Whether you’re dripping onto your yoga mat in a hot vinyasa flow class or sweating it out on the spin bike, at Well+Good, we’re firm believers that sweat is a good thing. Case in point: We have an entire section of the website that is literally dedicated to the stuff. But while we talk a lot about the best ways to work up a sweat and how to subsequently wash it off in the locker room (thank you, feminine wipes), it’s high time we start talking about the messages that our sweat could be sending us.
First things first: All sweat is not created equal. As you likely know, some days your sweat is smellier, or saltier, or more intense than others, and that’s actually your body trying to tell you something. “Different types of sweat do mean different things,” explains Jeremy Fenton, MD, at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, noting that there are two main types of sweat: One is from the apocrine glands and one is from the eccrine glands. “The eccrine glands are responsible for the large volumes of moisture when we sweat (like all over our bodies, for instance), whereas the apocrine glands produce less moisture, but can be blamed for the odor produced in the groin and armpits.”
And, he confirms, excessive sweating or smellier-than-usual sweat can be a sign that something else is going on. If something is funky, don’t sweat it: Read on for exactly what your perspiration style is trying to tell you.
If your sweat straight-up stinks
We’ve all likely had the deeply unpleasant experience of lifting our arms after an arduous workout and realizing that it smells like hot garbage under there. And yes, there is a reason for it. “If your sweat is particularly odorous, it could be related to your diet, as your sweat does help eliminate toxins and other components of your diet,” says Dr. Fenton, pointing to foods like garlic, curry, onion, alcohol, and penicillin as culprits for excessive stink. “It could also be related to high levels of certain types of bacteria on the skin,” otherwise known as bromohidrosis.
Your best bet for treating this type of BO is by reducing the amount of bacteria and moisture in the area with things like antibacterial soaps, topical antibiotics, and regular bathing. Shaving the hair in the area could also help keep bacteria at bay.
Heads (or in this case, arms) up, though, nasty-smelling sweat could be a sign of something more serious going on. “It could be an indicator of a medical condition,” says Dr. Fenton. “For example, if your kidneys aren’t functioning properly or you have a condition that is causing certain substances to build-up in the body, it could manifest with a specific odor.”
If your sweat is super salty
Let’s be real: We all know what our own sweat tastes like (don’t @ me—it’s true). If you find that the stuff dripping into your mouth during spin class is slightly saltier than usual (…sorry), it could have something to do with your diet. “The kidneys are generally responsible for balancing out the amount of sodium in the body, but some sodium is excreted through the sweat,” says Dr. Fenton. “Therefore, a diet higher in sodium generally leads to more salt being excreted through those glands.” However, there also could be another factor at play—it could also depend on the concentration of sweat, how humid the air is, and how quickly the water component evaporates.
If you’re sweating only in certain places
Ever wondered why your palms and pits get super sweaty right before a big meeting or any time you have to speak in public? ‘This type of sweating can also be brought on primarily by stress,” says Dr. Fenton. “But if you are mostly only sweating from certain areas such as the palms, feet, or underarms and it seems to be unrelated to stress levels, it may be that you have a condition called primary focal hyperhidrosis.” According to Dr. Fenton, approximately three percent of the population suffers from some form of clinically diagnosed hyperhidrosis, which involves excessive sweating in a particular area. If your regular DO and the clinical strength stuff isn’t cutting it to help curb the sweating, you may want to chat with your dermatologist to discuss prescription-strength alternatives and in-office procedures to keep you dry.
If you are sweating way more than usual
You know those particular workout classes where you walk out feeling much, much sweatier than usual? According to Dr. Fenton, any sort of profuse perspiration can be attributed to heat, excessive exercise or stress. “However, there are some medical conditions that can cause excessive sweating, including diabetes, thyroid disorders, low blood sugar, some forms of cancer, infections, and nervous system disorders,” he explains. Bottom line? It’s important to know your sweat style, and chat with your doctor if anything seems out of the ordinary.
If your sweat is becoming a situation, it’s worth noting that the FDA just approved wipes to help stop armpit sweat (though, the verdict is still out if they’re entirely healthy). And if you’re seeing any significant changes sweat style that you can’t quite figure out, booze might be to blame.
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