It's your first day on the job and you've taken every precaution to make sure it goes well. Good night's sleep? Check. Balanced breakfast? Check. Clean, pressed shirt? Check. But by the time you reach the office to meet your new coworkers, a persistent enemy overshadows your ambitions: sweaty armpits. Two wet circles are forming under your arms and spreading -- before you can even settle in at your new desk.
Sweating is a natural process that helps regulate the body's internal temperature, especially during exercise or hot weather. As sweat evaporates from the surface of your skin, it removes excess heat and helps to cool the body. Unfortunately, this natural function is sometimes complicated by medical conditions that cause excessive sweating. Excessive sweating also can be driven by emotion or special circumstances: If you've ever soaked your shirt under the arms while making a presentation to a group or meeting your future in-laws, you've experienced situational sweating.
With more than 2 million sweat glands located throughout the human body, why does sweat seem to primarily occur underneath the arms? The apocrine glands, which are particularly efficient sweat-producers, are located in the armpits. The sweat produced by these glands contains proteins and fatty acids that make it thicker and give it a milky or yellowish color. That's why underarm stains on clothing appear to have a yellow tint.
Although sweat itself is odorless, when bacteria on the skin and hair metabolize the proteins and fatty acids in sweat, they produce an unpleasant scent. Preventing and controlling underarm sweat is important to good hygiene, comfort and your social life. Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent or minimize this condition, as well as the wetness and odor that accompany it.
Wear an Antiperspirant
Make it a daily habit to use an antiperspirant. Many people apply an antiperspirant or deodorant before leaving the house to help control underarm sweating and the potential for embarrassing odor.
What's the difference between deodorants and antiperspirants, anyway? Deodorants help to cover up odors, while antiperspirants contain ingredients designed to stop perspiration. Deodorants have been around for more than 5,000 years, as people in ancient cultures applied natural scented oils to mask body odor. Over time, these concoctions evolved to become more complex perfumes. Antiperspirants, which use aluminum chloride to actually prevent sweat production, were introduced in the early 20th century and caught on quickly. Since then, their format has evolved from pads and squeeze bottles to sticks, gels, roll-ons and soft solids [source: Abrutyn].
Today, there's a dizzying array of antiperspirants and deodorants on the market, so there's something for everyone. Formulas for men, women and teenagers are available on store shelves. In addition, you can pick up newer and stronger formulations that contain more aluminum compounds, the active ingredient that temporarily blocks sweat glands [source: Humphries]. Learn about how antiperspirants work, and about prescription-strength options for people whose sweat glands aren't daunted by over-the-counter products, on the next page.
Consider Prescription Strength
If your armpits stay steamy as a sauna despite your use of over-the-counter antiperspirants, you may need to switch to a prescription-strength alternative. People bothered by excessive sweating often find relief by using an antiperspirant that contains stronger concentrations of aluminum chloride hexahydrate. Over-the-counter antiperspirants typically contain 10 to 25 percent of this active ingredient, while prescription antiperspirants contain 30 to 45 percent aluminum chloride.
As the aluminum chloride-laced antiperspirant is applied to underarm skin, it actually relies on sweat to work properly. Any perspiration, no matter how slight, helps break down the antiperspirant layer into particles small enough to be absorbed into sweat ducts. The aluminum chloride plugs the ducts temporarily, slowing the formation and flow of sweat [source: International Hyperhidrosis Society].
But did you know there's a certain time of day that makes antiperspirant application more effective?
Adjust Your Routine
The skin under the arms is delicate, even if it is a powerhouse of sweat production. Unfortunately, antiperspirants are known for causing skin irritation, especially those that contain higher levels of aluminum chloride as an active ingredient. To help combat the itching and stinging that some sweat-blockers cause, take a few precautions. Don't apply products to your underarms within one to two days of shaving them, and don't take a hot shower that opens the skin's pores right before applying antiperspirant.
Instead, massage the antiperspirant onto dry, cool underarm skin right before you go to bed. People typically sweat less at night, when they are resting, so it won't get washed away before it has time to be absorbed into your glands. Make sure to leave the antiperspirant on your skin for at least eight hours; it works more effectively that way, and its effectiveness will build if you follow your nighttime antiperspirant application by a second application the next morning [source: International Hyperhidrosis Society].
Of course, even the strongest antiperspirant won't do much good if your skin is covered with heat- and moisture-trapping fabric all day. Find out which fabrics keep your skin cool on the next page.
Wear Materials that Breathe
You can help combat sweat by taking stock of your closet. Your choice of clothing can either make you more comfortable or more prone to sweat. Clothing made of natural fabrics, such as cotton, wool, hemp, silk or linen, often have a looser weave than synthetics; this results in a more breathable fabric that allows air to pass through to your skin. Plus, the fibers these fabrics are made from absorb moisture well, which prevents bacteria from feeding on your sweat and causing a stink.
In contrast, synthetic fabrics, such as nylon, rayon and polyester, are made with much tighter weaves that tend to trap heat and cause your body to sweat more. To make matters worse, the accumulated moisture doesn't evaporate as easily when you wear synthetic fabrics. They create a greenhouse effect for your armpits, trapping heat and moisture against your skin [source: Dyce].
Not all man-made fabrics are off-limits for those who perspire heavily, though. Bamboo, lyocell and modal are made from plant cellulose and pulp, and so these materials function similarly to natural fabrics. There are also microfiber fabrics designed to draw moisture away from the skin and to the outside of the clothing, where it evaporates more quickly.
Of course, there are sometimes special circumstances during which you can't help but sweat. How will you cope? We'll offer a few ideas for handling sweaty situations on the next page.
Understand Your Anxiety
Speaking in public. Going on a first date. Interviewing for a new job. There are plenty of situations that cause anxiety -- and cause the sweat glands in your armpits to go into overdrive. When you become anxious, your heart pounds, your mouth becomes dry and you begin to perspire. It's a fear response, one your body has triggered so that you'll be physically ready to respond to an uncertain or potentially dangerous situation.
Unfortunately, you don't really need your muscles to be fueled with adrenaline if you're simply ordering dinner with a new beau or previewing a PowerPoint presentation with colleagues. And you certainly don't need to be sweating, either. For some people, beginning to sweat in a social situation causes even more anxiety, which will cause them to sweat even more [source: Perry].
If just considering this cycle makes your armpits swampy, consider a few tactics that can help combat anxiety. See if you can discover what triggers your anxiety, and try to mentally accept that some circumstances are out of your control. Fortify your body and mind by getting at least eight hours of sleep a night, and practice the power of positive thoughts [source: Anxiety Disorders Association of America].
When it comes to effusive underarm sweating, short-term anxiety isn't the only culprit. Long-term stress contributes, too, and in the next section we'll share some ways to keep it under control.
A healthy lifestyle that includes exercise will help your body handle long-term stress, perform at its optimum level and keep underarm sweating under control.
Sometimes our emotions can get the best of us, especially when operating under career-, economic- or relationship-related stressors. And all this stress can lead to excessive sweating. It helps to learn how to relax and manage stress in difficult situations. Some people find that deep breathing, doing meditation each day or simply making time for enjoyable pursuits can be helpful tools. In addition, aerobic exercise can release tension and increase confidence, and yoga (or any other practice that focuses on becoming more aware of your body and your breath) can have a calming effect [source: Anxiety Disorders Association of America].
Biofeedback, a process designed to measure certain functions like heart rate and body temperature in real time, can also help to reduce stress. And keeping healthy by eating a balanced diet never hurts. In the next section, learn more about how the things you eat and drink can affect how much you sweat.
Change Your Diet
Some people find that certain foods and beverages make them perspire more profusely than usual or cause an unpleasant body odor. Caffeinated drinks, alcoholic beverages, garlic and onions are among the most common culprits.
If you like to jump-start your day with a cup (or two) of coffee but don't like how much you're sweating, you've got a decision to make. The beverage's heat will raise your internal temperature and signal your body to start producing sweat, and the caffeine will send your central nervous system -- as well as your sweat glands -- into overdrive. Of course, you could switch to iced, decaf coffee and avoid the problem altogether [source: WebMD].
Avoiding certain foods can help control underarm sweat, too. When you eat spicy foods, like peppers that contain capsaicin, it sends signals to your sweat glands. And, because the glands think your body needs to cool off, they'll begin to produce sweat [source: Watson].
There are some foods, however, that can help control sweating. We'll share more about these natural remedies on the next page.
Try a Natural Remedy
The sweating process begins in the hypothalamus in the brain. This sensitive gland knows when the body's core temperature rises, and it sends out the signal to other glands to start sweating. By drinking cool water, however, you can short circuit this cycle. Staying hydrated will keep the body's internal temperature lower, reducing the call for sweat production. You should drink as much water throughout the day as it takes to prevent thirst (a sign you're already dehydrated) and keep your urine more clear than yellow. Which means that you'll need to increase your usual amount of water intake under certain circumstances, like hot weather or rigorous exercise [source: Vella].
If you know you'll be in a sweat-prone environment, you can also boost your antiperspirant by applying talcum power or baking soda to your underarms to soak up moisture and prevent odor.
You can also turn to a common fruit to help control underarm sweat. While limes are a common ingredient in many cuisines (do margaritas count as a cuisine?), they may reduce sweating, too. Before going to bed, cut a lime in half and rub it under your arms until the skin is coated in juice, then let it dry. The citrus will work as a natural deodorant, and the acidic juice may help stop sweat from being produced [source: Bassitt].
See a Doctor -- Just in Case
If you're sweating more than usual, or at unusual times, visit your doctor to make sure that it's not caused by an underlying illness or medical condition that should be treated. Excessive sweating is a symptom of various health problems, including heart disease, hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia, leukemia, menopause, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, tuberculosis and several stress and anxiety disorders. Certain medications like beta blockers and tricyclic antidepressants can also cause excessive sweating.
Your doctor may also diagnose you with hyperhidrosis, a medical condition that causes excessive sweating. Excessive sweating usually affects your palms, soles and underarms. It can cause social anxiety and embarrassment and can be very disruptive to normal activities [source: Griffin]. Fortunately, several treatments exist for this condition, which we'll discuss on the next page.
Consider a Medical Solution
If you're one of the people who suffer from underarm sweating so excessive that it interferes with everyday activities and makes you feel uncomfortable interacting with others, talk to your doctor or health care provider about possible medical solutions. While these treatment options may seem extreme, the resulting improvements in self-esteem and comfort can be well worth the trouble.
- Iontophoresis is a non-invasive treatment that uses water to deliver a mild electrical shock. A dermatologist uses a small, hand-held device to send a low-level current to the armpits while the body is immersed in water. These treatments help to temporarily shut off sweat glands, last about 15 to 30 minutes and are performed once a day over a short period of time.
- Injections of botulinum toxin -- commonly referred to by one of its trade names, Botox -- are used in several medical and cosmetic procedures. Botulinum toxin is a protein produced by the bacteria that causes botulism. It can be injected under the arms to block the nerves that stimulate sweating. The treatment is effective for five to six months.
- Oral anticholinergic medications like Robinul work by blocking the actions of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps stimulate sweat glands. It usually begins to improve symptoms in a couple of weeks. These medications act on other body functions as well, and may cause side effect such as dry mouth, constipation or blurry vision.
- Antidepressants or tranquilizers can be an effective, albeit unusual, solution. If emotional triggers cause excessive sweating, antidepressants or tranquilizers may be prescribed to help control stress-related symptoms. As a result of this treatment, excessive sweating related to stress may subside.
- Surgery is a last-ditch treatment option for excessive sweating. If the sweating is limited to your armpits, removing the sweat glands in a procedure known as surgical tumescent liposuction may help. Another procedure, endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy, involves clipping the nerves that carry messages from the sympathetic nerves to the sweat glands. However, both of these procedures carry the risk of compensatory sweating, or an increase of sweating on other parts of the body [source: International Hyperhidrosis Society].
Humans have tried for centuries to mask the scent emanating from their bodies, so what do deodorants do differently?
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