I recently found myself on the tube surrounded by people with dry foreheads; men in suits looking cool and calm, and women with perfect hair and balanced complexions. I, on the other hand, had sweat running down my back, all over my hairline, and forming beads around my nose.
By the time I had reached my destination – which was a temping job with a new company – my makeup had left my face, my hair was wet and my shirt was stuck to me. I don’t have to tell you that this was not a good look for a first impression at a new job.
Sweating in public is a problem I've put up with for a few years and it irks me on so many levels. Why am I swimming in a river of sweat while others around me remain heat resistant? Why is regular deodorant just not cutting it for me? And what is the secret to a dry forehead in a heatwave?
According to dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto, there isn’t a clear explanation as to why some of us sweat more than others: “We don’t actually know what the reason is. The thinking is probably that the nerves that control your sweat glands are more sensitive to temperature and that's why it happens.” Your weight can also play a role, though; fat is a natural insulator, so heats the body, making you more likely to sweat.
We have between two and four million sweat glands in our bodies (the number depends on our gender and size), which are activated by our sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves. Sympathetic nerves increase sweating and parasympathetic nerves reduce sweating. Some treatments for excess sweating target the activity of these nerves, while others simply deal with the consequences.
Nutritionist Elspeth Waters, from Nourishing Solutions, was keen to emphasise that “sweating is a natural, normal thing and we need to do it otherwise it can cause big problems in terms of temperature regulation.” However, she agreed that excessive sweating could cause discomfort and embarrassment, adding that it could even indicate a hormone imbalance, while odorous armpit sweat can be caused by a magnesium deficiency; “it is the bacteria under the arms that causes the bad smell rather than the sweat itself.”