Stress Sweat: Why Does Stress Sweat Smell Worse & More

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Stress occurs when you feel scared, nervous, or under too much pressure. It’s a natural and normal reaction that can manifest in a variety of ways. Sweaty palms, a racing heart, and the unshakeable feeling that you have butterflies in your stomach are a few common physical reactions to stressful situations; these are examples of how your body helps you cope when your body and mind perceive a threat.

Whether your stressful situation was expected (a big presentation for work, for example) or unexpected (getting into a car accident), you may notice that the sweat your body produces during stressful times smells worse than everyday sweat, which begs the question: does stress sweat smell worse than regular sweat? The answer is yes, and there are numerous reasons why the odor accompanying stress sweat is more intense and, therefore, more noticeable.

What Is Stress Sweat?

Stress sweat is a type of sweat that your body produces when its apocrine sweat glands are activated. These particular glands differ from the glands across your body that produce the more common type of sweat that your body emits when you exercise or spend time under the sun. According to an article published by the National Library of Medicine, eccrine sweat glands “are the most numerous, distributed across nearly the entire body surface area, and responsible for the highest volume of sweat excretion.” In contrast, apocrine sweat glands are located in areas with high concentrations of hair follicles—such as your armpits and groin. Unlike eccrine sweat glands, apocrine glands do not regulate body temperature or produce sweat as frequently.

Why Does Stress Sweat Happen?

Stress sweat can happen sporadically or regularly, depending on how often you find yourself in situations that make you feel physically and/or emotionally uncomfortable. When you feel stressed, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode, which triggers the release of stress hormones. These hormones—adrenaline and cortisol among them—are influential in activating your apocrine glands.

Keep in mind that stress sweat is a natural bodily function. It’s essential, therefore, to approach the topic of stress sweat with the understanding that its occurrence is not something you can prevent. However, you can adopt healthy stress management strategies to manage stress sweat to improve your comfort and well-being. Also, it’s important to note that stress sweat could be a symptom of an underlying condition called hyperhidrosis (more on that soon).

Does Stress Sweat Smell Worse Than Regular Sweat?

When you’re under stress, your body chemistry changes; when that happens, your sweat undergoes compositional changes. The article mentioned before by the National Library of Medicine article notes that “apocrine glands produce viscous, lipid-rich sweat, which is also comprised of proteins, sugars, and ammonia.” If you’ve wondered, “Why does stress sweat smell worse than normal sweat?” now you know that it has a lot to do with the glands responsible for producing stress sweat.

Why Does Stress Sweat Smell Worse?

Why does stress sweat smell worse? That’s a great question! When stress-induced sweat interacts with bacteria on your skin, the bacteria break down the proteins and lipids. This process produces volatile organic compounds responsible for the strong and unpleasant odor associated with stress sweat.

Here’s another reason why stress sweat is so potent: when you’re facing a particularly stressful situation, your body is prone to produce more sweat than what is considered normal. The additional accumulation of sweat leads to a stronger and more pungent odor.

Can Stress Sweat Be Excessive?

Stress sweat can be excessive, especially if you’re experiencing a stressful situation that is particularly overwhelming and/or prolonged. Sweat patches on your clothing, visible beads of sweat running down your forehead, chest, and other areas of your body, and a constant feeling of dampness are all telltale signs of excessive sweating.

Stress sweat is also one of the main symptoms of hyperhidrosis, a medical condition characterized by excessive sweating. Since stress sweat is triggered by emotional stress and anxiety, it tends to be more noticeable in individuals with primary focal hyperhidrosis (PFH). In PFH, excessive sweating is localized and usually triggered by emotional stress, anxiety, or nervousness. Stress-induced sweating tends to be more noticeable in individuals with this type of hyperhidrosis because their body has an overactive response that leads to a significant increase in sweat production.

While PFH and stress sweat can occur independently, they can coexist. In this case, it’s possible to experience excessive sweating even when you are not feeling anxious or stressed.

Consult a trusted medical professional if you’re concerned that your stress sweat may be excessive. Our knowledgeable and highly trained doctors at The Center for Hyperhidrosis at Columbia Medical Center can determine if your stress sweat is associated with this condition.

How Can Stress Sweat Be Managed?

Remember, there’s no way to prevent stress sweat, but you can find ways to manage it. Here are some useful suggestions from the trusted experts at CHH:

–   Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water can prevent your body from becoming dehydrated. Dehydration can make stress sweat more concentrated and foul-smelling.

–   Use an effective antiperspirant. Antiperspirants block your sweat ducts, which can reduce the amount of sweat you produce.

–   Wash your armpits and groin frequently. Mild soap and water can remove bacteria that contribute to the odor associated with that distinctive stress sweat smell.

–   Wear loose-fitting, moisture-wicking clothing. Loose-fitting and moisture-wicking clothing make it possible for your sweat to evaporate quicker.

–   Find ways to limit your stress. Take note of situations that make you feel the most stressed and try to avoid them if possible. Also, try to incorporate stress management strategies into your daily routine; many people find that meditation, yoga, exercise, and talk therapy work well to reduce their stress levels. On this note, check out our blog post, “Breathing Exercises for Hyperhidrosis and Anxious Sweating,” for some breathing exercises you can try when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed.

If stress sweat is causing you physical and/or emotional distress, please consider contacting CHH to schedule an appointment. After a thorough evaluation, our team can determine if your stress sweat indicates hyperhidrosis. If so, we can recommend the treatment options that would be most appropriate for you.

A Final Note on Stress Sweat and How CHH Can Help

Even though stress sweat is natural, managing it and assessing whether it is a symptom of an underlying condition is essential. Please contact CHH by calling 212-342-1354, emailing, or visiting our website to learn more about how we can address stress sweat, especially as it relates to hyperhidrosis. We hope this article helped explain “Does stress sweat smell worse?” while addressing the best ways to manage stress sweat smell.

CHH is committed to ensuring that the patients who place their trust in our practice are given full access to the latest and most effective treatment technologies and medical therapies. We look forward to meeting you and making a positive difference in the sweat-related issues you’re experiencing today!

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