Everybody sweats. Sweat, also known as perspiration, is a normal and healthy bodily function and it starts to occur just a few months after birth.
We mainly sweat to cool our bodies down, a process called thermoregulation. Our brain sends a signal to over 2 million glands in our body to release sweat (a clear fluid made of water, salts and proteins).
As this fluid evaporates from our skin, it lowers our body temperature. Through the process of perspiration, your body can generate up to 10–14 litres of sweat a day.
What causes sweat?
It’s helpful to think of sweat as your body’s natural air conditioning system. When you’re in a warm environment, your body cools you down by producing sweat.
Being active or working out turns up your body’s temperature. Sweating is your body’s way of getting rid of the extra heat.
Emotions such as stress can trigger sweating as well. Feeling embarrassed, anxious or even angry can trigger a release of the hormone adrenaline which leads to sweating.
There are many other factors that can also cause us to perspire:
Eating hot or spicy food
Side effects from medication or surgery
Illness, as our bodies fight infections or fevers
Hormonal changes such as menopause, pregnancy, menstruation or puberty
Why does sweat smell?
The familiar smell associated with sweat doesn’t come from sweat itself. Body odour is actually a result of sweat reacting with the natural bacteria on your skin.
When your body sweats, it releases fluid from two sets of glands – eccrine and apocrine.
Eccrine glands are found all over the skin and secrete a simple sterile fluid to the surface whenever the temperature rises.
Most apocrine glands in your body are located in the underarms and groin. They first start to function around the time you hit puberty.
When the body sweats, these glands release a combination of fats, lipids and proteins. The natural bacteria on your skin feed on this mixture, which causes them to thrive and create smelly odours.