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What Is the Difference Between Eccrine and Apocrine Glands?

Armpit perspiration comes from apocrine glands.
Eccrine glands help cool the body.
People often use deodorant to control the odor from sweat released by the apocrine glands in the armpits.
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  • Written By: Helena Reimer
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 20 March 2014
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Also known as exocrine glands, the eccrine and apocrine glands are two types of sweat glands. They secrete their substances directly out to the surface of the body instead of into the bloodstream. Although they are both coiled, tubular glands, there are several differences between the two. The apocrine glands are slightly larger and produce a thicker and more odorous sweat. The eccrine glands are located over almost the entire body, while the apocrine ones are located mainly in the armpits, genital area, and around the nipples.

The sweat produced by the apocrine glands contains proteins, fats, and other substances that result in a thicker and stickier sweat. In addition, the sweat is broken down by the bacteria on the surface of the skin, often causing an unpleasant odor to arise. Even though the glands are present at birth, they do not begin to function until puberty, which is why young children do not need to wear deodorant.

Apocrine glands reach deep into the layer of the dermis and secrete their fluids into the tiny canals of the hair follicles. The eccrine glands, however, do not reach as far into the dermis and secrete their fluids directly onto the skin's surface via the pores. Another key difference between the two glands is the size of the lumen, also known as the opening, which is slightly smaller in the eccrine glands.

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Although located in just about all areas of the skin's surface, the eccrine glands have a higher density in the palms, soles of the feet, and scalp areas. Their sweat is usually odorless and contains high amounts of sodium and other electrolytes. As a result, it is important for individuals to consume plenty of electrolyte fluids when the body produces a lot of sweat.

The purpose of the eccrine glands is to help control the temperature of the body. As the body temperature increases, the sweat secretion increases as well, allowing the temperature to drop. Exercise, stress, and excitement can also activate these glands. Another benefit of the sweat produced by these glands is that it helps to protect the body against harmful bacteria and other viruses.

There is no scientific evidence regarding the purpose of the apocrine glands. In animals, they seem to act as scent glands that aid in attracting the opposite sex, which some believe is true for humans as well. In addition, they are also said to have an effect on hormones and can potentially interfere with the menstrual timing in women. These glands are primarily activated by stress or excitement.

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Discuss this Article

anon940751
Post 5

Apocrine glands do not have an odor; it's the bacteria on the skin's surface that causes a reaction, so then the sweat from the apocrine glands then is odorous.

irontoenail
Post 3

I'm glad that the eccrine sweat glands don't produce anything that smells, because I get really sweaty palms. Like, to the point where it's annoying. I guess I have overactive sweat glands.

If they were smelly on top of everything else, I would really have a problem. As it is, it's still embarrassing if I have to shake hands with someone.

Fa5t3r
Post 2

@bythewell - Actually I remember seeing in a documentary (possibly The Human Body?) that there is some basis to our still being able to judge people on their basic compatibility with ourselves by their smell.

They did an experiment where they had several women wear t-shirts to sleep without using any deodorant and then had a man judge which one he thought was the most and least bad when he smelled them. He liked the ones that were most distant to him in terms of his immune system, which genetically means they would be the best match.

So, the apocrine sweat glands might be putting out more than we think.

bythewell
Post 1

I have heard a lot of people claim that those sweat glands in the armpits and so forth are there because they produce hormones that can attract people and help you to realize who you are compatible with.

But really, I don't think there's any proof of that. If that were true then we'd really be doing ourselves a disservice by using antiperspirants, after all. I think they are probably the remnants of when we used to have hormones like that, but they don't really work anymore (probably because we've lost our sense of smell).

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