Let's talk about sweat, baby...
You are probably sweating right now… even if you don’t know it. We all sweat. Well most of us anyway. There is a condition called Anhidrosis, which is the inability to sweat normally, that is usually caused by damage or pathology of the nervous system. Aside from this small afflicted group, we all sweat. Even Prince Andrew, I imagine.
Sweating is controlled by the autonomic nervous system and it is something that we have extraordinarily little conscious control over. Every human is equipped with between two and five million sweat glands than can produce sweat in an instant. Typically, perspiration is stimulated by an elevated body or environmental temperature. The body cools as the sweat evaporates. A variety of emotions can also trigger a sweat response such as anger, fear, embarrassment, and emotional stress.
Perspiration can also be initiated by the foods we eat. I’m sure many of you do not need reminding of the sweat dripping from your forehead when you are knee-deep in a super spicy curry. Caffeinated drinks and alcohol can also cause you to sweat due to “gustatory sweating”. Some research has also suggested red meat consumption can have a negative impact on perceived body odour compared to a plant-based diet. Illness and medication can also impact the temperature regulation process.
It is normal to feel a little sheepish about excessive sweating. Particularly when it leaves an ignominious imprint on your attire. Remember, it is normal, and an essential bodily process. We can’t pant like a dog to cool off, so we need to sweat. So why does it smell? And why do some people sweat more than others?
There are two types of sweat glands - eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine sweat glands occur throughout the body and typically produce light and odourless sweat that consists of water, salt and potassium. It’s the apocrine sweat glands that do the damage. These glands are concentrated in the scalp, armpits and groin – where hair follicles occur -- and release heavier, salt and fat-laden sweat through ducts in your skin. Bacteria multiply in the presence of this moisture causing an unpleasant smell. Unlike the eccrine glands, this sweat is produced when we’re stressed or turned on.
When you perspire, moisture collects in your armpits, pants, and the three Bs -- the belly, brow, and back. Friction has a lot to do with it as well. There is not a lot of ventilation in these specific areas and there can be a lot of rubbing together of armpits and butt cheeks.
Everyone has a unique body odour. Most of the time, the odour is not pleasant, but relatively inoffensive. Though, poor hygiene, excessive sweating and various other factors can produce a nose-impairing response.
Hyperhidrosis disorder is a condition where a person sweats excessively and uncontrollably due to overactive sweat glands. Previous research has connected hyperhidrosis and stress. Usually, this excessive sweating is more embarrassing than anything. Although, heavy sweating can quickly lead to dehydration, particularly in warmer climates. Why are men sweatier then? Particularly when women have more sweat glands? A man’s sweat glands typically produce more sweat.
It is easy to blame heavy sweating on a lack of fitness. Good news, this is not necessarily the case. Fitter athletes tend to sweat more and sooner in a workout. Why? Because their bodies are more acclimated to physical activity and are getting ready to respond. In fact, athletes can secrete up to one litre of water every hour.
Some experts have suggested that the conditions we are exposed to in our first couple of years on the planet play a critical role in our sweat response. If you grew up in an environment with higher temperatures and humidity – you might have to suffer the lifelong consequences.
Sweating is natural. Don’t sweat it. But if you do, then remember we have plenty of natural deodorants available to provide you with all-day protection from odour, with no nasty chemicals.