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Asking 4 A Friend: ‘Help! Why am I such a sweaty bitch?’

TextDouglas GreenwoodIllustrationCallum Abbott

Hyperhidrosis affects 5 per cent of the global population, causing sufferers to sweat profusely from their armpits, legs, even feet – here’s what to do if you’re in the same boat

Asking 4 A Friend is a column investigating all of those embarrassing situations you (sorry, your ‘friend’) is too scared to ask about. Do you sweat excessively? Have terrible bad breath? Whatever your problem is, we’ve got you covered. 

At what point does sweating go beyond the point of normal (or sexy, if that’s your persuasion) and into the realm most consider disgusting? That’s a question teenage me used to ponder all throughout high school. My ‘sweaty bitch’ era, as I refer to it in retrospect.

Growing up – and still to this day – I suffered from hyperhidrosis: an embarrassing condition in which the slightest hint of nervousness causes you to sweat buckets, either from your underarms (like me) or from your hands and feet (also like me). Doctors reckon it starts in your childhood, is intrinsically linked to your central nervous system, and affects 5 per cent of the world’s population – that’s around 365 million people, FYI. 

Some people think they’re sweaty, but if you’re talking about it out loud you’re more than likely not suffering from hyperhidrosis (as some people like to make gags about) but are just, you know, a normal person with healthy sudoriparous glands. Clammy hands don’t equal five-digit slip and slides. And a speck of wet underarm is not anything like dinner plate-sized sweat patches that many hyperhidrosis sufferers deal with. It affects everyone differently, with some sweating profusely from their underarms, but others soaking their jeans. Some even sweat into their shoes. 

The reason most people who suffer from hyperhidrosis don’t shout about it is because they’re debilitatingly self-conscious about it in the first place. Imagine shaping your entire wardrobe and social schedule around how disrespectful your sweat glands were. Imagine looking at a really nice grey t-shirt and having to take the L because you know for a fact that your pits would annihilate it in two minutes. As soon as you’d get a little bit hot, your nerves would kick in and – boom: your entire wardrobe is tarnished by those unsightly underarm stains. My entire wardrobe was black and white t-shirts as a teenager, with some oversized shirts in among them that would fall way below my armpits to avoid being tarnished. Even wearing grey outerwear and hoodies was off-limits because I’d sweat through those too.

It’s fucked up that we’re yet to find a natural remedy for this, and it’s no surprise that most sites offering up advice for it include the phrase: ‘You’re not alone’. There are a few remedies out there, including Botox, but Dr Sweta Rai of the British Association of Dermatologists offers up a few treatments that weren’t quite that drastic. “Among the most commonly used and reliable management options for hyperhidrosis involve medical treatment with tablets which block the chemical signal between the nerves and the sweat glands,” she tells me. These are known as ‘anticholinergic drugs’, and to get a prescription for them you’ll have to visit your dermatologist who obviously has a better understanding of this than my dumb ass ever will – even as a sufferer. 

“Imagine shaping your entire wardrobe and social schedule around how disrespectful your sweat glands were. As soon as you’d get a little bit hot, your nerves would kick in and – boom: your entire wardrobe is tarnished by those unsightly underarm stains”

As a teen, my ‘treatment’ came in the form of a roll-on deodorant that pretty much did what Botox promised but for a fraction of the price, and my social life flourished: I went out more and even bought grey t-shirts. People are wary of antiperspirants as it is, claiming the high aluminium content might just have irreversible side effects and lead to cancer  (something the NHS has since refuted) – so the idea of using one that can block your sweat pores for days on end is understandably quite nerve-wracking. The one I use? It contains a unique, sort of terrifying blend of three aluminiums (Aluminium Sesquichlorohydrate, Aluminium Chlorohydrate and Aluminium Chlorohydrex PG), but if you’ve ever been a sweaty bitch like me, you’ll know how desperate you are to stop it. I will accept the risk! 

It’s worth remembering, as Dr Rai tells me, that “none of the treatments for hyperhidrosis are failproof. They all have certain benefits and adverse effects.” As a result, they should definitely be discussed with your doctor or dermatologist before you jump in at the deep end. If you’re going through it at the mo, know this: there’s always a solution to hyperhidrosis and it doesn’t have to involve Harley Street. Boots can be a bloody lifesaver too.

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