) to get it professionally removed.

No matter what you do, though, relegate the cotton swabs to makeup removal (or to Upgrade Your Smoky Eye) and cleaning between the keys on your keyboard, and keep them far, far away from your ears.

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