Did your mum used to tellyou to wash behind your ears?
Neither did mine… but I’m doing it now.
I discovered some time ago that if I ran my finger behind each ear, it came away with a cheesy sort of smell. I’m relieved to discover this isn’t just me. Apparently, the odour behind our ears is due to oil-producing glands which produce an oily fat called sebum, which is itself odourless. It is its bacterial disintegration that produces a smell.
Because of the fold between the ear and the skull the oils gather and are not evaporated easily as on other parts of our skin. Furthermore, bacteria can collect more easily in the crease behind the ear, causing more smell.
These are all natural odours the human body produces without will. We can mask them with perfumes and soaps, and I recall my gran’s generation dabbing Eau de Cologne or Lily of the Valley behind each ear. But all we can do with perfume is to mask our odours; they still exist under all that perfume. The only solution is to regularly clean all those enclosed sweaty areas. And wash behind your ears.
This is the scent bloodhounds follow when chasing someone in the woods: not our perfume, but our natural body scent.
Someone recently asked on Quora what causes that ‘old people’ smell. One reply stated that it came from behind the ears (which I don’t agree with, by the way) which prompted me to look it up. I was interested, because the smell behind my right ear has gone.
Instead I have an itch. For a while, the skin behind both ears began to itch. I realised I should stop scratching and the itch disappeared behind my left ear (and the cheesy smell returned) but it persists behind the right; I’m guessing it’s one of the many varieties of eczema. It began during lockdown, so a medical appointment wasn’t on the cards, especially for something so trivial, and nothing is visible to photograph for them (unless I give in and scratch).
Hydrocortisone cream didn’t fix it, and I now apply a ‘dry skin’ moisturiser or an anti-itch cream when required. This keeps it at bay most of the time and it only occasionally itches, usually in the evening. But the dry skin no longer smells cheesy. Presumably the skin around there has stopped producing the oils it should.
Who would guess I’d ever welcome having smelly ears?
What unexpected changes are you finding as you mature?
(Mature like cheese? Or maybe like vintage wine…)
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