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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Regional variations in transepidermal water loss, eccrine sweat gland density, sweat secretion rates and electrolyte composition in resting and exercising humans

Nigel AS Taylor* and Christiano A Machado-Moreira

Author Affiliations

Centre for Human and Applied Physiology, School of Health Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales, 2522, Australia

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Extreme Physiology & Medicine 2013, 2:4  doi:10.1186/2046-7648-2-4

Published: 1 February 2013

Abstract

Literature from the past 168 years has been filtered to provide a unified summary of the regional distribution of cutaneous water and electrolyte losses. The former occurs via transepidermal water vapour diffusion and secretion from the eccrine sweat glands. Daily insensible water losses for a standardised individual (surface area 1.8 m2) will be 0.6–2.3 L, with the hands (80–160 g.h−1) and feet (50–150 g.h−1) losing the most, the head and neck losing intermediate amounts (40–75 g.h−1) and all remaining sites losing 15–60 g.h−1. Whilst sweat gland densities vary widely across the skin surface, this same individual would possess some 2.03 million functional glands, with the highest density on the volar surfaces of the fingers (530 glands.cm−2) and the lowest on the upper lip (16 glands.cm−2). During passive heating that results in a resting whole-body sweat rate of approximately 0.4 L.min−1, the forehead (0.99 mg.cm−2.min−1), dorsal fingers (0.62 mg.cm−2.min−1) and upper back (0.59 mg.cm−2.min−1) would display the highest sweat flows, whilst the medial thighs and anterior legs will secrete the least (both 0.12 mg.cm−2.min−1). Since sweat glands selectively reabsorb electrolytes, the sodium and chloride composition of discharged sweat varies with secretion rate. Across whole-body sweat rates from 0.72 to 3.65 mg.cm−2.min−1, sodium losses of 26.5–49.7 mmol.L−1 could be expected, with the corresponding chloride loss being 26.8–36.7 mmol.L−1. Nevertheless, there can be threefold differences in electrolyte losses across skin regions. When exercising in the heat, local sweat rates increase dramatically, with regional glandular flows becoming more homogeneous. However, intra-regional evaporative potential remains proportional to each local surface area. Thus, there is little evidence that regional sudomotor variations reflect an hierarchical distribution of sweating either at rest or during exercise.

Keywords:
Eccrine sweat gland; Electrolyte; Glandular density; Insensible perspiration; Sudomotor; Sweat; Thermal sweating; Transepidermal water loss