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Let’s Talk About Sweat, Baby…

Nov 19, 2021

By: Katie Burnham, DPT

Why do we sweat?

Sweating helps the body thermoregulate; fancy word for maintain body temperature.  The body must maintain a level of homeostasis to survive.  This is to say a balance must be kept within the body.  This applies to many functions including the regulation of hormones, blood pressure, water and temperature!  So when we sweat, it evaporates from the skin surface and cools the body down.

Where does sweat come from?

There are 3 main types of sweat glands in the skin.  Who knew!?!  Some people have more sweat glands than others.  How much you sweat is NOT determined by how many glands you have, but rather the rate of sweat secreted by each gland itself.  Also, there are higher numbers of some types of sweat glands depending on the location on the body.  For example, apocrine sweat glands are most numerous in your armpit.  Eccrine sweat glands are more dense on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. They respond to thermal stimulus.  So when your body temperature rises, these glands respond.  The third type is the appoeccrine sweat gland and shares properties of the other 2 types.

Is all sweat created equally?

Our sweat glands are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system.  This is that good ‘ol “Fight or Flight” response built into our bodies.  When there is stress, it responds.  Stress can be physical, like heat, or emotional, as with anxiety.  Any stress has the ability to cause a sweating response.

Why Some People Smell Worse Than Others!

We can not talk about sweat without also talking about the stink factor.  Some people flat out stink while others really don’t, so why is that?  Say hello to bacteria!  The skin microbiota refers to the microorganisms that reside on the skin.  Yup, we are host to trillions of various bacteria, fungi and viruses throughout the body; millions calling your skin their home.  Our ethnicity, age, gender, lifestyle, and hygiene routine (just to name a few) can all impact the diversity of the microbiota.  So while sweat itself does not stink, the type and number of bacteria present on the skin can cause odor!

What about people who sweat A LOT?

There is a term for this situation, Hyperhidrosis.  This describes a condition where the amount of sweating exceeds the actual needs of the body.  Why does this happen?  Some people are more sensitive to that sympathetic response (Fight or Flight).  It may also run in your family! 

Antiperspirants

As the name implies, an antiperspirant reduces the amount you sweat…but how?  There are different kinds for sure, but the most popular contain Aluminum Salts, like aluminum chloride.  They work by irritating the sweat glands, causing local swelling.  This swelling prevents sweat from leaving the gland.  A side effect of this can be irritation where it is applied.  Should we be trying to stop sweating?  Will this have any negative implications?  Honestly, there isn’t enough research to back up whether antiperspirant is a bad thing or not.  Some people may have a sensitivity to certain ingredients and may opt for a product that is “natural”.  Most natural antiperspirants are actually considered a “deodorant” since they do not actually limit the amount you sweat, but improve scent where applied and absorb moisture.

There you have it.  Hopefully you will have a better understanding about the topic of sweat.  Some of us sweat A LOT.  Some of us just happen to have a strong odor (blame it on the bacteria).  While some sweat with style and grace with just a glow and barely any stink!  Bottom line, we are all different so embrace the sweat.

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