Stand in a long line at an amusement park on a hot summer day, and you’ll be reminded of one thing all humans seem to have in common. We all sweat. But, why do some people perspire more than others? And, what can we do to avoid body odor? Get your answers here.
The stats behind sweat
Sweat is a sign of physical activity and an indicator of stress levels. But, it also serves an important purpose: It cools our bodies and keeps us from overheating. In a way, perspiration is like the body’s own air conditioning system.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult can produce up to a quart of sweat External Site per day. But some of us produce more, and some of us less, despite our exertion levels.
Pass the stink test with this advice
Dr. Sarah Sarbacker, a dermatologist at Dakota Dermatology in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, answers some common questions about sweat and what we can do to avoid the resulting odor.
Q: What is sweat?
A: It’s 99 percent water, with a trace bit of sodium, protein, fat and carbohydrates. Sweat glands are activated by nerves that respond to stimuli, such as body heat, hormones, emotions or exercise.
Q: Sometimes when I sweat, there is no odor. Other times I smell awful! Why?
A: This is because your body perspires through two different types of sweat glands:
- Eccrine: This is the most common type of sweat gland. It secretes directly on the surface of the skin. It is found all over the body, particularly on the forehead, palms of the hands and soles of the feet. This type of perspiration is clear and watery, and it doesn’t have an odor.
- Apocrine: This type of sweat gland is in areas where there are hair follicles, such as the underarm and groin area. Perspiration from apocrine glands is thicker and can be a bit oily. It is also odorless. However, when the bacteria on the skin’s surface break down this fluid, the result is the characteristic smell of body odor.”
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This means that in theory, the more you sweat from the apocrine glands, the more odor you'll notice.
Q: Why do some people sweat more than others?
A: While research isn't clear exactly why some people sweat more than average, it appears genetics play a role. Some people sweat excessively, which is a condition known as hyperhidrosis. If sweat interferes with your daily life, you should talk to a trusted doctor or dermatologist about it, as there are a variety of treatments that may help.
Q: Does sweating release toxins from the body?
A: There is no evidence to support this claim. The body eliminates toxins through the kidneys, liver or intestines. Sweat doesn’t cleanse the body; it cools it.
Q: What is the difference between deodorant and antiperspirant?
A: Put simply, deodorant masks the smell of body odor. Some have antibacterial ingredients to reduce bacteria, however, deodorant doesn’t reduce or stop sweating. Antiperspirant, on the other hand, has ingredients such as aluminum, that works by plugging the sweat ducts to block the release of sweat.
Q: If I have trouble with body odor, what should I do?
A: This depends on how troublesome it is. Generally, start with these tips:
- Apply antiperspirant twice a day, most importantly at bedtime, and then again in the morning.
- Try clinical strength, over-the-counter antiperspirant, twice a day and most importantly, at night. These products contain higher concentrations of aluminum. The higher the strength, the more irritating these products can be to the skin, so start with lower concentrations.
- Talk to your doctor. He or she may have you try a combination of products, for example, a clinical strength antiperspirant in the morning and a prescription concentration in the evening.
Another tip: Apply only to the area on the underarm where hair grows. It is ineffective to slather antiperspirant all over the surrounding area.
Q: Are the ingredients in antiperspirant bad for you?
A: There have been various rumors over the years about the danger of aluminum, the active ingredient in antiperspirant. There is no conclusive evidence it is harmful or that it causes breast cancer or any other diseases. If you’re concerned about aluminum or other chemicals, use a natural deodorant.
Q: What about natural deodorants? Do they work?
A: Natural deodorants use plant-based ingredients or oils that reduce the unpleasant odor. These products can be quite effective, particularly for people who don’t sweat as much.
FYI: Get the timing right
The worst time to apply antiperspirant is just after a shower. Applied to damp skin, antiperspirant is ineffective. It slides off instead of covering and absorbing into the sweat ducts.
The best time to apply antiperspirant is when you'll have several sweat-free hours — like at night — to give the aluminum ingredient time to work. Also, be sure to apply the antiperspirant to dry skin.
Find all the latest news, research and practical tips about normal sweating, excessive sweating and hyperhidrosis at SweatHelp.org External Site.