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Any woman whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ever reached for a glass of wine on a date only to reveal the soaked underarms of her outfit has probably wished she could remove her sweat glands. But long before pit stains became a social obstacle, perspiring was crucial to survival. "Sweat cooled off our ancestors in the grasslands of Africa," says anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D. "It allowed them to hunt and forage without sweltering.Ã¢â‚¬Â But a hot climate isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the only thing that makes us sweat. Nerve-racking situations (e.g., a big job interview) can prompt the brain to trigger the release of stress hormones that raise your bodyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s temperature enough to warrant a cooldown.
The Basic Biology
Bodily functions such as digestion and muscle movements generate heat, and we perspire constantly to keep things chilled. So while you're busy patting down your sweat 'stache, your system isÃ‚Â on AC overdrive, sending and fielding a complexÃ‚Â network of cooldown codes. Here's what's happening in your body:
1. In response to scorching temps or frazzled nerves, your brain fires a sweat signal down your spinal cord, triggering the release of a chemical called acetylcholine.
2. The acetylcholine shoots from your spinal cord into thousands of nerves that travel to your legs, arms, chest, face, and back.
3. The acetylcholine arrives at your 4 million eccrine glands (wedged between your fat and skin layers) and prompts them to start filtering fluid from your bloodstream to produce sweat.
4. Your eccrine glands then pump out the stuffÃ¢â‚¬”99Ã‚Â percent water, 1 percent saltÃ¢â‚¬”through your skin's millions of pores.
5. The released sweat helps regulate your core temperature, much like splashing yourself with cold water helps you cool off. Most sweat starts to evaporate immediately, but if your glands are working overtime, it'll pool up on your skin. Or, if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re dressed, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll seep into your clothes.
Ways to Stay Dry
Even people who think they're as dry as a desert are constantly losing water, says Dee Anna Glaser, M.D., a professor of dermatology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "Just the act of breathing makes us sweat." On average, we perspire enough each day to fill a shot glass (1.5 ounces), and that's before working out or otherwise exerting ourselves. Because the highest concentrations of sweat glands are in our armpits, forehead, soles, palms, and scalp, those tend to be our dampest parts. If you're a real drippy mess, you can thank Mom and Dad; DNA regulates the actual amount we sweat, says Glaser.