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Ever wondered why we sweat, why sweat smells, how to stop sweat, and what’s the difference between deodorant and antiperspirant? We dive deep to answer all your sweat questions, to help you find the best way to manage your body odour.
For millions of people around the world, sweat is a normal part of life, and deodorant is a long-standing part of the morning routine. We apply deodorant just about every single day – sometimes more than once. But for a product we use so often, how much do we really know about it?
Sweating is the body’s clever little way to cool itself down. It’s our built-in ventilation system. Our bodies contain between 2-4 million sweat glands, and they’re there to help regulate our temperature. When you get too hot, your autonomic nervous system tells your eccrine glands to release sweat. As the sweat evaporates from the surface of your skin, it takes away excess heat, and your body cools down.
As most of us will know all too well, there are times when we sweat not because we’re hot, but because we're feeling stressed. This sweat is different. It comes from the apocrine glands, and scientists believe its release may be triggered by adrenaline. Bigger than eccrine glands, these glands are concentrated in the armpit. And if you weren’t stressed enough already, stress-induced sweat can become much more pungent when bacteria break it down.
It's times like those when you start to wonder whether it’s good to sweat at all.
Sweating is absolutely good for you. Our bodies sweat for our wellbeing. It eliminates toxins.
Scientists now know that sweat eliminates toxins and heavy metals. Recent studies have found that arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and BPAs are all excreted through sweat. Some of these toxins were found in greater quantities in sweat, than in blood or urine. This led the researchers to conclude that many toxic elements appeared to be preferentially excreted through sweat. If your sweat is eliminating toxins, it’s probably a good idea not to inhibit this. Researchers in one study even concluded that induced sweating appears to be a potential method for elimination of BPA.
It can be used for disease diagnose.
Now that is really good news and it’s only getting better. Sweat can be used for disease diagnosis. Sweat is rich in chemical compounds and contains biomarkers that indicate how our bodies are performing.Using nanotechnology scientists have created skin patches to analyse sweat, so that individuals can monitor their health on the spot, through their smartphone.
It can even help athletes train better.
This technology has plenty of potential. Some patches have been designed to detect the biomarker for cystic fibrosis. Others measure sodium, potassium, lactate, glucose and pH. These patches were put to the test in the El Tour de Tucson where a group of athletes wore the patches during the race. This allowed them to monitor the loss of critical electrolytes and make adjustments to their intake of fluid and sports drinks.
It’s been suggested that there’s the potential for these patched to be adapted to detect the presence illegal drugs in sweat. providing an easy anti-doping test for athletes, with real time monitoring using Bluetooth technology.
And it can be used to help with diabetes management.
When it comes to health management, sweat has a role too. Scientists are developing wearable patches that allows accurate diabetes management from sweat. These patches measure the level of glucose in sweat, analysis the information and if above normal glucose is detected microneedles release medication into the body. This patch is still in development stage but it’s pretty impressive.
But that’s not all…
Sweat can tell us so much about our health, sniffer dogs are being trained to detect disease even when there’s no symptoms. In a recent trial, COVID-19 was detected with 95% accuracy by dogs sniffing sweat samples. This isn’t the first-time dogs have been used to detect disease, they’ve been detecting hypoglycaemia and lung cancer.
So, if sweat's so useful, then why do we smell...
It might come as a surprise to hear that sweat itself is completely odourless, and made of 99% water. Our body odour is caused by the bacteria found in our underarms, which breaks down the sweat into acids. When we sweat, the bacteria rapidly increase. And as the bacteria break the sweat down, that’s when body odour starts to rear its ugly head.
Like a tropical rainforest filled with numerous animal species, our armpits are home to an extraordinary number of bacteria. Most people have at least 100-200 different strains of bacteria, most of them part of the two dominant strains – staphylococci and corynebacteria. Staphylococci produces a moderate body odour, while corynebacteria is the culprit behind more pungent smells. The bacteria breaks the sweat down into thioalcohols, which smell like sulfur, onions, or meat when they evaporate from your skin.
Males’ underarms typically have more corynebacteria than females’, which might explain why the men’s locker rooms smell quite so strongly!
We might all sweat, but that doesn't mean we all smell.
Interestingly, we don’t all smell + not everybody needs deodorant. There are some lucky people out there who don’t need to wear deodorant. It all comes down to genetic makeup, specifically a gene called ABCC11. If the gene is functioning then you’ll have wet earwax and body odour. If the gene is non-functioning then you’ll have dry earwax and little to no body odour.
The loss of function of the ABCC11 gene is very common in East Asia, with as many as 80-90% of the population enjoying a lack of body odour (and no earwax). The Caucasian population isn’t so lucky, with only 1-3% landing the non-functioning gene.
So, how does this clever little gene stop body odour? Scientists aren’t entirely sure, but they believe it might have something to do with amino acid production. People with the inactive gene produce less amino acid, and it’s thought that this inhibits the growth of odour-producing bacteria. If you’re one of these people, you won’t need to make deodorant part of your morning routine.
The best deodorant for you is less about whether you’re male or female, and more about what kind of bacteria you have in your underarms. Women are more likely to have staphylococci as the dominant bacteria, which generally means a more moderate odour. But that said, some women’s dominant bacteria will be corynebacteria, which means they’ll need a stronger deodorant blend. And the same goes for men – their deodorant needs might be mild or strong, depending on the specific kind of bacteria found in their underarms.
It's fair to say, deodorant is a modern-day life safer, but it hasn’t been around that long.
We humans have always been aware of sweat and its connection to body odour. People first started toying with using natural remedies to control body odour in ancient times, and for thousands of years perfume was the main tool used to mask odours.
But back then, BO wasn’t quite so frowned upon. It wasn’t until 1888, when the first commercial deodorant was released in America, that society’s real obsession with putting a stop to sweat began.
The world’s first deodorant was a waxy cream, packaged in a tin, applied by a finger, with zinc oxide as the active ingredient. It was the first product made to target the bacteria that causes bad odour, rather than just masking the smells with another scent. The original formula was considered effective, but it was very hard to apply – and to wash off. It left 'sticky, greasy residue on clothing' and had a rather 'peculiar smell'. None of which stopped the brand growing quickly.
In the early 1900s, deodorant took another turn when an American surgeon developed a liquid to keep his hands from sweating during surgery. His daughter tried it on her underarms, and soon discovered it put a stop to the wetness and smell for up to three days.
But there was a pretty major downside. For the active ingredient to work, it needed to be suspended in acid. This acid caused burning and inflamed armpits, disintegrated clothing, and stained fabrics red.
To overcome these barriers to sales growth, the father-and-daughter team turned to an advertising agency for help. They hatched a plan to pitch sweat as the ultimate social faux pas. And just like that, clever marketing convinced the society of the day – and generations to come – that sweat is embarrassing.
Thankfully, things have moved on a bit, but there’s still a lot of confusion.
There’s a lot of confusion out there about whether deodorants and antiperspirants are one and the same. Some think of the two as completely separate, while others refer to antiperspirants as a subgroup of deodorants.
Whatever you choose to call them, it’s important to recognise the big difference between the two:
Aluminium antiperspirants work by blocking your sweat ducts, it reduces the amount of sweat that comes to the surface. When you apply antiperspirant, the aluminium is taken up by the cells in the sweat ducts. As you begin to sweat, the aluminium blocks the sweat ducts. Your body continues to sweat, but less sweat makes it to the surface of the skin. The higher the product’s concentration of aluminium, the higher the product’s effectiveness against sweat.
Which iswhyantiperspirant manufacturers recommend applying antiperspirant before you go to bed. Say what?
Let me tell you more.
Most antiperspirant brands tend to recommend applying their products at night because you don’t generally sweat as much at nighttime. This comparative down-time gives your cells a chance to absorb the aluminium and block the sweat duct, before you start getting active during the day.
If you apply antiperspirant in the morning, your sweat can flush the aluminium out before it gets a chance to start blocking your sweat glands.
Botox injections can also be used to reduce sweating by over 80% for around 12 months. Botox works by blocking the neurotransmitter that tells the sweat glands to activate. Sweating is mainly controlled by the central nervous system, and Botox paralyzes the nerves so they can’t give your sweat glands the signal to activate. Botox is considered safe, but it’s not recommended for breastfeeding or pregnant women, or people who’ve experienced neuromuscular disorders.
Recently, a Botox-like chemical called IBR-snowflake has also been shown to reduce sweating by up to 36%. IBR-snowflake was developed by Israeli Biotechnology Research using dormant summer snowflake bulbs.
It was originally used to reduce wrinkles by stopping the contraction of muscle cell tissue, and to whiten skin by inhibiting the melanin synthesis and slowing down melanocytes proliferation. It reduces sweat by affecting the muscle contraction cells around your body’s sweat glands. By inhibiting the muscles’ natural functioning, the glands can’t release as much sweat. This lack of functioning results in up to 36% less sweat making it to the surface of your skin.
Our bodies naturally sweat. The only way to stop sweat is to block the sweat ducts that let sweat out, or stop the sweat gland muscles from releasing the sweat.
A truly natural deodorant works with your body, not against it, to ensure you feel fresh and confident no matter what the day brings.
Yes, natural deodorants really do work. In their earliest days, natural deodorants focused on masking odour. But some natural deodorants are specially formulated to effectively combat the bacteria that cause underarm odour. And that means they work just as well as – if not better than – synthetic products on the market.
When people first switch to natural deodorant, they’re often amazed by how well they work.
But don’t take our word for it
“This is the BEST natural deodorant EVER!! I have even converted my son and husband - who both thought it couldn't be possible for natural ingredients to work so well! I tell everyone I know about your awesome products - keep it up, I will be a customer for life.”
Julie, Everkind Customer, 2019
If you’ve been thinking about making the switch from a synthetic deodorant or antiperspirant to a truly natural choice, have a look at the Everkind range. All our products are certified organic, which means they’re made using ingredients you know you can trust – proven over generations, and loved the world over. And if you still have questions about all things deodorant, get in touch with the Everkind team.
In her pre-mum life Amanda-Jane was an environmental lawyer. When her children were little she and her family moved to the country in a market gardening area, where they experienced first-hand the toxic impact of conventional horticulture on groundwater, land and personal health. This experience launched her on a journey to restore her family's health and find practical, truly natural solutions for everyday needs. Amanda-Jane became the founder and creator of Everkind - a body care brand strongly committed to providing body kind, people kind, planet kind essentials that work.
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