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What Is Sweat: Water, Salt ... What Else?

man sweating

By Charles Poladian

Sweat is more than just water and salt. In fact, there are a lot of trace elements found in your sweat. Perspiration gets even more complicated when you consider bacterial interactions on your skin.

What Is Sweat?

Two glands are responsible for all the sweating you do on a daily basis. Eccrine glands are the most common and are found throughout the body from your scalp to the soles of your feet, says the Mayo Clinic. Apocrine glands are concentrated around your armpits and groin. Sweat is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which is why you have no control over how or when you sweat no matter how hard you try.

Perspiration acts as the body's cooling system when your internal temperature gets too high. Exercise or a summer day are easily recognized triggers of sweat. What you eat and your emotional state, such as stress or anxiety, can also cause you to sweat.

The Inner Workings Of Sweat

Everyone has inadvertently tasted sweat at some point in his or her life, so you can figure out that it's a mixture of water and salt. Diving deeper, sweat is a complex liquid with trace amounts of many organic compounds, according to a study published in PLoS ONE. The composition of sweat has been studied for more than a century with improvements in technology leading to even more insights into what's inside perspiration. Lactic acid, peptides, urea & other acids are well-known components of sweat coming out of the eccrine glands. Components present in sweat from the appocrine gland are proteins, volatile fatty acids, steroids (pheromones).

Sweaty Interactions

Before sweat evaporates, it's on your skin. As a standalone substance, sweat is odorless and that's usually the case when it comes to the majority of daily perspiration. Sweat can smell, but don't blame the perspiration for the odor.

Sweat excreted by the apocrine gland is most commonly associated with body odor. But, there's more to the story than a different gland producing a type of sweat that smells. The sweat from your apocrine glands is slightly more viscous or thicker but is odorless. It only picks up an odor after it interacts with bacteria found on your skin.

The sweat from your apocrine gland is released through your hair follicles where it combines with additional sweat from your eccrine glands. Bacteria found on your skin begins to break down proteins and fatty acids found in sweat, which leads to odor.

There's more to sweat than meets eye, according to science. While perspiration may not be your best friend, hopefully, you've gained a new appreciation for sweat and a good answer to the question, "What is sweat?"

This article was brought to you by Colgate-Palmolive Company, the makers of Speed Stick products. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of the Colgate-Palmolive Company.