It’s messy, it’s sticky, heck, it’s even stinky! Only the thought of it sends shivers down your spine. And the more you think of it, the more you activate those 2 to 4 million sweat glands in your body! That’s right, those nasty eccrine and apocrine glands can pour up to 12 liters of sweat out, in just 24 hours.
Don’t worry though (because that would make you sweat even more) – it’s all for a good cause, like flushing out the waste, regulating your body temperature and cleaning up your skin. And that’s not all – the science behind sweat teaches us some stunning benefits of this embarrassing body mechanism.
Sweat subconsciously transmits emotions from person to person
Scientists are gathering evidence that sweating induced by emotions can be a communication tool on a subconscious level.
Our personal scent, determined by particular emotional states, can influence the state of those whom are around us and happen to… smell us.
Experiment: Researchers from Utrecht University asked 10 men to refrain from eating smelly foods, smoking, consuming alcohol or working out too hard. Otherwise said, they kept them as clean as possible and divided them in 2 groups: one had to watch videos that provoked fear; the other one had to watch videos that provoked disgust.
Then they brought 36 women and had them individually smell every sweat sample collected from the 10 men. The conclusion was that the women’s faces reflected the same facial expressions as the men (fear and disgust) respectively.
Women mirrored those feelings involuntarily and despite their perception of sweat odor – for instance, they found one sample to smell pleasant, but their faces still indicated disgust just because the man who donated it also felt disgust.
But rest assured if we can really smell fear, we can also smell happiness – and there are plenty of studies to back this up.
Sweat influences the way we make risk-related decisions
Experiment: A German study conducted by a couple of neuroscientists and psychologists took a couple of men and subjected them to a high rope course. After collecting sweat samples from them, they invited women to smell the pads. After smelling the pads they had the women enjoy a video game session…
The results indicated that women took more time to make decisions during the gaming session, but they ultimately made much riskier decisions. Researchers correlated this to the men’s sweat – which were the same men who exposed themselves to riskier situations during the high rope course.
Sweat influences the way we perceive our environment
Similar experiments were conducted at different universities. At Rice University, for instance, in 2006, one study revealed that we’re not just being influenced by the sweat scents we get from other people, but we also change our reactions to the environment, accordingly.
Experiment: This study included both male and female sweat donors, but the two groups were divided into people who watched neutral videos and people who watched scary videos. In the end, the women who tested the samples were exposed to 3 different sweat pads: from the two collector groups and one that didn’t contain sweat at all.
After the sniffing part, women were subjected to a vocabulary test – a word association game. Can you guess who had the best performances? Obviously, those exposed to the scary sweat pads.
The conclusion: Fear-related signals that we get from sweat can make us more aware on the environment and induce a more active state, ready to face challenges.
None of the 3 studies we have mentioned so far pointed out whether women are aware of what they feel, how they act, and why they are getting better performances depending on the sweat smell they are exposed to. But their reactions and increased abilities were undeniable.
Sweat is a natural antibiotic and could have healing powers
For a long time, we’ve been told that sweat is 99% water and 1% traces of urea, ammonia, uric acid, lactic acid, vitamin C and a few other substances. But more or less accidental research identifies some cool things among those “few other substances”.
One of them is Dermcidin, a natural and effective antibiotic, discovered during a protein study associated to skin cancer. Apparently, our sweat glands constantly excrete Dermcidin, but amounts do vary from one person to another. So if we don’t wash too often, chances are that the right amounts of this antibiotic will remain on our skin, preventing germ proliferation and reducing our risks of infections.
Another similar discovery relates to the eccrine glands, which produce sweat for cooling the body. According to the study that showed up in the American Journal of Pathology, these little glands store adult stem cells. Those cells become active the moment we experience any kind of wound, helping with tissue regeneration.
Sweat could make women choose one man over another
Ladies, if you’ve fallen for your man from the first sniff, it might have been more than his expensive perfume. This works interchangeably for both men and women.
Gentlemen, it’s good that you wash thoroughly prior to a date, but your genes still smell :)
This theory has been studied for a long time, but mostly on mice. Researchers suspected that the little rodents pick their mating partners by smelling some genetic differences. Thanks to Claus Wedeking, a zoologist from Sweden, we also did a test on humans, which was called The Sweaty T-shirt Experiment.
The study selected 44 men who received clean T-shirts and had to wear them for 2 days. Then they brought the clothes back and each of them was put in its own box equipped with a smelling hole.
The 49 women invited to… assess the samples had to choose only 7 boxes, sniff them well, and then rate them for sexiness, intensity and pleasantness. It turned out that the sweaty T-shirts they chose belonged to men who had different MHC genes than their own.