• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Is there a difference in the chemical composition of sweat produced by nervousness and dread and that of sweat produced by good honest exercise? My friend says he can smell the difference. I think he's crazy. Please advise.

-- Ray O., North Park

What we won't do for you Alicelanders. Checking out the elves' pits is about my limit. Anyway, we had half of them run up and down the street for an hour or so. The other half we jammed into the kitchen and had Grandma put the fear of God into them. Had something to do with nothing but okra for dinner for a week and definitely no pie. In the end, the jogger elves took off for the movies before we could get a good reading on the sniff-o-meter. As for the kitchen elves, before we could stop her, Grandma decided it got smelling so bad she had them scrubbing the place down with toothbrushes and Lysol. So about all we got was the smell of a bathroom in an old gas station. That left us with nothing to do but check with the science guys-- always our last choice.

And I'm afraid we have bad news for you, Ray. Not as bad as a week of okra and no pie, but close. The science guys say we actually have two kinds of sweat glands and they squeeze out different stuff. All over our bodies we have eccrine-type sweat glands. These are the ones that put out good old honest work sweat or body-temp control sweat, mostly water and various salts like sodium and potassium. Sweatin' to the oldies stimulates the eccrine glands. Low ranking on the smell gauge, unless you delay showerin' to the oldies.

On the other hand, if things had gone our way, we'd have had a kitchen full of sweaters under the influence of adrenaline, which stimulates the apocrine glands, a whole different kettle of rotting fish. Our apocrines are clustered in hairy places-- head, pits, crotch. Most any kind of emotional stress kicks the apocrines into action. And they put out sweat with a fatty component and some other organic compounds that are broken down by skin bacteria and begin to really stink the place up. Someone who is as smell sensitive as your friend (or as obsessed, maybe) could tell the difference between eccrine and apocrine sweat. Our apocrine glands are actually busy bees. In modified form they are also responsible for ear wax and breast milk.

Having figured all that out, the science guys are now teaming up with the spook guys to develop devices capable of calculating a person's smellprint. They're figuring that each of us has a distinct body odor that can be analyzed to identify us individually. With a data base of smell profiles of bad guys, we'll be even safer than we already are. And you can expect a sniff test to be added to all the other indignities of commercial travel.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!