Summer has started early here in Oregon, and I’ve wasted no time exploring some of the beautiful places within driving/riding distance from my home. This is the time to hop on my scooter and spend time outdoors.
It’s also the time to sweat. I’ve noticed people around me suffering immensely from the heat, even when it’s not very hot. While I’m comfortable with temperatures in the mid 80s (Fahrenheit, not Celsius), those around me seem to constantly complain. Having spent much of my life in hot climates, I’ve tended to attribute this to what one is accustomed to. Either that or some sort of genetic predisposition.
But recently I’ve considered another possibility: The regular use of antiperspirants. Since the early 20th century, Americans have been bombarded with propaganda (from the antiperspirant/deodorant industry) that body odor is evil, that we must wage relentless war against it, and that anybody who doesn’t use the marketed products is a savage. An unclean, unkempt, inconsiderate social misfit. It’s marketing by shaming. Americans, and many others, have come to believe that antiperspirant use is as important as bathing or brushing one’s teeth.
I readily admit that the judicious use of such products is important in certain circumstances: When one is in regular close contact with others or when one actually has a body odor problem. But current public opinion is more akin to a phobia than a concern for the comfort of others. As a society, we’ve crossed the line from concern about genuine hygiene to absurd fastidiousness.
Like so many other issues, there are extremists on both sides. There are those who claim that antiperspirants are dangerous, that their ingredients are toxic. Defenders of the current status quo sometimes use the “Loose Change” tactic, whereby they latch onto conspiracy theories, almost as a straw-man argument, in order to defend their worldview. Thus we find articles such as this one, which address only the toxic ingredient angle of antiperspirant use, while ignoring the fact that blocking a natural function of our bodies, sweating, is likely to have consequences. I’ll quote Dr. Mercola:
Why Sweating Is Important
You have two different types of sweat glands: eccrine sweat glands, which are distributed over your entire body, and apocrine sweat glands, located on your scalp, armpits, and genital area.
While abhorred by many, sweating actually has numerous health- and beauty-related benefits. Your skin is the largest organ of your body, and serves important roles just like any other bodily organ. For example, sweating helps your body:
- Maintain proper temperature and keep you from overheating
- Expel toxins, which supports proper immune function and helps prevent diseases related to toxic overload
- Kill viruses and bacteria that cannot survive in temperatures above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit
- Clean the pores, which will help eliminate blackheads and acne
Interestingly, you’re born with anywhere between 2 million and 4 million sweat glands, and the number of such glands you have will determine, in part, how much you sweat. While women generally have more sweat glands than men, men’s glands tend to be more active and produce more sweat.2
As your body temperature rises, your body will automatically perspire to release salty liquid from your sweat glands to help cool you down.
This is controlled by your autonomic nervous system, which you cannot consciously control. However, certain emotions, such as anxiety, anger, embarrassment, or fear, can prompt you to sweat more.
Since exercise raises your body temperature, sweating associated with exercise is a sign that you’re exerting yourself and gaining the many benefits that exercise has to offer. However, sweating in and of itself may also be beneficial.
Sweating May Fight Skin Infections Via Antimicrobial Properties and Reduce Kidney Stones
Dermcidin is an antimicrobial peptide with a broad spectrum of activity that is expressed in eccrine sweat glands and secreted into sweat. In the average healthy person, research shows that sweating leads to a reduction of viable bacteria on your skin surface, which may lower your risk of skin infections.
In fact, one study suggested that people with atopic dermatitis, who have recurrent bacterial or viral skin infections, may be lacking dermcidin in their sweat, which may impair the innate defense system in human skin.3
Research has also shown that people who exercise, and therefore sweat more, have a lower risk of kidney stones. One reason for this may be because they sweat out more salt, rather than having it go into the kidneys where it may contribute to stone formation. People who sweat more also tend to drink more water, which is another way to lower your risk of kidney stones.
The propaganda campaign against body odor has rendered a large segment of America’s population hateful of their own bodies. Our bodies are wonderful machines. In their healthy state, we should appreciate their appearance, their sounds, their functions – and yes, even their odor. As long as it’s not excessive, body odor should be accepted as part of being human.
I suppose this is part of the natural progression of civilization. First, we learned to feel ashamed of the sight of our bodies, so we began to wear clothing to cover our nakedness. Then we began to consider any sound our bodies might make, with the exception of speech, to be vulgar. Finally, even the smell of our own bodies became “unacceptable.”
The global antiperspirant business is now estimated to be an 18 billion dollar industry. Some people are making a fortune off of the odor-phobia they have manufactured.
Personally, I think deodorants and antiperspirants are useful products, but too many people consider them a daily necessity when they’re not, and people who resist the propaganda juggernaut should not be shamed for doing so.