Why you stink after an awkward conversation and not after sweating at the gym.


No, you’re not imagining it.

Ever found yourself a bit stanky after an intense meeting at work? How about after speaking in front of a group of people? A first date? During a break up?

For some it smells… rubbery. Or musty. Or like bad food. Or sweet. It’s pungent and sometimes thick. 

It’s what is most commonly referred to as body odour.

But have you ever noticed that you can go to the gym, sweat like you’ve never sweated before, and you smell just a lil’ salty? Or walk home on a hot day and be soaking wet, yet smell absolutely fine?


Leigh Campbell discusses the difference between exercise sweat and stress sweat on Mamamia’s You Beauty podcast. Post continues…

There’s a simple explanation and it might just be the funnest fact we’ve learned this week.

Exercise sweat is mostly water

When you sweat during exercise or overheating, it’s coming from your eccrine glands. Eccrine glands release an odourless sweat that’s a mixture of water, salt and electrolytes, according to a paper published in Pheromones titled ‘Functional Neuronal Processing of Human Body Odors’.

Its purpose is to cool the body down, researchers have found, and once this type of sweat hits the air, it evaporates. You’ll often find that if you touch your armpit while it’s sweating during exercise, the skin is actually quite cool.


This means your sweat is doing its job.

Eccrine gland sweat also doesn’t tend to stain your clothing, according to researchers. It’s clear and feels oddly clean.

Nervous sweat is oilier and has proteins, fats and steroids in it

Conversely, the sweat you produce in anxious situations is stimulated by your fight or flight response, and almost feels sticky.

Doctor Natasha Bhuyan, speaking to Well & Good, refers to this sweat as ‘stress sweat’.

Stress sweat comes from the apocrine glands, mostly located in the armpits.

It smells because, according to Dr Bhuyan, “the apocrines release an oilier sweat mixture that has proteins, fats and steroids in it… the sweat itself isn’t smelly. But because it’s oilier, it doesn’t evaporate so quickly, so the odour comes when this sweat sits on and mixes with the skin’s bacteria.”

Prior to puberty, they are inactive. And then BOOM. Suddenly you stink when you feel nervous.

Because stress sweat is oilier and tends to stay around for longer, this is the sweat that’s most often responsible for the stains on your clothes.


Of course, we’re never going to be able to avoid stressful situations altogether, but a mixture of deodorant, keeping your body clean and keeping your clothes clean, should do the job.