What Are Boogers Made Of?

All of the Icky Details About Color, Texture, and Function

Boogers are one of those things we all experience daily. But what are boogers and where do they come from? They may seem gross, but boogers are an essential part of your body's immune system.

As we grew up, we were taught a little bit here and there about mucus, a primary booger component. But for most adults, the only part we really seem to remember being taught is "don't pick your nose, and don't eat your boogers." 

This article digs deeper into the science of boogers, including what they're made of and why we have them.

A young Asian woman in a black sweater is blowing her nose.

MOAimage / Getty Images

What Are Boogers?

If you think of the nose as an air filter for our body, then boogers are the stuff that gets caught in the filter. They're a combination of mucus, dirt, air pollutants, bacteria, viruses, and dead skin cells that gets captured by our nose hairs and then dries out.

The mucus in our nose collects these harmful germs and substances and keeps them from getting too far into our bodies where they can make us sick.

What Is Snot?

Mucous membranes in the body—like the inside of the nose—are lined with a slimy substance called mucus. In the nose, we call it phlegm or snot. When snot dries, it becomes a booger.

The goal of snot is to protect and lubricate the parts of the body exposed to the outside world. Our body must stay protected and hydrated to maintain optimal health. One way our body does this is by creating snot in our nose. This mucus coats the lining of our noses and prevents it from drying out, cracking, or bleeding.

Preventing injury or damage to the nose is crucial to our immune system because a simple cut gives bacteria, fungus, and viruses direct, unprotected access to our body. Without mucus, we could be much more susceptible to dangerous, potentially life-threatening infections.

Boogers Can Be Different Colors

If you've ever looked at a Kleenex after blowing your nose, you may have noticed a variety of colors. Many people are taught that your snot's color will indicate what kind of problem your body is fighting. For instance, many people believe yellow or green snot is a sign of an infection. 

However, looking at your snot's color as an indicator of a bigger health problem is a myth. In reality, the yellow or green color in boogers comes from immune cells called neutrophils. Neutrophils are the first responders to an infection in our body. When there is any sign of a germ inside your body, neutrophils are sent to destroy the intruder.

What Do Boogers Do?

Boogers play an important role in how our body protects itself. Whenever you breathe in dust, pollen, pollution or germs, the snot and hairs in your nose are there to collect it and keep it from wreaking havoc in another part of your body. 

Virus and Bacteria Protection

There's more to snot than just what you see. Our nasal mucus includes a ton of antibodies in charge of activating our immune system when we breathe in bacteria or viruses through our nose.

Snot also contains a type of enzyme known as lysozyme, which destroys the bacteria and viruses in our nasal cavity.

Allergy Defense

When the body detects something foreign like pollen, it triggers a defensive maneuver known as an allergic reaction. Your body recognizes an irritant has entered your system. At this point, the body signals the release of a substance known as histamine.

This histamine release informs your body it's time to increase mucus production to capture the pollen. From there, it's destroyed by the neutrophils, or expelled from the body by a sneeze.  

How Are Boogers Made?

The lining inside our nose contains the mucous membrane. This mucous membrane is responsible for creating the thick, slimy substance we all know as snot. When this mucus mixes with air and begins to dry out, it becomes a booger. The more a booger dries, the harder it gets.

Any time our body increases mucus production in the nose, we get more boogers. An increase in snot can be due to many things. You may be getting sick or already sick, experiencing seasonal allergies, or simply just be dehydrated. Sometimes, eating spicy food can make your nose run. Capsaicin—the ingredient that gives spicy food its zip—triggers mucus production.

Like so many things, mucus is primarily composed of water. When your body is dry or dehydrated, the mucus will be more dry and thick, creating boogers. Staying hydrated helps mucus stay in a more fluid state, which means fewer boogers in your nose.

What to Do If You Have a Lot of Boogers

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, an antihistamine is often recommended to reduce the reaction your body is creating when introduced to a large amount of pollen or dust.

You may also consider using a device known as a neti pot. A neti pot is a container intended to hold sterile water. Using this container, you can rinse debris and mucus from your nose and sinus cavities.

Ultimately, there are many reasons why you may be producing a considerable amount of snot. If you are concerned by the amount of boogers in your nose, it could be worth talking to your healthcare provider about your options to control nasal mucus production.

The Best Way to Pick Your Nose

Picking your nose is never the best idea, and it can be dangerous. As children, many of us were told not to pick our noses. But despite this warning, it's believed up to 91% of adults pick their noses.

First, there's the risk of damaging the inside of your nose. Once you get a cut inside your nose, it's going to take time to heal correctly. This, in turn, means there is a higher chance of being unprotected from germs when you're breathing.

Second, your hands tend to be home to the most bacteria on your body because of how many different things you touch throughout the day. If you introduce the germs on your fingers to your nose, you significantly increase your risk of getting an infection.

However, there's always that moment when you need to get something out of your nose because you can feel it, can't stop thinking about it, or haven't been able to fix the problem by blowing your nose.

If you feel the inexplicable need to pick your nose, the best way to do it is with a tissue. Then, promptly wash your hands to avoid spreading the germs from your nose to yourself or someone else.

Is It Okay to Eat Your Boogers?

Boogers often contain bacteria and viruses, so eating boogers could expose the body to germs. It's not a good idea.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Havard Health Publishing. Don't judge your mucus by its color.

  2. British Society for Immunology. The secret life of snot.

  3. Jefferson JW, Thompson TD. Rhinotillexomania: Psychiatric disorder or habit?