Understanding Apocrine Sweat Glands

By: Laurie L. Dove

Apocrine Glands and Bacteria

As the sweat from apocrine glands travels up the hair follicle to reach the skin, commonly occurring bacteria begin to break it down. As the bacteria eat the fatty sweat molecules, it causes the previously odorless sweat to smell. Thankfully, there are a number of simple remedies.

In addition to bathing on a regular basis, remember to slather on a little deodorant (you can use it in places other than armpits, by the way). Deodorant is designed specifically to combat the smell-production of sweat-feasting bacteria. You could also use an antiperspirant for good measure. The chemical compounds in antiperspirants cause sweat glands to swell and reduce the amount of sweat they produce, at least temporarily.


Unlike eccrine sweat, which is mostly water, apocrine sweat primarily contains sialomucin. This oily substance is comprised, in large part, of sialic acid -- the working components of milk and colostrum [source: NZP]. Understanding this relationship, even if we are talking about its miniscule molecules, makes it easier to see why apocrine sweat has a fat content more like milk than water. Plus, when it comes to one medical condition -- apocrine metaplasia -- the relationship between apocrine sweat glands and breast tissue becomes even more intertwined. We'll share all the details, next.