You see a ball of hair clogging your drain and throw it away. Someone back in the day might see that as a tool they can use to add volume to their hair. As it turns out, there’s a lot we can do with what comes off our bodies instead of simply discarding it. The human body is an incredible thing, and there are people out there who push theirs to new limits every day. From running faster to jumping higher and stretching to the point of contortion, there isn’t a feat that some of us can’t accomplish. Our other superpower, however? Using our brains to come up with new ideas, inventions, and solutions all the time. While some are seeing what they can do with their bodies, others throughout history have been trying to figure out just how much they could do with what comes out and off of theirs. That’s right—people throughout the ages have figured out ways to use byproducts of the human body, and the results might actually surprise you.
Most of us probably try to get rid of our earwax as fast as possible—it can mess up your hearing, make your inner ears feel “off,” and heaven forbid that some gets stuck to one of your earbuds while you’re listening to music. When you think about it, though, different types of wax have a lot of different uses, and one of the most common ways we use wax today is to make candles. So: Can you make a candle out of human earwax? Fortunately, the men of the show MythBusters decided to put that thought to the test, inspired by the scene in Shrek when the lovable ogre pulls a preformed earwax candle out of his skull.
You might be surprised to hear that MythBusters’ experiment actually succeeded, but they didn’t get anything like the Yankee Candles we’re used to. As it turns out, earwax is made of quite a few different substances, and they don’t all burn at the same rate. But, hey, should you ever need to make one, an emergency candle is just one wick—and a lot of earwax—away.
It might seem a little morbid to use something that once supported another living creature during their life, but we’ve actually been using bones in that way for quite a long time. After all, they are pretty much the strongest and longest-lasting part of the body. Many cultures have traditionally used bones to make necklaces and ceremonial outfits, but they also have one other common use—musical instruments. One well-known instrument that’s made with bone is the kangling, a type of flute that is traditionally made with a human femur bone. The instrument was commonly used in Tibet during Buddhist rituals. Another is this Central African lyre, which is actually made out of a human skull. Researchers believe that it wasn’t made for any specific ritual, though—it’s thought that the skull was found by someone who had the talent to craft it into the instrument and hoped to make a bit of extra cash through a trade.
Any woman with long hair knows that your brush collects enough loose strands to knit a sweater every week, but the normal thing to do is just throw it all away. If you were a woman in Victorian England, however, you would’ve hung on to each and every strand as if they were gold threads. Nowadays we have things like hairspray, teasing combs, and curlers to help give our hair the lift we’re looking for. Women back then, though, had none of that, so they had to improvise when it came to getting the look they wanted. They’d take any wads of hair they could find within their brushes and then style it back into the hair on their heads, strategically placing it where they needed more lift.
We can practically hear you screaming at your computer about how gross this is, but there are some who claim that eating placenta is beneficial for women who’ve recently given birth. The placenta, in case you’re not familiar, is the organ that attaches to the inside of the uterus while a woman is pregnant. It provides the fetus with nourishment along with other essential functions to help it grow. Why would anyone want to eat that? Some people assert that it’s good for you and your postpartum mental health. Before you get a gruesome mental image, know that most people don’t take the whole thing home in a bag and just…chow down. There are actually specialists who’ll dry and encapsulate the placenta for consumption. The placenta is full of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and iron, along with progesterone and estrogen, which are hormones that play a huge role in postpartum health. That doesn’t mean that ingesting placenta will actually help the body recover from the stress of pregnancy and delivery, though. Thus far there is no conclusive medical evidence that this practice is safe or useful—but some folks still swear by it.
We’re willing to bet that your parents saved your baby teeth at least once while you were a kid, but the reason why was never really clear. It seemed like they just kept them around for a few years only to throw them away while cleaning out an old dresser or bathroom drawer. Our parents may have been onto something though, because using teeth in jewelry has actually been a big trend for a pretty long time. A lot of it is focused on jewelry for mothers, featuring their children’s baby teeth so they can hold on to a piece of their childhood forever. But some adults are now using their own teeth to get in on the trend too. One man, Lucas Unger, had a wisdom tooth removed in the fall of 2015, and instead of throwing it away, he actually had it made as the center “stone” of an engagement ring for his fiancée. Say what you will, but the couple was happy with their situation, and they can definitely say that no one has the same ring she does.
If you’re ever able to actually keep track of the clippings from your fingernails and toenails, you could have a business on your hands—or feet. Mike Drake is an artist who keeps his clippings around to help him fill the paperweights he sells. Another artist named Rachel Betty Case also uses the clippings to make small animal figurines in the shape of bugs and larger animals.
The Body Itself
We know it’s a sad thought, but the reality is that we’ll all die at some point in time. Have you ever considered what will happen to your body after you’re gone? For a long time, the answer was simple—either you get buried or you get cremated. However, you might be surprised to hear that there are many more options out there—and they’re pretty interesting. Aside from donating your body or organs to research after you die, you can actually undergo plastination and become an exhibit. If you’ve never heard of the exhibit Body Worlds, it’s one that puts real human bodies on display, opening them up to give us a better look at how all of the pieces fit together. If safety has always been a big concern of yours in life, you can also support its research in death by being a crash test cadaver. Sure, we have crash test dummies, but what better way to find out what’ll happen to a real human body during a crash than actually using one? Oh, and don’t forget about becoming a skeleton. You can donate your body to New Mexico’s Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, where it’ll be stripped down to the bones so researchers can use your skeleton, just like one you saw in your high school classroom. Don’t worry, though—that one probably wasn’t real. We hope, at least.