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Don't Sweat It: Sweat Solutions and Dryness Tips That Work

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Sweat Q&A

Q: Why do we sweat?

A: When your body gets too hot from a steamy August day or killer cardio class, its thermoregulating AC system kicks in. The sweat ducts near your skin's surface are stimulated, prompting your cells to release a fluid consisting mostly of water but also sodium, chloride, and potassium. The more your sweat ducts are stimulated, the more likely the fluid will be secreted through your skin to keep your body at its happy 98.6 degrees.

Q: Why does being at work trigger sweat?

A: Exercise and heat are two common reasons why we perspire, but another, less-recognized reason is stress. Anxiety sweat happens when our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode, a biological response that's been with us since our earliest ancestors. For cavewomen, the intrusion of a saber-toothed tiger triggered understandable anxiety. "Their hearts started beating faster to pump blood to their major muscle groups to get them moving, their respiration increased to send oxygen to these muscles, their pupils dilated so they could see better, and they might have even vomited to get everything unnecessary out of their bodies to increase speed," says Autumn Braddock, PhD, codirector of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. All of this activity generated a lot of internal heat, resulting in a spike in sweat. "Another theory is that we increase sweat production when we're anxious so our skin will become slippery, making it more difficult for predators to hold on and catch us," Braddock says. A handy trick for our ancestors, but today, not so much.

Q: Why does sweat stink?

A: "There are two kinds of sweat glands in your armpits," says David Pariser, MD, a professor of dermatology at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk. "One makes water, and the other makes an oily substance that produces an odor." One positive perspiration point: For some reason, most people who suffer from overproductive water sweat glands don't have overproductive oil sweat glands. (Whew!) As for stinky feet, Dr. Pariser says there are no odor glands on the foot. "The smell is coming from your feet being covered in socks and shoes, which create a warm, dark, breeding ground for smell-inducing bacteria," he says. For sweeter feet, take your shoes and socks off as much as you can. Your feet will be drier and thus less likely to cause odor. Just make sure that you rinse off your feet before you put on shoes. Walking barefoot, even at home, can cause you to pick up potentially stenchy bacteria that won't do you any favors once cozied up in your shoes.

Q: Does sweat have a connection to calories burned?

A: Indirectly, yes, says Steven Cohen, MD, a dermatologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. If you always run the same two-mile loop in your neighborhood, your body doesn't have to work as hard as it did when you first started doing the run, which means you burn fewer calories. The same theory applies to sweat: Your body has gotten used to accommodating the heat you generate on the run and is better at controlling it, so it produces less perspiration. Bottom line: To maximize your calorie burn, vary your workouts.

Q: Is there any natural way to reduce anxiety sweat?

A: If anxiety about sweating through your clothes is triggering you to perspire more, try to de-catastrophize the idea of sweat. "Stop thinking about sweat as the enemy, as something to fear," says Braddock. "Ask yourself, What would happen if someone saw me sweating? Would it be as horrible as I think?" As with other social anxieties, such as shyness, people don't notice your perspiration nearly as much as you think they do, she says. Braddock has a point. During a friend's wedding several years ago, I soaked through my pale pink bridesmaid dress while she said her I do's. She swore she never noticed my sweat rings -- even when later looking through her photos.

At the same time, I sweat less now than I did in my 20s. Back then, I used to go to the bathroom at parties every 20 minutes to stuff toilet paper in my armpits. Now at events, I use the ladies' room mostly for its intended purpose (to reapply lipstick). My armpits haven't changed; I have, which makes what Braddock says ring true: When you finally stop caring if people notice that you've soaked the underarms of your shirt, you'll sweat less.


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wendyebecker wrote:

Regarding suggestions to reduce sweat, I might be mistaken, but I aluminum chloride was dangerous to your health. I would rather sweat than use something that might cause breast cancer.

7/6/2010 08:22:27 PM Report Abuse
marketing wrote:

You might want to take a look at Breeze Comfort sports bras. The bras are made with patented bra pad technology. The bra pads have perforations throughout to facilitate air circulation to the breast area. This helps release heat and helps prevent sponge effect (sweat collecting in the traditional bra pads). Letting toxins out of your body more efficiently through breathable clothing is very important to general breast health.

3/15/2010 03:31:43 AM Report Abuse

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