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What are Apocrine Glands?

By Lynne William
Updated May 17, 2024
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Apocrine glands are located in the skin, breasts, eyelids, and ears. They are a type of exocrine gland, which are glands that secrete hormones into a duct. Counterparts of exocrine glands are endocrine glands that secrete their hormones directly into the bloodstream. Certain endocrine glands also release hormones called pancrines that affect only specifically targeted cells very close to where they are released. Examples of endocrine glands are the pituitary gland, pancreas, adrenal gland, ovaries, and testes.

The modified apocrine glands located in the female breast are the milk-producing mammary glands. Additional, specialized glands located in the areola of the breast are responsible for secreting fat droplets into breast milk. Modified glands are located in the ears and aid in the formation of cerumen, more commonly known as earwax. In the skin and eyelids, the apocrine glands are sweat glands. The highest concentrations of apocrine sweat glands are located in the armpits and groin, and in the areola -- the darker skin surrounding the nipples of the breast -- of both human males and females.

While the bulk of actual sweat is produced by simple sweat glands called eccrine glands, apocrine glands in the skin act primarily as scent glands. These glands are considerably larger, are more deeply embedded in the skin, and produce a much thicker secretion than eccrine glands. Rather than cooling the body, the primary function of apocrine sweat glands is to produce a sexual scent that is as individual as a fingerprint. These glands become active once puberty sets in and play a vital part in sexual attraction.

The sex hormone scent, called a pheromone, enables communication with other members of the species by way of the olfactory sense, or sense of smell. One of the results of this silent, scent-based communication is sexual arousal. Even if humans aren't aware of it happening, it's been scientifically proven again and again that these pheromones do indeed influence our mating habits.

The scent produced by apocrine glands should not be confused with the unpleasant body odor produced by microorganisms that grow on moist sections of the skin. These microorganisms create body odor by digesting sebum, the oily substance secreted by sebaceous glands in the skin of mammals. The presence of water, in the form of sweat from eccrine (simple) sweat glands, aids in this process. Eccrine glands are activated by heat, explaining why we sweat more profusely as ambient temperatures rise. Apocrine glands react to stress and sexual activity, and respond by producing sweat with a personally characteristic -- but not unpleasant -- odor.

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Discussion Comments
By anon990168 — On Apr 09, 2015

@anon41770 Hygiene. Its the microbes causing the odor, not the glands themselves. Microbes produce waste that causes that Tao, or bad odor. Take a bath.

By anon307795 — On Dec 06, 2012

I'm dating someone who I'm fiercely attracted to. When we make out, he sweats profusely. I haven't noticed any unpleasant odor, in fact the chemistry between us addles my brain. Hence the research on sweat and arousal, leading to this article on apocrine glands. Fascinating.

By catapult43 — On Mar 23, 2011

@anon31613 and @anon42953 - whether having armpit odor necessarily means that you'll have say, groin order, depends. Basically, it's the apocrine glands that cause bad odor. Ecrine glands don't, by definition, cause bad odors when they sweat. Apocrine glands exist in the armpits, groin, and other areas. Whether stinky armpit sweat means, that say you'll have stinky groin sweat depends on what's causing the sweating. If you eat sweat producing foods, for example, like garlic, onions and red meat, then you'll probably sweat out or more than one apocrine gland (e.g., both your armpits and groin and chest or breasts).

@anon41770 and @anon42953 - Antiperspirants can help prevent sweating, deodorants can control the odor of the sweat as can a vodka and vinegar concoction. If the bad odor is food inducing, avoid these sweat producing foods.

By anon125902 — On Nov 10, 2010

anon74860 - eccrine glands are the ones that cause sweat when you get nervous.

By anon74860 — On Apr 04, 2010

I have a question: Which type of sweat gland responds to nervousness (when lying, or being under stress).

By anon42953 — On Aug 24, 2009

I have the same query as anon 41770 and 31613. may i know the answer?

By anon41770 — On Aug 17, 2009

You've identified the source of odor, now how do you stop it?

By anon31613 — On May 08, 2009

I want to know, if I have armpit odor, could that also mean that my chest and groin are affected with such an odor? Would it affect the taste of these areas when I'm with my partner?

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