Sweat: The Ultimate Narc

Updated: Apr 19


Continuing my series on forensic facts, this post is on sweat and how much of your personal information is available to investigators with modern technology. For more on this subject, check out my first post about Fingerprints: Biggest Snitches Ever.


I'm doing research for my most recent novel and diving into the current and upcoming innovations in biosensors and forensics. I had no idea how telling sweat can be. Currently, research is aimed at using the secretions and biomarkers found in sweat to identify individuals. Sweat contains small amounts of DNA, metabolites, and compounds and scientists are working to better isolate and identify individuals with new techniques. And sweat is everywhere. On average, a single square inch of your skin can have over 600 sweat glands. That's a lot of your surface excreating a lot of evidence. And we leave it not only in fingerprints but on clothing, furniture, walls, steering wheels, hats...you name it. And if you knew what modern technology could expose about your private life, you'd be shocked.


For one, studies that tested ethanol secretions have found that not only does it accurately reveal alcohol consumption, but it can also show how heavily and how often you drink. And this test can't be tinkered with like a breathalyzer. In addition, drug metabolization can be tested with innovative transdermal strips currently in testing. The great thing about sweat is once detected and collected, it can be tested without further preparation. Ideal for in the field.

There are even techniques currently being studied that use the metabolites within sweat samples to identify how many different individuals were at a crime scene. Measurements for multiple biomarkers can be compared and used to differentiate and even rule out suspects. Three specific metabolites are present in sweat and no two people have the same combination of concentration. A team at the University at Albany is working on creating a sweat profile that can identify a person's fluctuations of these chemicals. Still, in the research stages, it appears to be gaining some traction.


And get this, the content of your sweat is the result of what your body metabolizes and because of this, your sex, diet, and even activity level can be extrapolated from a small sample. There is also research within the cybersecurity industry and military to use sweat as authentication for secure devices. Though still in its infancy, I would think twice before committing a crime. Good old-fashioned police work has always pulled its weight and remember, technology tends to move quickly.


Up next in my forensic series is DNA: Tattletale Extraordinaire.

 

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