During the hot summer months, we’re all doing a little more sweating. Whether you’re enjoying outdoor activities, making more time for exercise, participating in summer sports, or just planning some relaxing visits to the sauna or hot tub during the summer months, you may be wondering how sweat is impacting your skin. If you searched for this topic online, you probably found some contradictory information. That’s because there are pros and cons to sweating when it comes to skin health. According to Dr. Cameron West of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Wichita, Kansas, “Like most things that are involved in your skin health, sweating can be beneficial for skin when coupled with a good skincare routine. Understanding the purpose of sweating and the many potential benefits as well as how to care for skin after sweating can lead to skin that looks healthier and more youthful.” In this blog, Dr. West will walk through the purpose of sweat, the benefits of sweating for skin health, the potentially negative effects of sweating, and tips to care for skin after sweating.
Why Does the Body Sweat?
Sweating is an important natural process that allows us to regulate our body temperature. Sweat removes excess heat from the muscles during exercise or from the body in general when the core temperature rises due to excessive heat or exercise. Additionally, sweat helps to remove toxins from the body and drive vital nutrients like sodium through the bloodstream to further detoxify the body. While only trace amounts of toxins are actually removed by sweat rather than through the liver, kidneys, and other organ systems, the toxins removed by sweating tend to be those that are trapped in the skin’s outer layers where they can cause numerous skin health concerns without regular removal.
What Are the Skin Health Benefits of Sweating?
When it comes to the benefits of sweating, Dr. West says, “Sweating is often associated with activities that are good for whole-body health. Exercising, visiting the sauna, participating in sports, and enjoying time outdoors can all cause sweating. All of these activities are also closely linked to good overall health and well-being. When it comes to skin health, sweating has developed a bad reputation. Fortunately, there are just as many skin health benefits to sweating as there are whole-body health benefits if you follow the right skincare routine after sweating.”
Below, we’ve outlined some of the common benefits of sweating for skin health:
- Adding hydration – Sweating naturally brings moisture to the surface of the skin, which can help to keep skin looking and feeling hydrating.
- Natural exfoliant – The salt and minerals removed from your body by sweat act as natural skin exfoliants removing dead skin cells and preventing the buildup of dirt, grime, cosmetics, and other debris on the surface of the skin. This can also be beneficial to avoid dry skin, thickening patches of skin, and uneven skin texture.
- Anti-aging effects – Sweating, specifically sweating related to exercise, is proven to have anti-aging benefits, playing a role in keeping skin looking youthful and diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. In addition to helping prevent signs of skin aging, exercise may even help to reverse existing signs of aging. As we age, our outer skin layers thicken and become less flexible. The inner layers of skin become thinner and lose elasticity. This leads to dry, dull-looking skin on the surface that is more likely to crease, wrinkle, and sag as the inner layers of skin lose the fullness that provided the skin its smooth, youthful appearance. Regular exercise can help to prevent and reverse these changes to skin health by changing mitochondrial DNA. Essentially, regular exercise tells the skin to behave as if it’s younger by producing more collagen, retaining moisture better, and increasing skin cell turnover rates.
- Kill harmful bacteria – There are numerous helpful and harmful bacteria in our body at any given time. Sweating produces a naturally antimicrobial peptide called dermcidin, which helps to destroy harmful bacteria on the skin, minimizing the risk for infection, acne breakouts, and flare-ups in chronic skin conditions.
- Better circulation – Increased heat and sweating also causes the blood vessels to dilate. When this happens, blood flows more easily throughout the whole body out to the skin. In the short term, this can leave skin with that healthy, post-workout glow. In the long term, it allows blood circulation to happen more easily for generally healthier, younger-looking skin.
How Does Sweating Negatively Impact Skin Health?
While there are many positive effects of sweating on skin health, there are also some ways that sweating can negatively impact the skin. Some of the potentially negative effects of sweating on skin health include:
- Clogged pores – As sweat flushes water and toxins from the skin, it can also flush out sebum (the skin’s natural oils) and dead skin cells. If this combination of moisture, toxins, oils, and skin cells is allowed to sit on the skin, it can settle into and clog pores. This can lead to a higher risk of acne breakouts.
- Skin irritation – The act of sweating releases ammonia and urea, which are major contributors to skin irritation and inflammation. Drinking plenty of water before, during, and after sweating and cleansing skin soon after sweating can both help minimize this negative effect of sweating.
- Dry skin – The sodium from sweat can dry out the skin, which can be especially damaging for people with sensitive skin or skin that is eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea-prone.
- Potential for infection – One of the skin benefits of sweating is that impurities are removed from the body, but if these toxins and other impurities are allowed to sit on the skin after sweating, this can increase the risk for infections and other concerns.
- Body odor – All the impurities removed by the body by sweat can make skin smell less than fresh, especially if sweat sits on the skin.
- Chafing – When sweat gets trapped against the skin by clothing during workouts, chafing can occur, which can lead to itching, irritation, and even blisters or skin infections.
Should You Care for Skin Differently After Sweating?
According to Dr. West, “It’s important to take a few extra skincare steps before, during, and after sweating to make the most of the many ways that sweat is good for skin health and minimize any potentially negative effects. Post-sweating skincare is all about gently cleansing, moisturizing, and soothing skin.”
- Consider a pre-wash – If you have cosmetics and skincare products on your skin, you may want to wash your face before sweating. This can help to minimize your risk for clogged pores and removes products from the skin that can contribute to acne breakouts and flare-ups in other common skin conditions.
- Stay hydrated – Drinking plenty of water before, during, and after sweating is essential for skin and whole-body health. Sweating is dehydrating, so it’s important to replenish the moisture being lost. Additionally, drinking plenty of water adds vital nutrients to sweat that can help the skin maintain its pH balance.
- Wear sunscreen – If you’re going to be exercising or sweating outdoors, it’s important to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays during your workout. Look for sweat-resistant products, so they are less likely to run or wash off while you sweat.
- Wear the right clothes – If you’re going to be sweating, make sure you wear clothing made from lightweight, breathable materials. You can also look into moisture-wicking clothing. These fabrics help to remove moisture from the skin and prevent chafing and discomfort caused by sweat being trapped against the skin. There are even anti-microbial fabrics available that can reduce the risk of bacterial infections, rashes, and skin irritation caused by sweat sitting on the skin.
- Clean gently – After sweating, it’s important to remove the impurities you’ve just sweated out from your skin as soon as possible Wash your face and body using gentle cleansers. Then, apply a lightweight moisturizer. You can skip anything exfoliating after a workout to avoid potential irritation.
Talk to A Dermatologist About Optimizing Your Skincare Routine
If you’re interested in finding out how best to care for your skin, you should get started by scheduling an appointment with one of the knowledgeable dermatologists at U.S. Dermatology Partners. They can review your specific skin health concerns and help you make the most of the benefits of sweating for skin health and counteract any of the potentially negative effects of sweating. Getting started working with U.S. Dermatology Partners is quick and easy. Simply take a few moments to complete our online scheduling request form. Once a local dermatology office receives your scheduling request, we’ll be in touch to finalize the details of your appointment and answer any questions you may have.
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