The Desire to Perspire

The Science of Sweating

By Alan Knight 

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For centuries, and especially in these modern times, most human cultures have gone to great lengths to cover up the natural smell of our bodies with deodorants, perfumes, colognes, powders, etc.  We use products such a antiperspirants, to inhibit the production of sweat in certain areas of our bodies, such as the underarms.  We also periodically wash ourselves in baths and showers, again, usually using scented cleaning/conditioning products. 

Even though perspiring sometimes gets a bad rap, it’s perfectly normal.  In fact, if our bodies couldn’t sweat, we’d never have survived as a species. You sweat, therefore you are.  Sweating is our body's built-in “air conditioning” system, also known as thermoregulation.  

It’s the evaporation of sweat on the surface of our skin that causes a cooling effect inside our bodies. Our bodies accomplish this via a complex brain/body feedback system. To maintain your internal temperature of 98.6°F, sweat glands draw fluid from the bloodstream and pass the water (and other substances) to the skin to be evaporated and hopefully cool it.  In addition to hot weather, exercise, certain foods (especially spicy ones) and emotions induce sweating.

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Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying, “Horses sweat, men perspire and women glow,” which was thought to have originated in Victorian times regarding etiquette?  In fact, primates and horses have armpits that sweat like human bodies do. Sweating is found in a variety of mammals, but unlike humans and horses, very few produce significant amounts of sweat in order to cool their internal body temperature down, instead using other biological mechanisms (i.e., dogs, cats and other animals panting). 

In extreme heat, an average person sweats about three pints an hour.  But someone well acclimatized to heat (and/or exercise) sweats up to 8.5 pints an hour. While it’s true that most men sweat more than women, the days of women just “glowing” are now passé. Attend any aerobics, Zumba, hot yoga, or even a challenging ballet class, and you’ll know it’s true.  
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To accomplish thermoregulation, humans are endowed with two different types of sweat glands in our skin, which is the body’s largest organ.  The eccrine sweat glands are distributed over much of the body.  By the time you’ve celebrated your three-year-old birthday, you’ve developed two to five million eccrine glands throughout your body. Surprisingly, less than 0.5%, only about 25,000 are found under the arms.  Eccrine glands secrete a watery sweat directly on the surface of the skin. They especially rev up into overdrive in hot, humid weather (for all you fellow Floridian readers, you know what I’m talking about).  

The second type, apocrine sweat glands, become active around puberty.  Apocrine glands are found only in certain locations of the body: the underarms, areola and nipples of the breast, ear canal, eyelids, wings of the nostril, perianal region, and some parts of the external genitalia. Especially in the underarm and genital regions, the produced sweat is prone to remain on hair follicles, and is later broken down by bacteria.  We tend to emit more body odor from our armpits because sweat doesn't evaporate as quickly from that area. 

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In most mammals, including humans, apocrine sweat glands secrete an oily (and eventually smelly) compound that acts as a pheromone, a chemical compound capable of acting outside the body of the secreting individual to impact the behavior of the receiving.  Apocrine glands are impacted by adrenaline, and ― sometimes inconveniently ― are involved in emotional sweating in humans (which can be induced by nervousness, anxiety, stress, fear, embarrassment, sexual attraction, sexual stimulation, and pain). 

Well Met with Sweat 

 The ability to sweat is essential to our health and well-being.  In fact, it’s one of the most ancient forms of healing.  Hippocrates, the famed Greek physician, is thought to have espoused, “Give me a fever and I can cure any disease.” 

Fever is an important part of the body's defense against infection. Most bacteria and viruses that cause infections in humans  thrive best at 98.6°F. Although a fever signals that a battle might be going on in the body, generally the fever is fighting for, not against the person.  One purpose of a fever is to raise the body's temperature enough to kill off certain bacteria and viruses sensitive to temperature changes. 

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One of the oldest known medical documents, the Ayurveda, appeared in Sanskrit in 568 BC in India.  It regarded sweating so important to our overall health that it prescribed the sweat bath and thirteen other methods of inducing sweat.  Throughout history, physicians have extolled the medicinal value of the sweat bath in its various forms such as the European sauna, and the Native American sweatlodge. Medical evidence shows that bathing in temperatures of  192°F (9O°C) has a profoundly beneficial effect on a healthy body.  Sweating is as essential to our health as eating and breathing by:
  • Ridding the body of wastes and toxins
  • Regulating the critical temperature of the body
  • Keeping the skin clean and pliant
  • Raising the body’s core temperature, which makes it less hospitable to pathogens
In fact, assert proponents of sweat baths, many people, particularly in our environmentally controlled, sedentary age, simply don't sweat enough, making sweat bathing particularly desirable in order to reap the physiological benefits of sweating.  Furthermore, the use of antiperspirants, artificial environments, smog, synthetic clothing, and a physically idle lifestyle all conspire to clog skin pores and inhibit the healthy flow of sweat.  These detrimental effects can be reversed in a sweat bath. 

Sweating Gingerly

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But what if you don’t have access to sweat bath or sauna? Here’s something you can do in any of Tub King’s cast iron/porcelain tubs or Walk-in tubs to enhance your body’s ability to sweat. It’s a simple and sure way to sweat nasty toxins out of your body, as well as perhaps make it less conducive to harboring pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. Take a hot Ginger Bath

Use either freshly grated ginger or ginger powder. Add ½ a cup of freshly grated ginger or a rounded teaspoon of ginger powder in hot or warm water and soak for 15-20 minutes.  Remember, the ginger bath will make you sweat profusely for at least an hour afterwards, so take precautions to not get chilled when you leave the bath. 

Most people sweat a lot with the addition of the ginger to their bath water, and if you wrap your body in a blanket immediately after getting out of the tub, you can continue to detoxify through perspiration for another couple of hours. This is especially beneficial if you’re trying to get rid the body of a bug of some sort of disease, like the flu, or a cold.
Given that, it's also important to stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water during and after your bath. (By the way, if you have sensitive skin or are allergy-prone, test ginger on your skin for irritation before immersing yourself in a ginger bath.)

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So imagine spending quality time soaking in a warm to moderately hot ginger bath inside your deep-soaking cast iron/porcelain or Walk-in tub. Now you can sweat like a horse and feel better and be healthier for it.

Until next time.
In this article, I discussed the importance of perspiring for human beings.  I also discussed some of the anatomical and physiological mechanisms of sweating. I then showed how, throughout history, sweating has been used for promoting health and well-being. I then shared how you can turn your cast iron/porcelain and/or Walk-in tub into your own private, health-inducing sweat bath.   

If you have a comment, please type it in the Comment section below.  Of course, I encourage you to share this article with your family, friends, and colleagues. 

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Have a question?  Feel free to contact me at the number or email listed below and I’ll personally get back to you.  Thanks for reading; it’s been my pleasure to share this information with you. 

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Alan Knight is the owner of Tub King, Inc., and  in Jacksonville, Florida. He has many years of experience in the antique and senior bathtub industries. His companies not only provide superior products, they are also award winners, receiving the “Best of Jacksonville Chamber Award” four years running. To contact Tub King directly, call (800)843-4231 or email 

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