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Sometimes referred to as eccrine sweat glands, merocrine sweat glands are glands that extend from the outer layer of the skin to the inner layers. They help to regulate the body’s overall temperature, keeping it within a range that is considered to be healthy. When either an external or internal factor threatens to increase the temperature of the body to an unacceptable level, the merocrine glands release liquid to the surface of the skin as a deterrent to the increase. This process is known as sweating.
Merocrine sweat glands are found on the entire surface of the human body. There are several areas where the concentration of sweat glands is particularly plentiful, including the soles of the feet, the palms of both hands, and the forehead. When the exterior temperature rises, sweat will begin to form on these areas quickly, with other areas such as the underarms and the pubic area soon following. Generally, the merocrine sweat glands on the arms, chest, and legs are the last to engage in sweating, unless these body parts are in direct contact with the source of heat.
In times of anxiety, the merocrine sweat glands may also excrete sweat. Emotional factors such as a sudden shock or a feeling of impending danger can effectively trick the body into reacting as if there is an external rise in temperature that would threaten the temperature of the body. This phenomenon can occur during periods of intense fear, or begin to function in the aftermath of a crisis situation.
It is important to note that the function of the merocrine sweat glands is essential to the health of the human body. In addition to helping to regulate the temperature of the body, sweating also is considered in many cultures to be a means of ridding the body of toxins. The use of saunas for this purpose is common in many parts of the world. In addition, the use of sweat lodges to purify the body and free the mind are also part of many traditions.
Glands on the armpit and pubic areas are called apocrine glands. They have the same mechanism as eccrine gland, however, the secretions develop a scent which "animals" used to attract a mate.