If sweat is made up of water and salt, why does it smell so bad?
— Maggie F., Medford
Well, Maggie, when it comes to the world of body odor, Since You Asked Central is certainly the place to go. We won't turn our noses up on any question, and for yours we turned to the antiperspirant industry to tell us the skinny on this one.
The truth is, Maggie, that your sweat doesn't stink.
That stench coming from your armpits after a workout is normal skin bacteria breaking down sweat secretions that are released from a certain gland.
The website antipersperantsinfo.com states that good ol' fashioned B.O. originates from something called the apocrine glands in your armpits. Those glands release a thick, oily sweat rich in proteins and lipids and the skin bacteria treat it like a free buffet. The result, well, stinks.
That's a far more rank combination than the sweat you find from so-called eccrine glands — the most abundant type of sweat gland found all over your body. This gland releases sweat that's 99 percent water and is responsible for the wet and cooling sensation.
The eccrine glands produce more clean sweat than the apocrine glands in the armpits. One gives you the wetness, and the other helps create the stench, the antipersperant guys say.
That's also why the sweat in your armpits reeks and the sweat on the back of your knee doesn't.
Two things really trigger the apocrine gland to secrete sweat: Exercise and when you feel strong emotions, according to the website.
Armpits are like bacteria magnets, so that combination gives you that post-workout aura. Wash up and you should be good to go — at least until until the next time the bacteria holds an armpit reunion just after a good run, or a bad cry.
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