So you're on your way to work, sitting on a subway train between two people. Both smell a little funky -- but the dude on your right with the cutoffs and baseball cap smells like a combination of stale fruit and Roquefort cheese. Meanwhile, the woman in sweatpants on your left isn't quite as bad, smelling like she just left the gym after a light spinning class.
Two people on the same commute, with dramatically different stenches, to ruin 18 minutes of your morning. Why is that?
It's not about how much you sweat
"The sweat doesn't really produce an odor itself. It's the bacteria that we have on our skin," says Dr. Constantine George, an internal medicine specialist and founder of Hygeia Health & Wellness in Las Vegas. "We're a petri dish walking on two legs. When bacteria have a wet or moist environment, they tend to thrive and grow. And when bacteria thrive and grow, they can produce their own odors."
There are two types of sweat glands. Eccrine glands are the most common, and can be found throughout the body, secreting sweat directly onto the skin. Apocrine glands can be found in areas like the armpits and groin, and dump their sweat into hair follicles first.
Unfortunately, while these glands create sweat that mixes with bacteria to make us smelly, we kind of need 'em. "They control your body temperature," says Dr. George. "So if you're out running or jogging in the summertime, it can get really hot and your body has to somehow cool down. So by releasing sweat, you have an evaporative cooling effect. So you don't get high internal body temperatures."
And you can probably infer that if your body isn't able to cool itself off, bad things happen. "You can have massive seizures and die," confirms Dr. George. Massive seizures and death are bad!
So we've all got bacteria. Why don't we all smell the same? Continue reading...