Why You Sweat So Much and What You Can Do About It

Heavy sweating could be due to several factors

While sweat is a normal human function, a lucky few produce higher-than-normal amounts—especially in hotter conditions.

But before you hole yourself up in air conditioning year-round, you should know a few things about sweat. Here are some basics about what it is, why it happens to certain folks more than others, and what you can do if you're concerned about it.

There Are Different Types of Sweat

All sweat is not created equal, and everyone sweats differently, said Laure Rittié, Ph.D., biochemistry and molecular biology. Some people may experience all types of perspiration (there are three), while others may only ever notice one or two. Here's a quick look at the kinds of sweat you may be experiencing.

Body Sweat

Body sweat is odorless and pours off you during a workout or when you stand out in the hot sun. Body sweat exists to help cool the skin and keep the body's internal temperature as stable and normal as possible. It's the most powerful way your body can regulate its internal temperature.

You'll notice this sweat everywhere on your body.

Hand and Foot Sweat

Then, there's sweat on the palms and soles of the feet. This type of sweat helps increase adherence and grip, said Rittié, and, evolutionarily, it's the body's response to a perceived threat. That's why some people notice it when feeling anxious.

"When you want to hold onto something, you'll do better with wet fingers," Rittié explained. "In the beginning, we didn't wear shoes, so sweaty feet helped us run or climb when needed."

Body Odor Sweat

Finally, there's sweat emitted from the armpits and the genital area. This type produces so-called body odor, thanks to bacteria living in these places.

"We're not completely sure what the function here is, but we think there's some pheromone-type of communication going on," Rittié said. "If one individual in a herd senses danger and starts to emit those strong smells, it could alert others around them."

How Much You Sweat Is Specific to You

Whether you sweat buckets or stay fresh as a daisy on hot days also has much to do with genetics.

"If one or both of your parents were heavy sweaters, then there is a good chance that you will be too," said exercise physiologist Michael Bergeron, Ph.D.

Body composition matters, too: Larger people generally sweat more because they work harder to carry more, Bergeron said.

For instance, in a 2016 study conducted in Shanghai and Vancouver and published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, people with obesity were more likely to develop hyperhidrosis later in life. That's a medical condition that causes excessive, all-over sweating that lasts longer than the body needs to cool off, according to the National Library of Medicine StatPearls page.

In a 2017 study published in The Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeon, of 157 people with hyperhidrosis who underwent surgery, those who were overweight also sweated more afterward.

"But many comparatively small people can sweat tremendously," Bergeron added. And because muscle generates heat, people with more muscle mass also tend to sweat more than their less muscular peers.

Getting Active Helps You Sweat More Efficiently

The body begins producing sweat when it starts to heat up—either externally, from high temperatures, or internally, from muscle exertion, such as when exercising. If you push yourself harder than your body is used to, it's more likely to kick on its internal air conditioning.

That's why a highly trained athlete can run a 10-minute mile without breaking a sweat, while the same workout may leave a less conditioned person red-faced and drenched. But the more you train your body, and the more time you spend in hot, humid climates, the more efficient you become at sweating. And the better you can regulate your body temperature.

"The body will adjust and react a little earlier before you get too hot," Rittié explained. "So, your sweating will be more spread out over time and across your whole body—rather than building up and releasing all at once, and leaving one big spot on your shirt."

Yes, that may translate into more sweating overall. But, it's ultimately a good thing. It means the body is better able to respond to the demands of heat and exercise and stays cooler.

Sweating is also part of acclimatization, beneficial ways your body adapts to repeated exposure to heat. According to an overview by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), other changes include improved blood circulation and increased blood flow.

People Who Sweat More Should Hydrate More

If you sweat heavily, make sure to keep your water bottle handy.

"The more you sweat, the more deliberate you need to be about replacing the water your body's lost," said Bergeron.

When exercising, most adults can comfortably and safely drink several cups of water in an hour. However, NIOSH warns against drinking more than 48 ounces in that time. Taking in more than that can dilute your blood salt concentration enough to cause medical issues.

If you're sweating more than that amount—you can weigh yourself before and after a workout to find out—you should make up for it by drinking extra water before and after you work out.

Sweat also contains essential electrolytes, like sodium, that the body needs to function correctly. Most people get enough salt in their diets that they don't need to worry, but if you're exercising for longer than an hour and sweating a lot, an electrolyte-enriched sports drink can help replace what's lost. Or, reach for another beverage to help you prepare for, or recharge from, a sweat session.

Rittié also pointed out that acclimating, or slowly exposing, your body to exercise or to heat in order to sweat less won't work if you don't drink enough water regularly.

"Staying hydrated before and during exercise will help train your body to fight the heat," Rittié said. Cold water is best because it helps to cool down your internal organs.

Tips To Manage Sweat

Sweating may be healthy and normal, but you can do a few things to address it if you're sweating too much for comfort. They include:

  • Wearing the right clothes, such as those made with sweat-wicking fabric
  • Exercising in cooler temperatures
  • Spending a few days acclimating to the heat
  • Drinking enough water, especially if you sweat heavily
  • Changing your shoes and socks often
  • Putting antiperspirant on your hairline or other parts to curb localized sweat

On the antiperspirant: Rittié warned that when you block sweat glands in one part of the body, others may compensate by working even harder.

Hyperhidrosis Treatments

People with hyperhidrosis may have additional options to stay drier.

If you have the condition and you're already using an over-the-counter aluminum-based antiperspirant, but it just isn't cutting it, talk to a healthcare provider. They may recommend a prescription-strength solution with aluminum chloride. These work best when applied before bed but can cause skin and eye irritation for some people.

Botox injections and certain medications have also been shown to block the nerves that trigger sweat production and may be helpful for people who sweat excessively under their arms, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).

You can also talk with your healthcare provider about other treatments, including electrical stimulation, prescription wipes, or surgery, according to the AAD.

Friction also contributes to sweaty feet, said Rittié, so changing up your shoes and socks—and being sure you aren't sliding around in them—may also help.

A Quick Review

Several factors and three different kinds of sweat can all contribute to the feeling of sweating too much. How much you sweat boils down to genetics, physical conditioning, and how accustomed you are to exercising or a hot environment.

You can manage heavy sweating in several ways, including getting used to being active, acclimating to a hot environment over time, wearing the right clothes, and using the right antiperspirants in the right places. If sweating is excessive and ongoing, you may want to talk with a healthcare provider for more options.

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  1. Gagnon D, Crandall CG. Sweating as a heat loss thermoeffector. In: Handbook of Clinical Neurology. Vol 156. Elsevier; 2018:211-232. doi: 0.1016/B978-0-444-63912-7.00013-8

  2. Liu Y, Bahar R, Kalia S, et al. Hyperhidrosis prevalence and demographical characteristics in dermatology outpatients in Shanghai and VancouverPLOS ONE. 2016;11(4):e0153719. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0153719.

  3. StatPearls. Hyperhidrosis.

  4. Dobosz L, Cwalina N, Stefaniak T. Influence of body mass index on compensatory sweating in patients after thoracic sympathectomy due to palmar hyperhidrosisThorac cardiovasc Surg. 2017;65(06):497-502. doi: 10.1055/s-0037-1599797.

  5. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Acclimatization.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heat stress: hydration.

  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Hyperhidrosis: diagnosis and treatment.

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