Saturday, April 08, 2006

Is anyone glistening?

There's an ad running on television that shows a woman sweating profusely while she dances. She's 'glistening'. The ad says guys don't want to glisten, so they'd best buy the product, whatever it is.

Sure enough, I don't glisten. I sweat. In fact, I sweat buckets. It drips from my hair and the tip of my nose. A small river runs down my back. Without a doo-rag, it runs into my eyes. Gosh, I wish someone made a product that would stop all that sweat!

But then I'd die of heat stroke.

Sweat is essential to regulating our body temperature. In a hot climate, the absence of sweating is a symptom of heat stroke and can be life-threatening. It requires immediate medical attention.

From the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia

Sweat or perspiration, fluid secreted by the sweat glands of mammalian skin and containing water, salts, and waste products of body metabolism such as urea. The dissolved solid content of sweat is only one eighth that of an equal volume of urine, the body's main vehicle of salt excretion; however, excessive sweating may produce severe salt loss (see heat exhaustion). Human sweat glands are of two types, eccrine and apocrine. The eccrine glands, found everywhere on the body surface, are vital to the regulation of body temperature. Evaporation of the sweat secreted by the eccrines cools the body, dissipating the heat generated by metabolic processes. The release of such sweat is usually imperceptible; yet even in cool weather an individual will lose from 1 pt to 3 qt of fluid per day. Only when environmental conditions are especially hot or humid, or during periods of exercise or emotional stress, does the output of sweat exceed the rate of evaporation, so that noticeable beads of moisture appear on the skin. When such conditions are extreme, the body may lose up to 20 qt of fluid per day.

ln our culture, there's a curious ambivalence about sweating. On one hand, we're bombarded with messages about the social 'necessity' of smelling nice at all times. On the other hand, we get messages regarding the importance of rehydrating and the efficacy of various products. My son grasped the concept. "It's always problem/solution", he said. "If you sweat, buy this product. If you stink, buy this product. The main idea is to buy something!"

The ads would have us believe that any form of body odor is offensive. Guess what? I'm not afraid of offending people. In fact, I'll indulge in a generalization by saying that road cyclists are more assertive and self-assured than average, and that makes them less sensitive to offending others. I mean, it's hard to get worked up about a little sweat when you're riding in traffic all the time. Do motorists arrive at work worried that they might reek of exhaust and unleaded gas? Do
smokers need some product that makes them smell less like an ashtray?

The sweat issue comes up almost every time I talk to someone about commuting on a bicycle. "I'll sweat and there's no place to shower at work!" There are several ways to handle this. (And yes, this is where I fall into the problem/solution format!)

First, riding at an easy pace, say in the 10-12 mph range, is one way to prevent profuse sweating. That's roughly 5 to 6 minutes per mile. Use it as a rule-of-thumb to calculate commuting time. Morning commutes are cooler, and that helps too.

Going faster is always a temptation. My average is around 15 mph, a 4 minute mile pace. Since I'm 'thermally efficient', I sweat. Eliminating it is impossible, but there are ways to deal with it. But first, a brief digression.

Sweat by itself has little odor, but it provides a growth media for the natural bacteria on our skin. It's the bacteria that give off that distinctive aroma as they grow. Removing the media limits that growth. Showering is one way to do this, of course.

Wicking fabrics do much the same, removing sweat from our skin and denying bacterial growth. There may be some loss of cooling as the sweat doesn't evaporate directly from the skin surface, but as it evaporates from the fabric, it cools the air that contacts the skin. It may be a toss-up. Changing from riding clothes to work clothes removes the sweat and slows the bacteria, and it’s an easy alternative to a shower.

Some bicycle commuters use baby wipes or alcohol wipes. I tried them for a short time, but went back to merely changing out of my cycling clothes when I arrived at work. It’s what works best for me. Your preferences may differ.

7 Comments:

Blogger Fritz said...

Many many many years ago I briefly shared an office with 'Brigitte.' Brigitte is French and supermodel gorgeous. She always wore these incredibly revealing, tight, slinky outfits that left nothing to the imagination. I learned some French from Brigitte: Franch fries, franch dressing, franch bread.

Brigitte also didn't worry about body odor. She wore the same revealing, tight, slinky outfit day-after-day without laundering it. She also didn't bathe as near as I could tell. She STANK. I wanted to puke it was so bad. The other guys could not believe it when I told them I was GLAD that Brigitte moved out.

So please be considerate of your work colleagues, spend the money on deoderizing products and for goodness sake shower and clean up after your ride!

1:51 AM  
Blogger Ed W said...

If I recall right, the average commute time in Tulsa is somewhere around 10 minutes. That assumes a car commute, of course, but given that the average speed when commuting by car is only about 25 mph, that means the distance is under 5 miles. Half the people here live within 5 miles of work. That's 20-25 minutes for a bicycle commuter.

Granted, there are jobs that require close customer contact or have employees in close proximity, like your French co-worker sharing a cubicle. Hygiene is a bigger issue. But some baby wipes, an alcohol rub, or a simple change of clothes can make a world of difference.

Fritz, I normally shower when I get home from work. The routine is to ride to work and change clothes when I arrive. The ride home is hotter and longer, so I shower when I get there. Otherwise there are loud complaints from Mom and daughter! This is essential before sitting down at the dinner table. If there's yard work to do (and in the summer, that's a regular chore) I'll have to shower again before going to bed.

This removes the sweat and some of the bacteria. The ride to work is short - 7 miles - and I'm barely warmed up when I arrive. A change of clothing removes the sweat and I'm not stinky through the day. But the ride home allows for a huge bacterial growth, especially since I usually go farther in the afternoon, sometimes 15 miles or so. I'm fairly whiff by the time I get home, and in the summer when temperatures can exceed 100F, it's imperative that I shower after I cool off.

The point I was trying to make was that for short commutes, body odor really isn't an issue when some simple steps are taken. But our culture and our advertisers would have us believe that a little sweat is a terrible thing.

12:08 PM  
Blogger George said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:04 PM  
Blogger George said...

If my route to work wasn't so dangerous, (narrow twisty with blind rises) *and* I work 3rd shift.......the sweating thing is no big deal for me.

I work in a bakery and 10 minutes after I start......I'm sweatier then I would be if I rode my bike:-)

12:12 PM  
Blogger Coelecanth said...

It's an 8 minute flat-out sprint to work. Every morning is another time trial cause I'm an organization nightmare. I totaly soaked most mornings but by the time I've locked the bike, changed clothes and opened the store I've stopped sweating. I work in retail where hygiene is and issue and I've never had a complaint. Clean clothes and a good deoderant are more than enough to get through a day.

Also, after your previous mention about borax cutting down on the odour causing bacteria I've been giving it a try. Two finely ground tablespoons dissolved in a glass of warm water make a noticable difference in how whiffy my jersies get. Thanks for the tip.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Coelecanth said...

Yikes, must remember to proof my posts. I am literate (more or less) honest!

11:14 AM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Fossil fish, don't worry about spelling and grammar. If I can decode my son's cramped handwriting and 'creative' approach to spelling, I can figure the sense of yours. But I did like the use of 'odour'. That's Britspeak!

Normally, I write using MS Word mainly for the spelling checker, but lately I've used a simple text program called EditPad that's like a robust version of WordPad. I have to check my own spelling, though. My thanks to Elsie, my high school teacher, whose withering sarcasm inspired me to write good. Ha!

5:57 PM  

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