Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sweat
All photos: Rebecca Rütten

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sweat

Sweating is great.

This article originally appeared on VICE Germany

You're disgusting right now. Outside, the sun is shining in all its glory, bearing down on gorgeous people having the best summer of their lives. And then there's you, stuck in your flat out of fear that this vengeful fire ball in the sky will turn you into even more of a wet, repulsive mess than you already are.

It's an eternal struggle when it starts being remotely nice outside – your body begins to actively sabotage you by leaving sweat marks under your armpits, on your back, under your boobs. It seems disgusting, but honestly, sweat is natural and beautiful and essential.


Do you know what you would look like if you didn't sweat? Find your nearest dog out in this weather and ask them. They won't tell you much, will they? That's because their tongue's out, and they're panting away to save their pore-deficient bodies from overheating. Is that what you want?

Sweating is a blessing, and here's why.

Why do we sweat?

First, the basics – the body needs to sweat so that it doesn't overheat. When your brain is triggered by the approximately 30,000 heat receptors across your skin saying that things are getting a bit warm, your 3 million sweat glands start to perspire. The salty secretion is mostly made up of water, minerals, proteins, fats and urea. On average, you sweat out around 200ml to 700ml per day, but that can rise to about a litre an hour when you're exercising or when the sun really starts to beat down on you.

The wet armpits you get from being nervous or scared stem from a similar origin. That's the brain cooling the body in advance for what it assumes will either be you fighting back or – let's be honest – running to safety as fast as you can. It's obviously not advisable to strip naked during your next pub brawl, but do bear in mind that sweat makes you more slippery and harder to grab.

Sweat smells, but that's OK

You have two types of sweat glands, the good kind and the bad kind. The good ones – or eccrine glands – are about 0.4 millimetre in size and number in the millions. The sole purpose of these glands are to cool you down.


The bad ones – apocrine glands – only begin to function during puberty. They are much larger – anything between three to five millimetres – and operate around your scalp, armpits, nipples and genitals. There, they release pheromone-enriched sweat that reacts with bacteria in the skin to produce a specific smell.

That smell is you. It's meant for mating and should help you attract a sexual partner, which might be partly why you were so lonely during those years you swapped showers for Lynx Africa. This brings us neatly to:

Sweat is sex

No sweat means no sex. Or rather: No sweat means more uncomfortable sex. If your bodies didn't get a little slippery, you'd rub up against your lover and leave painful burn marks all over each other. And as mentioned earlier, if you find the person you're sleeping with attractive, that is – at least partly – due to their sweat.

How much you sweat doesn't define you

Just because you can fill a small paddling pool with the sweat currently streaming down your back, that doesn't mean you should hide away in your basement until the sweet relief of winter. Everyone sweats differently based on genetics and certain triggers – spicy food, drinking, exams, lying, flirting.

And remember, there are people living with this every day. Like people with hyperhidrosis – a fairly common condition that causes excessive sweating in any circumstance or temperature.

You can sweat to death

Water loss due to excessive sweating can lead to dehydration – which is why you're constantly being told to drink water in the summer heat. If your skin starts to take on a reptilian quality and your heart begins to pound like you've just knocked back ten double espressos, you should really see a doctor. It's possible you've lost so much fluid that you're going into critical shock.

Even on a salt-free diet, your sweat is salty

Firstly, it's practically impossible to completely remove salt from your diet, since it's in almost everything edible. Every plant that grows naturally from the ground takes on minerals, which include salt. But that's great, because without salt, you'd die.

Secondly, sweat is 98 percent water, producing the remaining minerals as byproducts. The salt component of your sweat won't change much, even if you considerably cut down on your salt intake. But if you eat a lot of salt, you'll sweat more. That's because your autonomic nervous system – which regulates automatic functions like your heartbeat – is overly stimulated by salt and thus stimulates your sweat glands.


Sweat is good for your skin, but not for your hair

A damp sweatiness might give a certain je ne sais quoi to your hair, but it doesn't make it healthier – the salt dries it out. The opposite is true for your skin, though, as your sweat contains skin-enriching fats that work somewhat like moisturising lotion. Because the sweat glands are distributed throughout the body, sweating ensures an even distribution across the surface of the skin.

How to stop your body from sweating

If you're not sold on the pleasure of perspiration, there is another option – botulinum toxin, better known as botox.

Botox is effectively a nerve poison that when sprayed into your armpits will block the nerve supply to your sweat glands, preventing them from sending signals to your brain to switch on the sweat pipes. Now, obviously, the sweat has to go somewhere – so block up your armpits just to avoid awkward stains under your arms if you want, but you may suddenly find your back turning on you by getting sweatier than usual.

So the lesson here is: don't. Sweat it out. It's what you're meant to be doing.