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Why Nervous Sweat Makes You Smell Worse

Clean beauty industry maven Mary Futher founded kaia naturals® after spending 20 years working for global beauty companies. Mary now shares her weekly content series, delivering a quick fix, home remedies, or clean beauty product suggestions for a variety of human discomforts that some may find too embarrassing to discuss.

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Ever notice your armpits are extra smelly when you’re stressed out more than usual? Nervous sweat (aka stress sweat) is something that I have experienced first hand. I was so stressed and nervous before doing one of the biggest presentations of my professional life; presenting to a group of over 200 investors, and Sephora merchants, in San Francisco for the Sephora Accelerate program. Ironically, the presentation was about my company kaia naturals!  I must have washed my underarms with my underarm bar and reapplied my deodorant about 100 times.  I was terrified I was going to stink after walking off stage because of how nervous I was. Going through that experience is what inspired me to find out why nervous sweat makes you smell worse.

Why Do You Smell Worse When You’re Stressed or Nervous?​

woman stressed

When you’re stressed, your brain signals your body’s nervous system known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ center. Adrenaline and cortisol (a steroid hormone that helps the body respond to stress) is released into your bloodstream, which then activates the apocrine glands to start sweating. Odor-causing bacteria thrives on the fatty type of sweat produced from the apocrine glands, which creates a very unpleasant odor.  

Nervous Sweat VS Normal Sweat

Humans are made up of two different types of sweat glands: apocrine and eccrine.  Our apocrine glands are responsible for the stinky odor we produce when stressed.

Apocrine Sweat Glands

These are found mostly in your underarms area, genital area, and on your feet. These glands become activated immediately to psychological stress or to an “event”. It produces a thick fatty sweat that is full of proteins and lipids.

Bacteria loves this type of fatty sweat and thrives when there are proteins and lipids. When bacteria mixes with this type of fatty sweat, it creates a very pungent odor. This is why you are told that nervous sweat is the worst for many reasons but the main reason is because it SMELLS the worst.  The unfortunate part of a nervous situation is that it creates odor, which can also add more stress.  It’s a lose-lose situation!


woman stretching

Eccrine Sweat Glands

These are found all over your body. These glands become activated through exercise or exposure to heat. It produces the watery sweat to help cool your body down. As this type of sweat is mostly composed of water, it tends to be odorless. That is why even if you leave the gym drenched in sweat, you won’t smell as bad.

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Tips to Prevent Nervous Sweat & Odor Breakthrough

Going through nervous or stressful situations is inevitable. That’s why I’ve gathered some tips that will help you stay odor-free, even through the most stressful situations!

1) Use A Natural Anti-Bacterial Soap 

The underarm bar I created contains anti-bacterial ingredients like apple cider vinegar which creates a barrier on the surface of your skin before you apply the deodorant. This leaves a residue on your armpit that will help keep it bacteria free before you apply your deodorant.

2) Wear Natural Fabrics

This is very important as rayon/polyester will smell like crazy as it loves to hold odor.  Your best option is to wear cotton or bamboo under your clothes to help absorb excess moisture. Read more about fabrics and odor here.

3) Wipe off the Sweat & Reapply Deodorant

If you find that you’re getting really sweaty during the day bring cleansing cloths and a mini deodorant with you. You can use cloths like the vitamin cleanse cloths I created to wipe off the sweat. The vitamin cleanse cloths are made with jojoba oil and organic honey which will nourish the skin while preventing the sweat from drying your skin out. Then reapply deodorant to help with the odor.

holding kaia naturals deodorant
Why Nervous Sweat Makes You Smell Worse6

4) Practice Deep Breathing And Meditation 

Mediating before a stressful situation can help relax your blood vessels and lower blood pressure.

5) Stay Hydrated! 

If you’re dehydrated your body will produce more sweat to help regulate your body’s temperature. That’s why it’s important you drink water while being in stressful situations.

6) Watch What You Eat! 

Onions, garlic and spices can contribute to odor because they contain volatile organic compounds and sulphur. The pores in your underarms could emit a garlicky scent, so stay away from these type of foods until you are in the clear!

I hope you found this helpful! If you’ve ever experienced any embarrassing ‘stress sweat’ situations or have any tips on how to reduce the odor, we want to know! Comment down below and share what you do when you’re in a stressful and stinky situation. 

Every week on my blog The Little Book of Human Discomforts I share clever solutions for seemingly embarrassing skin, body, and hair issues. Consider subscribing below to be the first to know when new content is live!  

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All content found on this website is created for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Website. 

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