Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Why Work Stinks

Recently I received an e-mail from a customer who had a great question. So great, in fact, that I decided to expand upon the subject here in my blog. The gist of her question was this:

I've noticed that it's harder to keep body odor under control in my
air-conditioned office than when working in the heat in my yard on the
weekend. How can this be?

I had noticed the same thing a couple summers ago when I was working at a TV station. The air conditioning was always super cold but I always had a harder time deodorizing myself there than when hiking in 90 degree weather. That led me on my quest to find the answer to the mystery. While there may be other reasons that work may figuratively "stink," today I'll give you the reasons why it really can!

The first reason is caffeine. The body gets rid of caffeine by sweating it out. One study found that caffeine is present in sweat for up to four hours after drinking it. [source] You know when they say the body sweats out "toxins?" Caffeine is one of them! In addition, caffeine inhibits the creation and function of anti-diuretic hormone (ADH). ADH is responsible for regulating the amount of water in your body's tissues. So when caffeine inhibits ADH, you excrete water. That's why caffeine is known as a diuretic. To get rid of water, your body does a number of things. First, it flushes water through the kidneys and bladder (as you've probably noticed in more frequent trips to the bathroom). Second, it stimulates the bowel system and can increase the water content in your stool. Third, it increases sweating to rid itself of water. After all is said and done, that cup of tea or coffee may have made you more alert, but now you're dehydrated and sweaty!
In an office setting you're more likely to need a boost of mental focus and alertness, so you revert to a cup o' joe. Or a cup of organic green tea in my case. ;) Over the weekend just working around the house you usually get to sleep in and don't have the pressures to perform so you don't partake of that extra boost as readily. Thus caffeine is reason number one it "stinks at work."

Every Saturday in the summer we have a booth at the Salt Lake Farmer's Market. And, while it's hot, I usually can keep the sweat and the odor under control with the Pit Putty, no problem. One week last summer I noticed I was sweating a lot. I mean, I was afraid to put my arms up! It wasn't any hotter than previous weeks. I was wearing the same clothes and not doing any activities out of the ordinary. Then I realized it--instead of my usual Strawberry Limeade, I had drank some strong black tea. There was the first hand proof that convinced me to keep the caffeine to a minimum--just for my market neighbor's sake!

The second reason you could be more odiferous at work is stress. When our body comes under stress the sympathetic nervous system is triggered. This causes our heart rate and breathing to speed up, our blood pressure to escalate, and sweat production to increase. [source] In fact, the average person sweats more when stressed out—700 milligrams per hour—than when in a 100-degree room—600 milligrams per hour. [source] In addition to the increased sweat, when you're stressed your body undergoes many physiological changes, like increases in hormones and a shift in pH. Under constant duress, the skin is consistently starved of both blood and oxygen, making it weaker and more prone to the bacterial growth that can cause odor. [source]

Third, our clothing is different. On the weekend you may wear a cotton t-shirt or tank, while in the office you may wear "stuffier" clothing made from rayons and poly blends. These clothes (especially if you're wearing layers) aren't as breatheable as your weekend attire and can trap in sweat, making a moist environment for those odor-causing bacteria to grow.

Now, while you probably can't eliminate stress from your workplace, or start wearing t-shirts, and you may not want to give up that mid-day cup of green tea, there are ways you can improve your odds for staying fresh. First, when choosing business attire, look for 100% natural, lightweight fibers like cotton, hemp, and bamboo. As for the stress, there are plenty of breathing exercises you can do to calm your nervous system and decrease your heart rate. Or just getting up and taking a 5 minute walk around the building. And don't forget all the health benefits of green tea and coffee can be found in decaf. Getting plenty of sleep will help you curb the caffeine cravings. Plus cutting caffiene will help you get to sleep better at night anyways...it's a win-win situation.

So that's it. Mystery solved. Caffeine, stress, and clothing all affect the way we smell at work. Now when someone says work stinks--you'll know exactly why!