Sweating the Small Stuff: The Science Behind Why Stress Sweat Stinks

Sweating is a natural bodily function, and everyone does it. Sweating helps cool your body when you’re overheated and is a healthy response to perceived threats and fight-or-flight situations. However, when you’re experiencing stress, you may notice that your sweat is far stinkier than the sweat you produce when exercising or spending time in hot temperatures.

Understanding more about why stress sweat happens may help you avoid it. Here’s more about nervous sweating, along with useful tips on how to stop stress sweat.

What Is Excessive Sweating?

It’s normal to sweat heavily or excessively from time to time—such as when you’re extremely excited or nervous about something or if you’re doing an intense or vigorous workout. However, if you find yourself sweating excessively on a regular basis in situations where it doesn’t make sense (such as when casually walking from one room to another), it’s possible you may have hyperhidrosis.

Hyperhidrosis is the medical term for a condition characterized by excessive sweating. It can affect one or several parts of your body, including the head, face, underarms, hands, and feet. Medications, genetics, and certain health conditions such as diabetes and thyroid disorders can all cause hyperhidrosis.

Can Stress Make You Sweat?

Yes, stress can absolutely make you sweat.

Chances are, you’ve been in at least one situation that has made you sweat excessively. “Stress sweat” smells worse than the sweat you produce when you’re feeling hot, mainly due to the extra chemicals and hormones your body releases when you’re nervous or stressed.

How Stress Leads to Excessive Sweating

There are two main types of sweat glands in the body: eccrine and apocrine glands.

The sweat your body releases when you’re exercising or feeling hot comes out of your eccrine glands. This sweat is made up mostly of water and small amounts of salt and lipids that help cool your skin and lower your body temperature.

The “stress sweat” your body releases when you’re nervous or stressed comes out of your apocrine glands, which are significantly larger than eccrine glands and located on parts of the body that usually contain more hair follicles, such as your genital area and underarms. This sweat is also thicker than sweat emitted from the eccrine glands and mixes with bacteria on the surface of your skin to make it stinkier and more odorous. Your apocrine glands respond to stress hormones, including cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine, when you’re experiencing stress.

Solutions for Nervous Sweating

Fortunately, you can take steps to effectively prevent or manage stress sweating. Given how nervous sweating is usually caused by stress, the best way to manage it is to learn how to reduce and cope with stress.

Wear Antiperspirant

Antiperspirant contains ingredients that can block your sweat pores to reduce the amount of sweat that comes out. On the other hand, deodorant simply helps reduce body odor produced by sweat.

Start using a quality antiperspirant or a deodorant-antiperspirant combination that can help you manage both your body odor and the amount of sweat you release. You may need to experiment with different antiperspirants before you find one that works best for you.

Bathe Every Day

Bathing every day can reduce the amount of bacteria that resides on your skin so you can avoid unpleasant body odor caused by stress sweating. Dry your skin completely after bathing to prevent the growth of fungi and bacteria that promote body odor.

Keep Your Body Hairs Short

Given how stress sweat is released from sweat pores that reside in areas where hair tends to grow, it may help to trim or shave your body hairs regularly. Focus on the areas that tend to produce the strongest stress sweat smells, such as your underarms and genital area.

Wear Sweat Pads

Sweat pads are absorbent, adhesive pads you can stick to the insides of your clothing to soak up excess sweat. Sweat pads won’t prevent stress sweat, but they may help you avoid sweat stains that show up on your clothing, such as in the armpit area.

See a Thoracic Specialist

If excessive sweating—or stress sweating—is having a major negative impact on your daily activities and quality of life, make an appointment with a thoracic specialist. A thoracic doctor or surgeon can talk with you about your symptoms and determine whether you may have hyperhidrosis. This condition can be effectively managed with treatments, including medications and surgery.

Contact the Hyperhidrosis Center at Thoracic Group at (732) 398-5099 to request an appointment if you think you may have hyperhidrosis or need help managing stress sweating. Our experienced physicians will work with you to develop a treatment plan to help you meet your goals.