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Stress Sweat: The Ultimate Guide to Combating Body Odor

Whether it’s during a tough day at work or while on a first date, we’ve all experienced stress sweat at some point. It’s a totally natural human response. Learn more about what nervous sweat is, why it happens, and how to stop it in its tracks.

Stress sweat

Whenever you’re feeling anxious or stressed out, you tend to sweat nervously. Depending on the individual, it happens in varying degrees ‒ from a few drops of perspiration to a shirt-drenching sweat-fest. You may have even noticed that sweating nervously produces a different odor than regular sweat. Although it’s impossible to control nervous sweat, it’s certainly something that can be addressed.

Have you ever wondered, "What does fear smell like?" Well, nervous sweat is the answer. There are roughly 2 to 4 million sweat glands on the human body. Stress-sweating is your innate response to perceived threats, anxiety, stress, or excitement. Stress sweat is released from your apocrine glands.

Most of the sweat glands on your skin are eccrine glands. Primarily found in your armpits, palms, forehead, cheeks, and feet, they’re responsible for producing ordinary sweat (e.g., when you’re hot or engaged in physical activity). Eccrine glands excrete a clear, odorless fluid made up of mostly water and salt. Sweating helps cool you down through the process of evaporation.  

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Stress sweat, on the other hand, originates in your apocrine glands, which are located in your armpits, genital region, hair follicles, and scalp. Apocrine glands excrete a thick fluid that empties into your hair follicle before it opens onto the skin’s surface. When your body reacts to a threat or emotion, stress sweat rears its ugly head. 

Despite the fact that it’s initially odorless, it doesn’t evaporate as quickly as eccrine sweat and starts to develop a smell. It combines with bacteria that normally sits on your skin’s surface, creating the dreaded body odor or BO. 

What are some other differences between the two different types of sweat?

  • Apocrine sweat is full of proteins, fatty acids, and liquids that feed and grow bacteria. It’s composed of 80% liquid and 20% fats and proteins. By contrast, eccrine sweat is 99% liquid and 1% salt and proteins. 
  • Although it’s pretty pungent, stress sweat usually doesn’t deliver the same level of wetness. Furthermore, exercise or eccrine sweat takes some time to activate, whereas stress or apocrine sweat appears immediately.  
  • Stress sweat smell is also released in larger quantities. Believe it or not, your body’s capable of producing, on average, 30 times more odor when it’s under stress. It typically occurs in short, powerful bursts and doesn’t evaporate as quickly as regular sweat. 

Scientists theorize that the stench of BO is a type of evolutionary defense mechanism. Many animals immediately give off an odor when threatened to ward off predators. 

Unfortunately, sweating nervously has a cyclical effect on many people. Once you begin stress-sweating, you worry about how much you’re sweating and whether it smells. This, in turn, causes you to stress sweat even more.

Want to know how to stop stress sweat? The obvious answer is to manage stress. Alleviating your feelings of nervousness or anxiety reduces stress-sweating. Consider trying meditation, breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, therapy, physical exercise, and improving your work-life balance. It’s also wise to avoid excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol. 

Coping strategies teach you how to react to stress in the moment. You’ll learn to stay cool, calm, and collected, which enables you to sweat less.

Don’t anticipate your stress levels going down anytime soon? Then, battle stress sweat by wearing natural fabrics and drinking plenty of water, in addition to trying the above stress management tips. Other possible remedies include:

A woman uses antiperspirant to prevent stress sweat

There is no single best deodorant for stress sweat. Each body reacts differently to different brands. Test several products out to find the stress sweat deodorant that works best for you. 

Note that while deodorants mask body odor, antiperspirants are more preventive and block both types of sweat glands from releasing fluids. If you nervous-sweat frequently, a combination of deodorant and antiperspirant is recommended. Applying antiperspirant when you’re already sweating only means it’ll get washed away before it has a chance to kick in.  

Deodorant and antiperspirant may be used on other parts of your body. Just be sure to test a small patch of skin first to see if it causes irritation. Should over-the-counter products fail, talk to your doctor about a prescription-strength option. These are designed to treat hyperhidrosis, a condition that triggers extreme, constant sweating. 

Trim your hair in the areas where stress sweat odor is a problem, such as your armpits and groin area. Though it won’t curb sweating, it will allow antiperspirants and deodorants to work more effectively by coming into full contact with your skin. Grooming your hair also prevents the accumulation of sweat and oil, limiting interactions between stress sweat and bacteria.

To tackle stress-sweating, some have tried using a medical device that destroys sweat glands and hair follicles via microwaves. It’s performed in a doctor’s office, and results might even be permanent.

Aside from talcum powder and medicated powder, there’s also the possibility of getting Botox injections. It’s costly but can curb sweating for up to six months at a time. In extreme cases, you could undergo surgery to remove your sweat glands altogether. Only your doctor or dermatologist is qualified to determine which solution is best for you. 

If you find yourself stress-sweating all the time, you might have an anxiety disorder. Consult your doctor about seeking counseling or taking an anti-anxiety medication to treat your condition. 

Stress sweat is a normal part of everyday life. However, if you’ve been stress-sweating a lot more frequently or feel incredibly embarrassed by it, a solution is out there. Whether it means trying clinical-grade antiperspirants or stress management techniques, you don’t have to live with stress sweat any longer.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sweating-and-body-odor/symptoms-causes/syc-20353895

https://www.sweathelp.org/sweat-help-home/press-releases/391-6-ways-to-control-stress-sweat.html

https://news.pg.com/blog/innovation/secret-stress-sweat-and-how-you-can-fight-it

https://www.sweathelp.org/hyperhidrosis-treatments/antiperspirants/antiperspirant-basics/170-media-contacts/305-
stress-sweat-stinks.html

https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/the-difference-between-regular-sweat-and-stress-sweat

https://secret.com/en-us/article/stress-sweat-the-pungent-nemesis

https://www.aurorahealthcare.org/patients-visitors/blog/why-do-people-sweat-when-nervous-6-ways-to-stop-it

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/09/22/349875448/best-to-not-sweat-the-small-stuff-because-it-could-kill-you

https://www.health.com/fitness/sweat-stress-smell-bad

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