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Stress Sweat Stinks! Here's Why & What to Do About It

Global COVID-19 concerns, financial insecurity (watch for an upcoming blog with money-saving tips), essential worker burnout, distance learning, flooding, fires, and the U.S. presidential election. There is a lot to be stressed about these days. We certainly don’t need added concerns about sweat and body odor right now, too. 

Since it’s Hyperhidrosis Awareness Month, we want to be sure to provide some added awareness about the different types of sweat glands we have and how to combat not only excessive sweating, but also stress-related, unwanted odor, especially as this is a problem that impacts nearly everyone, at some point (not only hyperhidrosis sufferers).

The sweat your body produces when you’re feeling stressed or nervous is actually smellier than the sweat produced when you’re working outside or exercising. That’s because stress elicits a different kind of sweat than heat and exertion do.

The human body has two different kinds of sweat glands, eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine glands produce the watery sweat we need to keep cool in hot weather and during exercise. This type of sweat begins after a slight warm-up period and tends to be odorless because it is composed mostly of water. Eccrine sweat glands are located all over your body, but especially on the soles of the feet, the palms, the forehead, the cheeks, and in the armpits.

Apocrine sweat glands are found mostly in you underarm area, genital area, and on your feet. Apocrine glands produce a thick, viscous fluid and respond immediately to stress – no warm-up period required – to produce sweat that is full of proteins and lipids. The bacteria that naturally inhabit the surface of your skin love to feed and grow where there are proteins and lipids.  And where there is bacterial growth, there’s odor.

So, the reason stress sweat smells worse than other sweat is because different glands react to stress than react to heat and exertion. These glands produce a kind of sweat that is full of food for bacteria, and bacterial growth leads to odor.

To help deal with stress sweat and resulting odor:

  • Wash regularly with an antibacterial soap.
  • Use an antiperspirant with a deodorant at least once per day, preferably at night before you go to bed. Consider stronger antiperspirants such as “clinical strength” options. Make sure your underarms are dry before application to prevent skin irritation.
  • Remove hair from areas where odor is an issue. This helps reduce bacterial growth on the hair shaft and, therefore, helps to also reduce odor.
  • Keep odiferous body areas dry. Antiperspirants and hair removal helps with this, so can frequent clothing changes.
  • Sometimes adjustments in diet are useful.

If odor continues to be an embarrassing problem for you after trying the above self-care tips, don’t hesitate to talk to your healthcare provider about it. Some treatment options that tackle unwanted sweating can fight body odor, too.  Strong antiperspirants and deodorants, iontophoresis, botulinum toxin injections and an in-office procedure using a device called miraDry are great examples. Newer treatments like Qbrexza could also help, so ask your healthcare provider.

Of course, trying to lower your stress can also be a huge help. Consider calming apps for your smart phone, setting aside just one distinct time period per day (preferably NOT before bed) to catch up on the news (rather than consuming social media etc. all day long), enjoying stress-relieving exercise (especially outdoors), keeping a journal, and prioritizing quality sleep.

Two of our favorite stress-relievers are practicing generosity and gratitude. Thank you for being part of Hyperhidrosis Awareness Month! We notice and appreciate you and the positive energies you share!

Ready to learn more about stress sweat and odor? Check out this podcast featuring International Hyperhidrosis Society’s registered nurse Angela Ballard.

The International Hyperhidrosis Society acknowledges the generosity of individual donors and Dermira Inc. (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Company) whose support has helped make our 2020 Hyperhidrosis Awareness Month initiatives possible.

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