Maybe it grosses you out, or maybe you own it. Either way, it happens to all of us. Sweat is a natural part of being human, but, for some reason, society seems to have a problem with it. Sure, the feeling of sweat dripping down your back or the smell it can leave behind is a bit unpleasant, but sweat actually does a lot of good for our bodies. You might be surprised at how much there is to learn about that fluid seeping out of your pores.
First off, there are different kinds of sweat. These are commonly referred to as activity sweat and stress sweat. Activity sweat is released from eccrine glands all over the body when you exercise and/or need to cool down. Stress sweat, as the name suggests, is triggered by emotional responses. It comes from apocrine sweat glands which are found with hair follicles and produce a thicker sweat containing fats and proteins. These contents are why stress sweat tends to be stinkier than activity sweat. One of my new favorite fun facts is that sweat is not actually what creates body odor – it’s the interaction between sweat, particularly stress sweat, and your axillary microbiota (which is just a fancy name for armpit bacteria) that causes the smell. Most sweat is virtually odorless on its own.
As you’ve likely deduced from your own life experiences, the main function of sweat is temperature regulation. What you may not know, is that it does SO MANY other good things for you! Sweat cleans out your pores, improves your circulation, detoxifies your body, and removes BPA (which is a toxic chemical that has been linked to numerous psychiatric conditions like anxiety and depression). This has been proven by a number of studies, several of which showed that sweat contained higher levels of toxins than blood or urine in the same person. Bottom line – sweat really is a significant way in which the body removes toxins. Go sweat!
Okay, now it’s time for some real talk. My friends, please promise me that if you ever see an article claiming to show you how to stop sweating that you’ll immediately close the tab and run in the other direction, preferably at a sweat-inducing pace. Articles like these may advise putting antiperspirant on before bed so as to give the pore-clogging aluminum time to form a full seal. They also might tell you that your body is still producing sweat, but the antiperspirant prevents it from reaching the surface. Perhaps it’ll even suggest antidepressants, botox, nerve-blocking medication, and even surgery as ways to “treat” sweating as if it were a disease. Seriously, this worries me.
Preventing your body from sweating properly through the use of antiperspirants can throw off your microbiome and hormone levels for weeks. Antiperspirant actually increases the level of bacteria in the armpit microbiome, and since it is the interaction of sweat with bacteria that causes body odor, using antiperspirant can actually make you stinkier over time. It’s sort of like chapstick – the more you use it the more your body is exposed to the nasty chemicals in it, which then further exacerbates the dry lips or smelly pits that lead you to seeking a solution in the first place.
It is worth noting that there is a small portion of the population who struggle with sweat-related conditions like hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) or chromhidrosis (sweating colors – which would be so trippy) and might benefit from a medical intervention. I think if my sweat were green I might want to do something about it, too.
Okay, so at this point, hopefully, you’ve decided you love your body enough to keep your pores free and let that sweat flow, but what if you’re not quite ready to deal with the smell? There are actually plenty of deodorants that don’t contain the nasty antiperspirant chemicals, and you can even make your own from coconut oil! Look for aluminum-free brands made of more natural ingredients. (A rule of thumb I use frequently is that the more pronounceable the ingredients are, the less likely the product is to be harmful to my body.) Just like all of your body’s natural processes, sweating is necessary for your health and I encourage you to prevent it as little as possible. Take it from me, sometimes it feels pretty darn great to own your stank.