Summer is here and, no doubt about it, it’s hot out. While summer may mean cookouts, swimming, gardening, and a slew of other outdoor entertainments, it also means wet, sticky sweat. Sometimes, hot summer days can make you feel like you took a dive through a lawn sprinkler before you’ve even gotten out of bed.
So, what’s the deal with sweat? Is it healthy to sweat? Should you try to stop it?
Aside from being inconvenient at times, and occasionally uncomfortable, sweating is a perfectly normal function of a healthy body. Most people have more than 2 million sweat glands in their bodies. Women actually have more sweat glands than men, though men’s sweat glands are more active. Sweat glands are located throughout the body, though large concentrations of them are found on the forehead, armpits, palms, and soles of the feet.
The primary function of sweat is to cool off the body, and prevent it from overheating. Sweat is made up primarily of water and salt. As soon as the water forms on your skin, it begins to evaporate, taking body heat away with it. This prevents the body from overheating, which can cause serious conditions, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Contrary to popular belief, sweat has no odor. However, sweat can react with bacteria trapped in certain parts of the body to produce the musty odor most people recognize as BO.
As you sweat, you lose salt from your body, which is why sports drinks contain high levels of sodium. After sweating profusely, it is important not only to drink a lot of water, to replace the lost moisture, but also to eat something salty, such as salted nuts or pretzels, to restore the lost electrolytes.
Normal, healthy people generally sweat when the weather is hot, when engaging in strenuous activities or exercise, during a fever, when eating hot foods, or even due to nervousness or stress. Some people sweat at other times due to an underlying health condition, such as a thyroid condition, diabetes, menopause, or a medication side effect. Some people, who suffer from a condition called idiopathic sweating, sweat excessively for no known reason.
If you think you sweat more than a normal person, or at abnormal times, talk to your doctor. Otherwise, just learn to appreciate your body’s built-in temperature regulation system. If normal sweating makes you feel uncomfortable, try wearing looser clothing, taking a short mid-day shower or swim, switching to a different antiperspirant, or applying baby powder or an anti-chafing gel to sensitive areas.
Like so many other things about the human body, it’s only natural.