Is Sweating Good For You? Experts Weigh In

What to do if you feel like you sweat too much.

Humans are sweaty creatures. Sweat makes our armpits moist, our temples drip, or, if you believe Instagram, our cheeks look dewy after a nice yoga session. And even if sometimes it's a bit annoying, let's get straight to the point: "Sweating is normal," dermatologist Beth Goldstein, MD, a dermatologist with Central Dermatology Center in North Carolina, told Health.

But why exactly do we produce this often inconvenient and sometimes smelly moisture—and is perspiring good or bad for your health? Health spoke to experts to learn more about what's behind perspiration and what you can do if your sweat levels feel excessive.

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What Exactly Is Sweat, Anyway?

The fluid coming from your skin is actually pretty close to water. It also includes "a few other proteins and salts and other molecules—most noticeably sodium—which our body produces on almost all of our skin," Dr. Goldstein explained.

Depending on which sweat glands it comes from, the type of sweat can vary, Marisa Garshick, MD, a dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City, told Health. For instance, Garshick told Health that apocrine glands—typically located in the underarms and groin—produce a thicker liquid secretion.

And as you've likely observed, some people sweat more than others.

"There is variability in how much certain individuals sweat, and this can be related to the number of sweat glands, exercise intensity, and sometimes weight," Dr. Garshick said.

Why Do People Sweat?

"Our body is comprised of numerous sweat glands, which respond to signals from our brain to release sweat," Dr. Garshick said.

Two main perspiration triggers cause this release.

First up: heat. Sweat acts as your body's cooling system. "The purpose of sweat is to help your body maintain a normal body temperature and cool you down when your body temperature goes up," Dr. Garshick said. Once your body releases sweat, it evaporates, which cools off your skin.

This is known as thermoregulatory sweating, and it often occurs in naturally hairy body parts (think: armpits), Dr. Goldstein said. Your body temperature can go up for several reasons: steamy temperatures outside, engaging in exercise, work, and even eating spicy foods, according to Dr. Garshick.

But there's another reason for sweat: Emotions.

This kind of sweating is more common in non-hairy spots on your body (such as your palms), Dr. Goldstein said. In our hunter-gatherer era as humans, this type of sweat would "facilitate that our ancestors could better run away from predators," Goldstein said.

These days, we don't need to run barefoot from lions. But when we feel nervous—say, before a presentation at work or a confrontation—it can trigger signals that lead to getting sweaty.

"Our sweat response has been a bit misregulated through our evolutionary history, and when it comes to emotional sweating, we often sweat a lot more than is necessary or even useful," Dr. Goldstein pointed out.

What's With the Smell?

Blame the stink on the bacteria that live on your skin, not the sweat.

"Sweat in itself is not particularly smelly," Dr. Goldstein said. "The majority of body odor and offensive smell comes from the excretions of bacteria that feed on sweat."

It's a particular problem with the sweat in our pits, feet, and groin, which are enclosed because of either the natural folds of our body or our garments, Dr. Goldstein said.

Most likely, sweat that accumulates on your forehead or forearms won't have any odor.

Is Sweating Good for You?

Yes. In fact, without the ability to sweat, your body would be in trouble.

"If your body didn't have a mechanism to cool down or didn't sweat, it could put you at risk for overheating," Dr. Garshick said.

Sweat that helps regulate your body's temperature is "the key reason that humans can stay conscious and healthy in high-temperature environments," Dr. Goldstein pointed out. However, overheating is dangerous, so many sweat-related products are sweat-absorbing, not sweat-stopping.

Emotional sweating, however, doesn't serve much of a purpose.

Can You Sweat Too Much?

Sweat may be essential to your body's health, but when it leads to rings on the underarms of every shirt or feeling soggy as you enter a job interview, your body may be overdoing it.

"Most of us sweat more than is necessary, and some of us sweat way more than is necessary," Dr. Goldstein said.

About 5% of people sweat excessively, a condition known as hyperhidrosis, Dr. Garshick said. With primary hyperhidrosis, your sweat glands are overactive without a good cause—that is, you're not sweating due to a workout or rising mercury.

Stress and nerves can heighten the symptoms; a 2020 study published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B found that fear causes sweating and changes the smell of our sweat.

But sometimes there's an inciting factor for hyperhidrosis, such as:

  • Medical conditions. This includes infections, hyperthyroidism, some types of cancer, and anxiety.
  • Medications. Everyday stimulants, such as coffee, can lead to perspiration. Meds taken for diabetes and pain can also cause sweating, along with hormonal meds such as birth control pills, Dr. Garshick said.
  • Menopause. Hot flashes can occur due to changing hormones and trigger perspiration.

If you're sweating more than usual or your sweat is not prompted by a need for your body to cool down, reach out to a healthcare professional. "There are multiple treatments available to target hyperhidrosis or sweating without any underlying cause," Dr. Garshick said.

These treatment options include:

  • Leveled-up antiperspirant. Try over-the-counter clinical-strength deodorant and antiperspirant options. Dr. Garshick recommends applying them at night when sweat glands aren't active or filled with sweat. That way, "the sweat ducts are able to absorb more of the aluminum and therefore be more effective," Garshick said. Prescription-strength antiperspirants are also available.
  • Botox injections. Injecting botulinum toxin stops sweat. "Although Botox has only been FDA approved for the treatment of underarm sweat, it is also being used in the hands, feet, and scalp to help prevent sweating in those areas," Dr. Garshick said. These injections are a temporary solution, lasting for seven to 16 months, according to the International Hyperhidrosis Society.
  • Lifestyle adjustments. Opting for light and breathable fabrics can sometimes help to reduce sweating, according to Dr. Garshick. Tighter, synthetic-fabric clothing can trap heat.
  • Surgery. For sweaty hands or underarms, surgery is an option. A healthcare professional can remove sweat glands in the underarms, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Surgery on the hands is known as sympathectomy; it's a more involved procedure where the nerves that control sweating are cut or destroyed, per the AAD.

Other treatment options include prescription-strength topical wipes, prescription medications, devices such as miradry (a non-invasive system using electromagnetic energy to reduce sweating), and iontophoresis (a process that uses mild electrical currents).

Bottom line: "There are great options out there to help you stop the sweat," Dr. Goldstein said.

A Quick Review

Sweating serves an important function: keeping you from overheating in a hot environment. It can be triggered by many things other than heat, including stress, anxiety, medical conditions, or genetics.

It can also be smelly, because of the excretions of bacteria in it, particularly in certain enclosed area such as the armpits or groin. Some people sweat more than others, and many probably sweat more than they need to.

If you feel you sweat too much, there are many ways to manage your sweat, including next-level antiperspirants, wearing the right clothes, special wipes, prescription medications and some medical treatments.

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  1. de Groot JHB, Kirk PA, Gottfried JA. Encoding fear intensity in human sweat. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 2020;375(1800):20190271. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2019.0271

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