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5 Down and Dirty Facts About Sweat

It may be a nuisance, but sweating is critical to stay cool. 

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By Olivia DeLong 

Sweat—we all do it, but no one likes to talk about it. Even though it’s kind of gross, it’s a part of being human, and a significant part at that—the human body has between two to four million sweat glands!

While sweating can be a nuisance, perspiration serves a purpose; it cools our body down when we get hot. Here are some curious facts about sweat from family medicine practitioner Sorahi Toloyan-Rahimi, MD, of MountainView Hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Fact #1: Sweat happens in the strangest places

2 / 6 Fact #1: Sweat happens in the strangest places

Do you feel like you sweat a lot in weird spots, like your eyebrows or around your mouth? Don’t worry. It’s normal. Sweat glands are located all over the body, and some places have more glands than others. “Hands, feet and armpits all have a lot of sweat glands, so we sweat more in those areas,” says Dr. Toloyan-Rahimi. Additional hot spots are the forehead, upper lip, scalp and groin. 

Fact #2: Food can make you sweat

3 / 6 Fact #2: Food can make you sweat

You probably knew that spicy food can trigger sweat, but did you know that alcohol, chocolate and tomato sauce can, too? It’s weird, right? Here’s why: “They irritate the nerves that go to the sweat glands, activating them, and that produces more sweating,” explains Toloyan-Rahimi.

There’s also a condition called gustatory sweating that causes you to perspire when you eat—even if it's something cold, like ice cream. It’s sometimes the result of a damaged nerve to the salivary glands or diabetic neuropathy.

Fact #3: Your health or medications may be to blame

4 / 6 Fact #3: Your health or medications may be to blame

Certain medical conditions can cause excessive sweating, including thyroid disease, acromegalypheochromocytoma, diabetes, lymphoma, pregnancy, menopause and Parkinson’s disease. Certain medications can make you sweat more, as well, including some pain medicines, antidepressants and thyroid hormones, to name a few. 

If you’re sweating more or have other symptoms, it’s time to see your doctor. She can determine if it’s related to a medical problem and decide which treatment options are best for you. 

Fact #4: Antiperspirants are safe

5 / 6 Fact #4: Antiperspirants are safe

Antiperspirant safety has been called into question due to worries that the ingredient aluminum chloride may cause dementia or Alzheimer’s. But Toloyan-Rahimi isn’t concerned, and says you shouldn’t be either.

“Antiperspirants don’t have much aluminum chloride. Since the systemic absorption is not high, we are okay,” she says. 

But Toloyan-Rahimi does caution against using them in one situation: “If you have any wound in the armpit, you shouldn’t use any antiperspirants." It can irritate the cut or abrasion and delay healing.

Fact #5: Excessive sweating is treatable

6 / 6 Fact #5: Excessive sweating is treatable

Most people can keep their sweat and body odor in check by washing with an antibacterial soap every day and using antiperspirant deodorant. Deodorant, alone, won’t help with sweat—you need an antiperspirant, says Toloyan-Rahimi.

If you sweat more than you think is normal or if it becomes a problem, there are many treatments that can help, including prescription-strength antiperspirants, Botox, mild electrical current therapies, anticholinergic medicines and even surgery to remove the sweat glands. In addition, says Toloyan-Rahimi, Nd:YAG lasers, usually used to remove unwanted hair, can be used to destroy sweat glands, too. 

See more from Dr. Toloyan-Rahimi