Sweat: A Closer Look at Thermoregulation

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Humans sweat to keep cool, but considering the alternatives, you should be grateful for your glow. Photo by Cottonbro on Pexels.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Humans sweat to keep cool, but considering the alternatives, you should be grateful for your glow. Photo by Cottonbro on Pexels.

Turn of the Season, Turn Off the Sweat

Well, folks, summer is at an end, and fall is fast upon us, so we should be delving into our coat closets and costume bins and gearing up for the gold-toned glory that is autumn. I am particularly excited for the turn of the season because I live in Texas, and we were rocking over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for a significant part of the summer, and I’m not about that life.

Summer is hard in general for me. My family hails from hearty, proud pioneer stock, and it seems I was built for plain-crossing through harsh snows and hacksaw winds, not languishing under the desert sun, praying my AC will kick on and I will deglaze and de-grump like a normal person. My friends constantly joke that I’m irritable and sweaty 24/7, even in the blast radius of a high-powered fan, and they aren’t wrong. Such is the gift/curse of survivalist genetics. I naturally trap heat, over-sweat, and suffer for what my ancestors needed to survive their overland trekking.

Anyway, the point is I’m writing this article for myself. I’m curious about the science behind our body’s ability to regulate temperature, particularly through sweat, as my genetics provide a natural aptitude for excessive sweating (lucky me). So, let’s get into it!

What We Learned in Science Class…

Assuming we all know the basics here: you get hot, you break a sweat, and as the sweat evaporates, the body cools. That’s a pretty incredible evolutionary process when you think about how other members of the animal kingdom keep cool. Many fur-covered animals, like dogs, must pant (sometimes concerningly hard) to thermoregulate. Elephants will flap their highly-vascular, fan-like ears and spray water on themselves with their trunks to achieve the same effect. Certain species of birds do this crazy thing called gular fluttering, where their throat tissues vibrate, forcing air through their feathers from top to bottom. According to Natasha Geilung of Smithsonian Magazine, other species, such as storks, will resort to pooping on their own legs, as the water in their feces creates an evaporative cooling effect similar to sweating.

That puts things into perspective for me. I might fret over a sweaty hairline at the gym or damp palms on a date, but at least I have evolved enough to avoid using my own poop as a method of homeostasis.

What IS sweat?

With the process, itself covered, what exactly IS sweat? I used to think it was just a biological form of salt water, but that was far too simple an assumption. In the words of Sarah Everts, author of The Joy of Sweat, sweat is made up of the “liquidy parts of blood, minus the big stuff like red blood cells and platelets and immune cells.” So, apparently, sweat is sourced from blood, so anything you eat or drink also emerges in your sweat. Remnants of your breakfast, happy hour, or Halloween-candy binge will participate in cooling the body—which, fun fact, contributes to your smell! Food dyes, colorants, and other chemicals can emerge in sweat, making it a kaleidoscope of different colors. Cool, gross, or both? Methinks both.

To break it down further, obviously, there is water in sweat, but there’s a lot more going into it. Urea, ammonia, salt, protein, and some fat (as well as molecules from your food and drink, as we discussed) make up your sweat, and of course, genetics and lifestyle impact that composition.

Mind the Damp 

All that said, I have good news for fellow sweaters! As experts continue researching the science behind sweat (it’s, remarkably, not well understood), the development of new products seeks to banish it for good or at least make it more manageable. Antiperspirant deodorants have been shelf fodder forever, but have you heard of sweat-absorbing face cream, antiperspirant foot lotions, or no-sweat wipes? Trending brands like Carpe and Duradry are busy formulating every kind of sweat-blocking product imaginable, including the last sentence’s list and even crazier items like sweat-killing breast, groin, and thigh creams, as well as washes, gels, and sprays. Wild times, folks! Wild and hopeful!

If you want to read more about what our team has to say about sweat, you can read more here.

With THAT addressed, all that’s left is stopping your stressors. Health insurance got you sweating? Check out the following…

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About Cristin Dickey

Born in Maryland, raised in Texas, and educated in Utah, Cristin is a purveyor of stories from all widths and walks of life.  With a background in filmmaking and a staunch passion for literature, she aspires to give digital spaces a uniquely human touch.

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