The battle against BO (and nervous sweating) has been fought for ages. But advertisers started to market antiperspirants to women in the late 1800s. They initially didn’t bother pitching pit protection to guys because most men back then considered their sweat—and a little stink—to be a sign of masculinity. But when men started moving from manual labour toward desk jobs in the 1930s, marketers saw an opportunity. “If you’re a farmer working outdoors, no one really cares if you’re sweaty and dirty,” says Dr. Cari Casteel, an Auburn University history researcher who studies the improbable topic of antiperspirant and deodorant marketing. “But if you’re at a desk all day, presumably you’re susceptible to the idea that people care.”
The first antiperspirant ads for men set the tone for the sweaty conflict we still feel today. One from October 1938 is typical: It was for a jar of goop called Odorono Ice (“Odour, oh no!”). It shows the same man in two different scenarios: In the first, he looks sporty with a racket in his hand, and in the second, he’s in an office holding a sheet of paper. “All right in a locker room,” says the ad, “but all wrong here.” Casteel says ads have hammered this point for decades, implanting a single impression in men’s minds: There are just some situations when you should never sweat. Still, controlling your dew is a far more complex endeavour than buying the most expensive antiperspirant at your local drugstore—even that won’t save you from a full-body nervous sweat.
So what can you do? For most people, the best way to treat nervous sweating is to deal with the nervousness itself, says Perry-Parrish. She first asks patients to think through the last time they were made uncomfortable by their excessive sweat: What were you doing, and what were you thinking when the waterworks began?
And here’s the key question, says Perry-Parrish: “Were you doing something really embarrassing, or were you magnifying it in your mind?”
More often than not, she says, we imagine the worst-case scenario—even if everything is going perfectly fine.
When that happens, your mind tells your body to start the sweating. Her advice the next time this happens: Take stock of the situation. What’s the reaction of others around you? If no one else seems unhappy or uncomfortable, it’s likely that you’re unnecessarily stressing—and sweating—over something small.
It’s a brain exercise, but it’s one you can improve at with practice. It probably could have helped those men in the sweat experiment. Instead of worrying about flubbing a few simple arithmetic problems, they would have taken a step back, realized that the stakes were low, and noticed that their compatriots were equally thrown by the introduction of arithmetic.
A cool head plus a little perspective: that’s what defeats nervous sweating. It’s basic math.
Want to nix excess perspiration? Try these:
- Don’t Sweat It: Excess perspiration is the pits. If you’re too soggy, discuss these options with your Doctor.
- Prescription Roll-On: With three times the sweat-stopping metallic salt as OTC antiperspirants, Rx-strength options, such as Drysol, may dry you up, says Dr. Mark Ferguson, a hyperhidrosis specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine.
- Shock Therapy: You place your hands or feet in a pan of water while a device passes a mild electric current through it for about 20 minutes. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why it works, but three zaps a week can help you sweat less.
- Botox Shots: The neurotoxin injections that smooth wrinkles can also block the nerve signals that stimulate sweat. But you may need booster shots: In a French study, first-time users saw sweat return to baseline after 4 1/2 months.
- Anti-Sweat Pills: Anecdotal evidence suggests that anticholinergics, drugs that block your body’s sweat trigger, can work. The problem? Side effects, says Dr. Ferguson. They include dry mouth, constipation, and blurred vision.