Some of the things we take as basic, soothing truths are there. It will fall down instead of up when we drop a pencil. The sun will set in the evening, and it will rise in the morning. And it will come out of our pores as a transparent liquid when we sweat. There are things that we can depend on, things that we can take comfort in believing that we can foresee. This is why, when she started excreting red sweat in the late 1990s, one can imagine how disconcerting it must have been for a 26-year-old nurse. The woman sought medical attention after five months of worry and battling stubborn stains. Sweat from her sebum (the natural oils that waterproof and moisturize our skin and hair) was harvested by physicians using ether to extract the sweat from the remaining materials. They compared it to the stained clothing of the nurse and noticed that there was a case of chrom hyperhidrosis in the patient.
Chrom hyperhidrosis is an extremely rare disorder that leads to the excretion of colored sweat by a human. It may come from one of the two sweat gland forms (more on that on the next page), but the common thread is that the gland produces colored sweat. This distinguishes it from another disease, called pseudochromhidrosis, where clear sweat is formed and when it enters the skin, it mixes with a coloring agent [source: Musel]. The most widely cited classic case is the blue sweat found on copper miners — the mineral blends into the skin with the sweat, causing the pigmentation. The case literature on pseudochromhidrosis generally ends with the disappearance of the symptoms when the product or activity that led to them is discontinued by the patient. But what exactly is this strange chromhidrosis condition, where colored sweat is actually created inside the body?
Only yellow, green, blue, black and brown sweat results in Apocrine chrom hyperhidrosis. Here is why: Lipofuscin is the culprit behind apocrine chrom hyperhidrosis. This is a pigment that is formed in certain kinds of cells as a byproduct of the oxidation of lipids (fats). Lipofuscin can be produced in the apocrine glands and can stain the sweat that is excreted by these glands when it occurs in sufficiently high concentrations. Diagnosing apocrine chrom hyperhidrosis is made easy when colored sweat is removed as yellow, green or blue. Sweat and clothes stained with colored sweat under a wood lamp (an ultraviolet or black light) may be viewed by physicians. Phosphoresce the lipofuscins in the light, exposing the source. When the sweat is brown or black, it becomes more troublesome because, while lipofuscins color the sweat, they have been highly oxidized when they enter the pigment and do not fluoresce under a black light. A medical history is the strongest instrument of a physician to diagnose eccrine chrom hyperhidrosis (which is rarer than the apocrine variety). In certain cases, the penetration of a foreign dye or pigment that the patient has absorbed is the result of this form of chrom hyperhidrosis. Chrom hyperhidrosis arising from the fondness of a specific packaged food containing tomato powder and paprika was diagnosed by the nurse on the last page. It wasn’t until she was questioned by her doctors that they were able to compare the food to her colored sweat samples and recognize the culprit. The components were water-soluble and her eccrine glands were excreted.