We’ve all been there. The good intentions, the 12 minutes of exercise and then… the sweat.
Whether it’s the telltale drip-drip-drip down the small of your back that you know is about to go full touch-and-reveal on your new t-shirt, or whether it’s just getting up from some equipment in the gym and seeing your own butt imprint left in sweat, the wet stuff can really be a buzzkill.
Whether you’re trying to exercise, dancing like a maniac at the weekend or simply… enjoying a sunny day, sweat can feel like a sneaky shaming pal, dobbing you in just when you thought you were going to have a good time. Except it isn’t a false friend. It’s actually clever, useful and kind of amazing – it’s just that we have convinced ourselves it’s the stuff of evil.
Ok, so no one wants to be wandering around looking like they’ve just been hosed down by a fireman, and no one wants to stink all afternoon just because they took their bike to the shops, but to know sweat is – if not to love it – then at least to fear it a little bit less.
So what’s the (g)lowdown on sweat?
Basically, sweating is our body’s way of regulating temperature. We each have 2-5 million sweat glands dotted around our bodies, and they release the damp mixture of proteins, salt and water onto our skin. The process of this liquid evaporating is what cools us down – as you’ll know if you’ve ever got off a crowded bus and felt your top clinging to you like an ice sheath as you hit the cold outdoors.
Despite what we think, there aren’t more sweat glands in, um, ‘moist’ places like our armpits or our groin – it’s just that those areas are harder to get air circulating around to evaporate the liquid. And not all sweat glands are the same, either. Most are ‘eccrine’ sweat glands, which are kicked into action by excess heat, but some are ‘apocrine’ ones, which are stimulated by emotional responses like stress or excitement. Weirdly, that sweat actually smells a little different from the stuff prompted by eccrine glands.
But the weirdest fact is that sweat itself doesn’t actually smell at all. Ok maybe if you had 10 garlic cloves in your dinner you might smell a bit like a French bistro in the morning, but the smell we associate with sweat is actually the bacteria on our skin breaking down the acids in our sweat. Its medical term is bromhidrosis and it’s totally normal. But if you want to get rid of the sweaty pong, the simplest way is to get in the shower: if you’ve got the post-sport sweat off your skin within an hour or so of exercising, that bromhidrosis isn’t going to be wafting around after you all day. If you wait till bedtime to get clean, it just might.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
What else can we do to master this soggy mistress? Well, not that much, but perhaps that is because we need sweat.
And we really do. Why else do we feel so great after a good run, a dance-off in our bedroom or even a chance to sit in the sauna at the gym? Because sweating flushes out loads of the crud on our skin’s surface, cools us down so we don’t pass out at the gym or on the bus, as well as letting us know if something serious is up in terms of illness.
So while we needn’t commit to a lifetime of honking up every small room we enter, we shouldn’t be ashamed of the odd bit of sweat either. After all, look at how many advertising images have artfully sprayed ‘sexy’ sweat onto both men and women, how proud athletes look at their sweat as they finish an event – or even how nice it feels to know that our body, without even being asked, is doing exactly what it needs to.
Now if only we could do the same for our feelings, we’d be sorted.