We usually don’t think of sweating as an especially pleasurable experience. But it actually plays an important role for our body. Dermatologist Dr. Lüder Jachens explains what occurs in our body when we sweat – and what this has to do with our skin.
Why do we sweat?
Lüder Jachens: Our body primarily controls its temperature by sweating, since the evaporation of moisture on the skin’s surface cools it off. In addition to the circulation of blood through the skin and fatty tissue, this is an important element of our body’s temperature regulation. When we perspire, our body not only loses water, but also eliminates toxins and metabolites, and so cleanses itself. In fact, we are constantly giving off a bit of sweat without even noticing it. Along with the secretion of sebum, this skin activity is the organic basis for the spiritual experience of our body, our sense of body awareness.
What causes body odour?
LJ: Fresh sweat is odourless. It consists of more than 99 percent water and includes salt, electrolytes, fatty acids and small amounts of proteins. These are decomposed on the skin’s surface by bacteria, which results in the characteristic “sweaty” smell. Children’s sweaty sports clothing barely smell; this changes with puberty, when the body’s sweat and the scent glands become fully developed.
What can we do about the smell?
LJ: Bacteria tend to gather on the skin where it is wet and warm, and where there are many sweat glands, such as the armpits. A daily body care regimen helps to prevent sweat odours, along with loose-fitting cotton clothing and deodorants made with natural, high quality essential oils.
The formation of sweat also depends on nervous tension and stress, especially in the armpit area. Because adolescents in puberty are not well practiced in dealing with stress, they tend to break out more easily into a sweat. During these years of physical and mental maturation, the autonomic nervous system, which regulates all metabolic functions and also glandular activities, is still in the process of becoming a harmonious interplay between stimulation and calm. During this time, stress can easily trigger uncontrollable sweating.
How much do we sweat daily?
LJ: How much we sweat depends on the individual. In pleasant temperatures without increased physical activity, the skin excretes around 200 ml of sweat throughout the day. During sports activities, we can lose considerably more fluid through the skin, depending on the intensity and external conditions. During one hour of swimming we lose approximately 300 ml; during an hour of beach volleyball we can lose up to two litres. Trained athletes sweat more than those who have less training, because when we train our body for sport, our body’s temperature regulation is trained along with it.
What role does our skin play in the production of sweat?
LJ: The skin is a metabolic organ. It gives off substances such as water or sebum and absorbs other substances such as oxygen. Our sweat also reflects our personal constitution. Dry skin usually has a weaker metabolism than skin that tends to be oily. Therefore, people with dry skin sweat less, while people with a more active skin metabolism tend to have more oily skin and also sweat easier and more. The skin reveals our emotions, for instance when we blush in embarrassment or pale in dread; a shock might cause us to nearly jump out of our skin. Anxiety often causes us to break out in a sweat. In Anthroposophic Medicine, the human being is considered as a whole. Body, mind and soul work together as a highly complex system, influencing and affecting one another. We can thus infer that the body reflects the whole person in its outer shell – the skin.