Sweat often gets a bad reputation—after all it can make you stink and soak your shirt—but sweat benefits your body in multiple meaningful ways. First and foremost, your body uses sweat as its own kind of sprinkler system to cool you down when things get too hot. It’s a natural reaction to help regulate your body temperature.
Different people sweat at different times and for various reasons, but most of us sweat when we exercise, get overheated, or feel nervous, angry, or fearful. Sweat’s main objective is to restore your body back to a comfortable temperature, but it can also interact with your metabolism, hormone levels, and blood flow among other various factors. Here’s everything you need to know about sweat and sweating.
Causes of Sweating
When your body hits a certain temperature or feels fear or anxiety, your nervous system kicks in to trigger sweat. Your brain sends a signal to two sets of glands under your skin: eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine glands are found all over your body but are especially concentrated in your forehead, palms, armpits, and the soles of your feet. These glands produce the majority of your sweat, which is light, odorless and made largely of water but contains trace amounts of salt, protein, urea, and ammonia.
Your apocrine glands are much larger and located near hair follicles. The sweat that they produce is heavier, containing fat cells. When these cells are broken down by the bacteria on your skin, they are largely responsible for the odor associated with sweat. Apocrine sweat glands are mostly found in the armpits, groin, and chest.
How Does Sweat Cool the Body?
Sweat cools the body by pushing moisture to the surface of your skin. When it hits the air, some of this moisture will evaporate. The process of evaporation requires energy, and the form of energy used is the excess heat from your skin. Hence, as the moisture evaporates you start to cool down.
“By promoting heat loss through evaporation, sweat helps regulate our body temperature,” says Adele Haimovic, MD, a surgical and cosmetic dermatologist. It’s a very effective method of cooling down the body that’s seen in many animals in the wild, especially primates.
When Do We Sweat?
Humans sweat at a wide variety of occasions. First and foremost, when we exercise or do something physically grueling, our body triggers our eccrine glands to sweat. When we’re nervous, our fight-or-flight response is triggered and our apocrine glands release sweat to battle the difficult or stressful situation.
Sweat can also be triggered by drinking alcohol. It speeds up your heart rate and dilates your blood vessels, just like when you work out. We can sweat when eating complex foods like meat (a.k.a. “the meat sweats”) where your metabolism is so hard at work it raises your body temperature. Spicy foods can trick your body into thinking its temperature has risen, which may subsequently trigger sweating.
Why Do We Sweat When We Sleep?
Sweating caused by variations in body temperature throughout the night is totally normal. Often, your autonomic nervous system, which works all night long, can get your body hot enough to trigger sweating at night. In most people, sweat peaks naturally around 4am. Outside factors like alcohol consumption and excess stress can cause sweating at night as well.
Why Do We Sweat When We Exercise?
During strenuous physical activity, our nervous system will trigger our eccrine glands to secrete sweat to cool us off. However, how much you sweat isn’t necessarily correlated to how hard you worked out or how many calories you burned. Your fitness level is another factor. Those in great shape often sweat faster and in greater amounts during exercise than those who are not because fit bodies are more efficient at regulating heat, so they can cool down faster.
Why Do We Sweat When We’re Nervous?
When we’re nervous, our bodies trigger a flight-or-flight response, during which our sympathetic nervous system releases hormones such as adrenaline. This process activates the apocrine sweat glands. Studies have even shown humans can smell each other's panic-induced sweat, making them more alert and ready to take on any given threat.
Why Do We Sweat When We’re Sick?
When sick, your body will often raise its own temperature to make the environment less hospitable for the bacteria or virus it’s trying to fight. These fevers will naturally trigger sweat to cool you down.
All in all, sweat plays a powerful role in keeping our bodies regulated and healthy. We believe in allowing sweat to do its job (i.e. not blocking it with aluminum, like antiperspirants do) and simply finding ways to manage it so we stay feeling and looking fresh. If you're looking for products to help manage sweat in a healthy way, check out our line of aluminum-free deodorants that use clean ingredients to absorb sweat and keep body odor in check. Or if you're looking for a quick way to freshen up after a sweat sesh, check out our Cooling + Cleansing Wipes made with caffeine, ginger and Arctic Blue ice crystals which work together to clean you up and cool your skin.
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