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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sweat

August 16, 1994|ROY RIVENBURG

* Zoo sweat: The gorilla cage at the L.A. Zoo smells just like a boys' locker room, says mammal curator Michael Dee. And when the apes are rattled by earthquakes, the odor gets worse. Overheated hippos have red perspiration, he says.

* Cinema sweat: The most memorable movie sweat scenes, according to a 1990 poll for Mitchum Antiperspirants, are in "Rocky," "Body Heat," "Fatal Attraction," "Sea of Love," "Broadcast News" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." The survey also found that Americans believe that George Bush sweats more than Mikhail Gorbachev.

* Robot sweat: In 1989, the Army paid $3 million for a 6-foot, 187-pound mechanical man with simulated sweat glands, rubber skin and pores to test the effects of nerve gas.

* Antiperspirants and Alzheimer's: Although controversial research suggests a link between aluminum ingestion and Alzheimer's disease, Dr. Richard L. Dobson, who edits the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, says the aluminum salts in antiperspirants are harmless: "Aluminum is the most abundant chemical in the earth's crust. The amount in (food alone) is absolutely staggering in comparison to the amount you could possibly absorb through antiperspirants. It's like the proverbial drop in the bucket. Even if Alzheimer's is linked to aluminum . . . it would be impossible to implicate antiperspirants."

* Sweat ingredients: Sweat is made up of water and minuscule traces of salt, urea, ammonia, sugars, proteins, potassium, iron and other chemicals. It's odorless until bacteria on the skin break it down and release awful smells.

* Foods and fevers: Spicy foods and alcohol can affect perspiration amounts and odor, says UC Irvine anatomy professor Roland Giolli. So can illnesses. "I can recall vividly when I had measles in 1935," says dermatologist Dobson, "and my mother called the general practitioner, and he came to the house, took one sniff and knew exactly what I had."

* Perspiration output: In general, men sweat twice as much as women. But perspiration rates may vary by tenfold in any given group of individuals. When overheated, humans can drip as much as two quarts an hour, up to three gallons a day. Someone who sweats excessively under normal conditions, usually in the palms and feet, has hyperhidrosis, which affects about 10% of the populace. Treatments include prescription antiperspirants, electrical shocks or endoscopic surgery to sever nerves leading to the guilty sweat glands.

* Antiperspirants versus deodorants: Antiperspirants reduce sweating by plugging perspiration ducts; deodorants combat only the smell, attacking the skin bacteria that mix with sweat and cause odor. In the United States, where an estimated 95% of adults spray, roll and rub on $1.6 billion in underarm products a year, women use antiperspirants almost exclusively, whereas about half of men prefer deodorants.

* Fake sweat: When Cecil B. DeMille filmed a silent version of "The Ten Commandments" in 40-degree weather but needed his loincloth-clad actors to look as if they were toiling in desert heat, 500 gallons of glycerin were rubbed onto their bodies to simulate glistening perspiration.

* Weirdest antiperspirant: Eyedrops. A Kentucky woman whose sweat glands stopped working found out that the disorder was caused by anti-glaucoma eyedrops.

* Postpartum sweat: After giving birth, some women experience drenching sweats for several weeks, probably caused by estrogen depletion--the same culprit in menopausal hot flashes.

* Aerosol's demise: At its peak in the 1970s, with 80% of the market, aerosol deodorants were considered "the perfect product," says Ginny Dotzauer of Mennen. "One can could fit the whole family" and it didn't cause the stickiness or staining that some current products do. Since the fluorocarbon/ozone controversy, however, aerosol's share has sunk to about 20%. The accompanying rise of solids and sticks has revolutionized the market, opening the door to niche products for men, women, even teens, and creating an explosion of new fragrances.

* Cold sweat: This can occur in terrifying situations or ailments such as heart attacks, when sweating is stirred by adrenaline instead of the normal biochemical, acetylcholine. The perspiration isn't literally cooler, but constriction of the blood vessels gives skin a clammy feel. Also the name of a James Brown song.

* Sweatproof socks: Nautilus now sells socks made from Transpor, a fabric that claims to have odor-squelching, antibacterial properties. Coming soon: Transpor gym bags.

* Fatal sweat: In 1990, a Louisiana man building a back-yard swing set was electrocuted when sweat dripped into the electric drill he was using.

Sources: Los Angeles Times interviews, Associated Press, Prevention magazine, Washington Post.

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