All of us sweat, but some of us sweat a lot. Like, seriously, a lot. If you fall into this category, you know how annoying and sometimes embarrassing it can be. But never fear, my sweaty friends; we’re here to share some tips to make your life a little easier.
Why you sweat so much
First of all, sweating is completely healthy and normal. Everyone sweats. It’s how your body cools off, removes toxins and maintains salinity in your body. So don’t sweat too much about sweating.
You have between 1.6 and 5 million sweat glands located all over your body, and two types of glands do most of the work: apocrine glands, which are found mainly in your armpit area, and eccrine glands, which are more abundant and found all over your body. The Encyclopedia Britannica explains that your apocrine glands are usually the culprits when it comes to most embarrassing sweating issues:
Apocrine sweat glands, which are usually associated with hair follicles, continuously secrete a fatty sweat into the gland tubule. Emotional stress causes the tubule wall to contract, expelling the fatty secretion to the skin, where local bacteria break it down into odorous fatty acids.
The fact that most of your apocrine glands are concentrated in your underarm region is why you only put deodorant or antiperspirant under your arms and not all over your body. Your eccrine glands, on the other hand, fire off when your body gets too hot and you need to cool down. Most of the wetness you feel when you work out or when you’re in a hot environment comes from these glands, but the there is much less odor. Here are a few of the main causes for excessive sweating (besides being hot):
- Exercise: When your body heats up from exercise, sweat is produced to cool you off.
- Nervousness: Your fight-or-flight system activates when you’re nervous and it creates a rush of hormones in your body. Your heart rate increases and you start to burn energy, so your sweat once again comes to cool your body down.
- Hyperhidrosis: According to Harvard Medical School, Hyperhidrosis is a condition that affects one to three percent of the population and involves excessive sweat in the palms, underarms, feet and groin. Essentially, people with hyperhidrosis produce a great deal more sweat than what’s considered normal.
- Emotions: Strong emotions like anger, excitement, or stress can activate your sweat glands. Similar to the way being nervous makes you sweat, strong positive feelings—like seeing the love of your life or being next in line to get on your favorite ride—can crank up your sweat production.
There are other factors that can increase your sweating—like your genes—but these are the main contributors for excessive sweat.
How to prevent over-sweating
Antiperspirants and deodorants can help some when it comes to sweat problems, but they aren’t always 100 percent effective. If wetness is a problem for you, use an antiperspirant, and consider putting it on before you go to bed at night. If you struggle with body odor, deodorant is designed to kill the stinky bacteria that feeds off of your sweat byproducts and make you smell nice.
Sometimes antiperspirants aren’t enough, though. If excessive sweat is something you deal with on a regular basis, there are some foods you may want to avoid. Consider reducing your coffee intake. Some studies, like this one in the Journal of Medicinal Food, suggest that caffeine has an effect on your central nervous system, causing you to sweat more. Drinking it hot doesn’t help you either, as it raises your body temperature. You also may want to avoid spicy foods. Barry Green, from the John B. Pierce Laboratory, explains in Scientific American why spicy foods have some “heat” to them:
…spicy foods excite the receptors in the skin that normally respond to heat. Those receptors are pain fibers, technically known as polymodal nociceptors… The central nervous system can be confused or fooled when these pain fibers are stimulated by a chemical, like that in chili peppers, which triggers an ambiguous neural response. The central nervous system reacts to whatever the sensory system tells it is going on. Therefore, the pattern of activity from pain and warm nerve fibers triggers both the sensations and the physical reactions of heat, including vasodilation, sweating and flushing.
If you’ve gone through different possible causes of your excessive sweating and still can’t figure it out, a visit with your doctor might help you find a solution.
Keep your body odor under control
Excessive sweat usually leads to body odor, but there are ways to keep it under control. The most obvious way is to wear a good deodorant. Deodorant not only covers up BO with pleasant smells, it also contains alcohol to kill the bacteria that’s causing those unfortunate scents.
The food you eat can also play a part as well. According to UC Berkeley, a couple types of food and drink can contribute to your body odor:
- Foods containing sulfur: Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and any other plants in the Brassica genus. Plants in the Allium genus, like onions and garlic, can contribute as well.
- Alcohol: Once consumed, alcohol is metabolized into acetic acid, but some is released through your sweat causing a stench.
A somewhat obvious tip—but one some people still manage to disregard—is bathing regularly. If you’re aware of your BO problem, bathing every day with soap should be a no-brainer. Skipping a day or two lets the bacteria build up and it will only continue to get worse. Last but not least, you can shave your armpits. A majority of women already practice this, but it can be beneficial for men too. When you shave your armpits, you remove hair that is keeping antiperspirants and deodorants from getting to your skin, and the sweat that’s produced there may be able to evaporate faster to reduce wetness.
Dress to hide your sweat
Some people—myself included—just sweat and don’t stop sweating no matter what products they use or what foods they avoid. In those cases, you’re left with some limited options (unless you want to get Botox injected in your armpits). One of the ways you can take control over you sweat issues is by dressing to hide it away.
There are plenty of options in the clothing realm to keep you looking like a normal dry person. For starters, the colors you wear make a huge difference. James Harris, writing for Complex, shares some tips on what colors you should and shouldn’t put on your abnormally moist body:
Dark colors like navy and black won’t show wet stains that badly, and neither will very light colors like white. Grays, blues, and bright colors are the worst options for hiding sweat, and they’ll definitely show the world that you can’t stand the heat.
Additionally, certain types of patterns can help you hide glaring wet spots too. You can wear patterns like plaid or camo and sweat won’t stand out. You may also want to wear something underneath your visible clothing. Mike Theobald at Everyday Health suggests dressing in layers:
Wear a breathable undershirt to absorb sweat before it reaches the outer layer of your clothing. Adding a jacket or cardigan in a breathable material may also help keep sweat from coming into view. Just be sure your layers are thin or appropriate to the season — you don’t want to feel overheated and worsen the problem.
Besides color and the number of layers you wear, you might also want to think about the materials you’re wearing. Something breathable is beneficial, but as Men’s Health points out, cotton is king:
It breathes. True, cotton is exactly the wrong thing to wear in the gym when you sweat hard—it soaks up the sweat instead of wicking it away. But in the moderately moist conditions of the office, cotton is your choice for staying cool. Polyester or poly/cotton blends tend to trap heat, causing you to sweat more.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to dress to impress, but being comfortable in what you’re wearing is your number one priority. If an outfit is going highlight your sweaty spots, you’re probably better off wearing something else.
Prevent sweat stains on your clothes
There are plenty of other ways to fight the horrible, staining wet spots. Here are a few more tips you can use:
- Air those pits out: One of the most effective ways to avoid pit stains—and one of my personal favorites—is removing the chance for your sweat to show itself in the first place. Wear a tank top or any other type of shirt that has big arm holes. Now—assuming you have a deodorant keeping the odor under control—you can sweat as much as you like and no one is going to notice.
- Keep a change of clothes on hand: Switch your clothes when things start to get too sweaty. You can even keep an extra set of what you’re wearing with you and it’s like nothing ever happened. Not all sweat issues are pit-related, so this is one of the best options for those situations.
- Wear sweat shields: There are over-the-counter pads that you can wear or attach to clothing that absorbs sweat before it ever gets to your outer layers. If you’re in a pinch, you can also make some simple ones with some tape and paper towels. It beats disappearing every 10 minutes to dry off your pits in the bathroom.
Pit stains can be embarrassing, but there are plenty of ways around them. The most important thing you can do is plan ahead. Know your body, think about what you’re wearing, and consider the activities you’ll be taking part in throughout the day. If you know that you sweat a lot, buy dark or patterned clothing. If you know you’ll be dancing in your dress shirt, consider wearing an undershirt or sweat pad.
How to remove sweat stains
One of the most annoying parts about sweating so much is that you can stain clothing and bedding. If you can’t prevent it, you can at least remove it. Brett at The Art of Manliness tried several different options for removing yellow pit stains—including bleach, ammonia, OxiClean-like stain removers, and Raise Yellow Stain Remover—and finally recommended using the OxiClean-type products:
All you have to do is fill up a sink with warm water and mix it with one scoop of OxiClean. Place your blighted shirt in the sink, making sure the yellow stains are completely submerged. For mild stains, just let the shirt sit for an hour; for DEFCON 5 stains, let your shirt sit overnight. After you’re done soaking, rinse your shirt and launder as usual.
Don’t hesitate to use it on other garments or bed sheets as well for those night sweaters out there. If you’re interested in a homemade remedy, you can make your own OxiClean-like stain remover with a mixture of dishwashing detergent and hydrogen peroxide. Mix one part dishwashing liquid with two parts hydrogen peroxide and let the mixture sit on the stain for at least an hour. For tougher stains, add in a little baking soda and scrub. The yellow stains on a T-shirt or bedspread can be just as annoying as the wet spots themselves, so don’t hesitate to banish those canaries.
So go forth and sweat: at least now you have options for dealing with it.
This story was originally published on 11/10/14 and was updated on 10/4/19 to provide more thorough and current information.