Sweating: The Details

July 28, 2005|By Rob Hiaasen and Joe Burris | Rob Hiaasen and Joe Burris,SUN STAFF

Forgive us, for the subject of sweat is usually reserved for locker rooms and even more personal locales. But the heat wave has weakened our social defenses as much as it has wrenched every last drop of, you know, sweat from our brows and more unmentionable locales.

Everyone does it, so enough of this charade. Women (and you know who you are) are sweating out this week's heat along with their more openly sweaty male counterparts. The heat wave was tempered last night by thunderstorms, but know this: We have not seen the last of our sweat.

"Just wear loose pants ... drink lots of fluids and hope for the best," said William Arrington, a Baltimore sanitation worker who was sweeping up around Harborplace yesterday. He wore black.

"I don't care what color you have on - a hundred degrees is a hundred degrees," he said.

In downtown Baltimore, which was again one big sweat lodge yesterday, Chris Krainer was visiting from Kent Island. She looked remarkably dry. What was her Secret or secret?

"I used my husband's Old Spice gel this morning, and my Dove stick too," Krainer said. It was a double-barrel attack. "I had to," she said.

Perhaps the best strategy this week is not to fight sweat but to embrace it, in a manner of speaking. Perhaps we have much to learn about sweat and about our 2.5 million sweat glands, most of which are called eccrine glands. Their production of naturally odorless sweat routinely takes a foul turn at the armpits.

So, as a public service, we present "The Sweat Index," random facts, musings and observations about that glistening, glowing or - at least this week - torrential downpour that is humanity's personal condensation system.

First off, what is it? Sweat is mostly water, with tiny amounts of other chemicals such as salt, ammonia and, get this, sugar.

Whenever your body temperature exceeds normal - because of exercise or heat, for example - the part of your brain that controls temperature (the hypothalamus) tells it to cool down, and sweating begins. It leaves your skin via tiny holes called pores; when sweat hits the air, it evaporates. As it evaporates off your skin, you cool down.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a pea-sized bead of sweat can cool nearly 1 liter of blood 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Men sweat more than women. New Scientist magazine tested volunteers in a sweltering car. Men lost 250 grams of sweat per hour - 70 more grams than the women tested. But the men got to pretend they were driving, which is a little sweat joke.

Women are in denial. At Harborplace yesterday, Helen Powell of Delaware was accused of sweating in public.

"No," she said, "I shimmer."

Her daughter, 18-year-old Taylor Powell, also denied sweating - or sweating a lot. "My boyfriend is real sweaty," she said. "He has this really greasy skin and it gets all sweaty and gross in the heat." Picture painted. Thank you, Taylor.

A 2003 University of Pennsylvania biology study found men's perspiration to brighten women's moods and reduce their stress levels. Researchers had collected samples from the underarms of men and blended the extracts to apply to the upper lips of 18 women, thus raising the question, is scientific knowledge worth it?

But at least you're losing weight, right?

Not necessarily so, said Dr. Yvette Rooks, a University of Maryland team physician.

Sweating is commonly associated with calorie burning, so most people figure that when they walk away drenched after a grueling workout, they're undoubtedly on their way to significant weight loss.

"You're losing fluids," she said. "That can be termed as losing weight, but as soon as you drink something, some of the weight goes back on."

At least the more you weigh, the more you sweat.

"[Football] linemen probably sweat a lot more because they weigh a lot more," Rooks said. "If you have the same type of exercise, a 350-pound guy will sweat more than a 250-pound guy because the 350-pound guy is burning more calories."

From www.dancefreak.com: "Salsa is supposed to be a sexy dance, but I think men should know, IT'S NOT SEXY TO BE SWEAT ON BY A STRANGER WHO SMELLS!!!" The Web site recommends male salsa dancers wear an "Italian style low cut T-shirt" to absorb the first layer of sweat.

A historic timeline of sweat-control:

1888: First commercial deodorant, Mum, invented.

1952: First underarm ball deodorant tested.

1965: First aerosol antiperspirant launched.

Today: Thanks to Axe deodorant, every teenage boy has drowned himself and his family in the popular body spray.

But when is it really too much? The medical term is Focal Idiopathic Hyperhidrosis, or hyperhidrosis for short.

The layman's term is, "I can't stop sweating."

The condition of excessive sweating is inherited about 50 percent of the time. Sweating profusely on hot, humid days is not necessarily a tell-tale sign.

"Their history of sweating is different from the average person. In 70-degree weather, they can go through two or three shirts with no activity," says Dr. Richard Glogau, dermatologist at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.

Under this week's temperatures, a person with hyperhidrosis can go through an entire wardrobe.

But there's hope for hyperhidroids, Glogau said: The federal government approved the use of the anti-wrinkle toxin Botox in treating the condition. The procedure involves 12 injections to each armpit, raising the question, does this mean armpits will look 10 years younger?

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