Sweating in summer: the importance of a necessary discomfort

The heat comes and, with it, the sweat. It usually starts in the armpit, continues in the back and, as summer approaches, it irremediably takes hold of the body. Neither the shortest pants nor the most steamy T-shirts can get rid of him.

But, let’s see, what the hell are we sweating for? Whose idea was it to design a body that doesn’t stop transpiring liquid, staining our attire every two by three? Today we have to talk about one of the everyday things in life: sweat.

Why do we sweat?

No, seriously, what is it for? If we were dogs, we wouldn’t ask ourselves this question. Dogs lack sweat glands. Most of the excess heat is expelled through the mouth. This brings us to the first question: sweat serves, mainly, to regulate our temperature, neither more nor less.

When water evaporates, it consumes energy. The passage from liquid to steam requires an additional energy input known as “latent heat” of vaporization. And where does water get this latent heat? In the case of sweat, body heat, obviously.

We receive this heat from the environment, because it is hot, because the sun is giving us or because we are generating it by exercising. In any case, our body is prepared to “open the floodgates” of sweat at the moment when a part is subjected to excessive temperature.

The sweat glands, which we could say are a variation of the sebaceous glands, begin to excrete water with some mineral salts with the intention of lowering the temperature. In this way, the internal heat begins to come out towards the outside, lowering the total temperature. If not, “we could cook ourselves in our own sauce”, as some irresponsible language would say.

What’s the use of sweating?

We already know what it’s for, but there are many myths about it. Why not sweat? For example, sweating is not good for excreting excess salts. Despite this widespread myth, it has long been known that the composition of sweat contains several substances in addition to water. We also know that some drugs, medicines and even alcohol can be detected in it.

But that does not mean that sweat helps to eliminate these substances. We do not “sweat” alcohol, in the sense that we eliminate it through the skin, just as it does not happen with the other compounds we are talking about. Of course, we don’t “sweat toxins” either, as many sell miracles pretend to make us believe.

On the other hand, a super widespread idea is that sweat is a synonym for weight loss. It is not. And much less in summer. Yes, you can lose weight by losing water (which is not positive), but sweating does not mean losing fat in any case. Yes, there is a relationship, and that is that when we do intense exercise, and generate heat, we sweat more. But not the other way around: sweating does not mean doing intense exercise and, therefore, losing weight.

So, to sum up again, what’s the use of sweat? Its function in the body is, almost exclusively, to regulate the temperature: it does not serve to eliminate waste or substances, much fewer toxins, and that includes fat.

A sweat that smells very strong

Sweat itself should not smell unless it contains a particular substance (such as a little alcohol, or ketone traces). However, as we said, its composition is complex and allows microorganisms to take advantage of the moisture and debris it carries. These are the real causes of the bad smell.

The smell of our sweat is, in fact, the waste of these microorganisms.
Every human being has a kind of microbiological zoo on him. This is what is known as microbiota (of the skin, in this case). Among these organisms, some are able to take advantage of the remains of sweat to produce various substances as a result of their metabolism. In other words, the smell of our sweat is, in reality, the waste of these microorganisms.

Our microbiota is a unique imprint, an inseparable part of our skin. No matter how much we wash or put on perfume and deodorant, we will not be able to get rid of it or its effects, although we can mitigate them. The interaction between them and our secretions causes particular characteristic smells.

In some cases, the smell can be very intense. These cases are known as bromhidrosis, and the smell is related to the composition of sweat and bacteria that inhabit our skin. Although it does not have to be related to smell, another annoying phenomenon is hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating. In both cases some measures can be taken to try to reduce their effects.

Can we reduce the sweat?

Let’s start with hyperhidrosis: although it’s not a dangerous problem, in principle it can be very annoying. Hyperhidrosis has several possible treatments, with a solution of aluminum chloride, which is an antiperspirant, and can be used for axillary sweat.

Among the most drastic measures is the botulinum toxin (or botox) type A, which blocks the sweat glands where it is injected. Iontophoresis involves passing a low-voltage electrical current that causes the skin’s surface proteins to coagulate and partially block the sweat ducts.

There are some oral medications, such as glycopyrrolate and oxybutynin, or, finally, surgical treatment. There are several procedures, some more or less invasive, to treat its excess and, with it, its bad smell. However, it depends a lot on the person.

And can we have some kind of prevention? Actually, not for hyperhidrosis and bromhidrosis. If they are pathologizes, there is little we can do, although we know that weight control and an adequate diet can help in the latter. On the other hand, a correct hygiene will also help us to regulate the bad smell, although in the case of suffering a serious problem we will have no choice but to go to a doctor.