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Everyone sweats – some of us more than others. But what may seem like an inconvenient and embarrassing bodily function is actually a fantastic physical advantage that's unique to humans. In fact, our ability to sweat is a big part of the reason why our species has been so successful.
We take our sweating for granted, but no other animal is able to cool off quite so efficiently. Essentially, when you sweat, the release of moisture onto your skin rapidly cools you down, eliminating excess body heat. Sarah Everts, author of The Joy of Sweat describes our sweating as an "evolutionary marvel" and a "human superpower." Unlike other animals that have to stay in the shade in the heat of the day, our ability to sweat means that we can tolerate relatively high temperatures without overheating. This has kept us safe from predators and has allowed us to live in wide range of environments with varying climates.
If you've ever wondered why you seem to sweat so much more (or less) than the people around you, it's likely a combination of nature and nurture. Everyone is born with a different number of sweat glands (eccrine glands), ranging from around two million to five million. And regardless of how many glands you have, some people are more efficient at sweating than others. Scientists also think that where you grew up can affect how much you sweat, as your body learns at a young age how to cool yourself down based on the climate around you.
Don't sweat it (or maybe, do):
- According to Everts, eccrine sweat is more than just water. It also contains other substances based on your diet and what's in your blood. So it's not far-fetched to feel like you're sweating caffeine or alcohol after overindulging. It's even possible for the food you eat to tinge your sweat a certain color, a phenomenon known as "chromhidrosis."
- Proteins that help support the good bacteria of the skin's microbiome are also a component of eccrine sweat.
- Although eccrine sweat is essentially odorless, the sweat that comes from the apocrine glands in your armpits is a different story altogether. It's a waxy substance that gets metabolized by underarm bacteria, which is what causes the smell. Everyone has a unique odor based on the waxy molecules from your apocrine glands and the composition of the bacteria being fed by those molecules.