Why is sweating so important?
Sweating is an incredibly important bodily function – if you didn’t sweat, your body wouldn’t be able to cool itself down and you would be at risk of overheating. That’s why it’s estimated that there are around three million sweat glands positioned around your body! All of these numerous sweat glands loosely fall into two categories – eccrine sweat glands and apocrine sweat glands.
When you think of the smelly sweat associated with exercise, this is usually emitted from your eccrine glands, which open all over the surface of your skin. These glands are primarily triggered by an increase in your body temperature whereas your apocrine glands are concentrated around your armpits and groin and are mainly controlled by your nervous system. Your sweat itself is actually mostly water with small amounts of sodium, ammonia, urea and electrolytes like potassium and magnesium!
If sweating is so important though, then why is it often seen as a bad thing, particularly when it comes to our skin? Well, it’s an extremely complicated issue but below I’m going to do my best to outline the positive elements of sweating and how it can potentially benefit your skin. However, I’ll also address some of the concerns around sweating, especially in those that suffer from a skin condition like acne or eczema.
The Good - Sweating helps to get your blood pumping
Whether you suffer from a skin condition like eczema or are simply concerned about your ageing complexion, having a healthy circulatory system is essential for healthy skin. I discuss how crucial a good working circulation system is for your skin in my blog, ‘Why is your circulatory system so important for your skin?’ but I’ll just briefly go over some of my key points.
Your skin needs plenty of oxygen-rich blood and nutrients to thrive and these are usually delivered via your circulatory system, which also helps to transport waste products and toxins away. If your circulation is sluggish, then these essential nutrients won’t make it to your skin and as a result, your complexion will definitely suffer, especially if all those nasty toxins are building up!
So, how does sweating help? Well, when you sweat, a process called vasodilation occurs. Vasodilation refers to the muscles in the walls of your blood vessels relaxing, allowing your blood vessels to dilate. This increases the blood flow to your skin, providing the heat necessary to allow sweat to evaporate, therefore cooling your body down.
The Bad – The evaporation of sweat may upset eczema symptoms!
Sweat can be especially problematic for sufferers of eczema, a dry skin condition. In eczema, the epidermal layer of skin is extremely vulnerable as your body does not produce enough fats and oils to keep your skin lubricated and protected from pathogens. Therefore, anything that dehydrates or irritates your skin can result in a flare-up.
As I’ve mentioned, your sweat doesn’t just contain water, it also contains other components like sodium which can dry your skin out and, in eczema patients, can act as an irritant, triggering that dreaded itch. As your sweat evaporates, it also pulls fluids from your skin which only adds to the problem!1 That’s why the type of exercise you choose to do when you suffer from eczema can be extremely important.
What can you do to tackle this problem? Eczema definitely shouldn’t discourage you from embarking on activities that may result in a sweat, such as exercise. Staying hydrated is key so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water before, after and during exercise and avoid clothing that may irritate your skin – loose, breathable fabrics are best. Keep a towel nearby so you can wipe your skin regularly and avoid a build-up of sweat plus, as always, moisturise! If you suffer from eczema, it might be best to opt for low-impact exercises such as tai chi or yoga where you won’t be sweating as intensely.
The Good – Sweating may help to reverse skin ageing!
So, sweating enhances your circulation, which can have all kinds of benefits for your skin, but recently some evidence is emerging that sweating might just help to tackle the symptoms of ageing skin.
Unfortunately, as you age a number of changes can take place with your skin. Sweating can help because, as I’ve mentioned, it boosts your circulation and brings more oxygen and nutrients to your skin. This is especially important for your production of collagen, a key structural protein that can decrease as you age, and for enhancing your ability to counter free-radical damage.
Sweat can also help to remove toxins from your skin that could otherwise clog your pores, resulting in spots, or worse yet contribute to decreasing the overall quality of your skin!
The Bad – The impurities and toxins flushed out by sweating can linger on your skin
Okay, so sweating can help to excrete toxins and waste products from your skin, which is great, but where do these undesirables then go? Well, unfortunately they can linger on the surface of your skin, causing a lot of irritation if your skin is sensitive, and then they are reabsorbed which can lead to a breakout, particularly if you suffer from acne-prone skin.
What can you do to tackle this problem? There’s a reason that most gyms advise bringing your own towels with you – odour aside, nobody wants to go about their day with a layer of sweat sticking to their skin! That’s why it’s important to wipe away sweat during exercise and to afterwards seek out a shower. This should help to wash any residual sweat off your skin, preventing any nasty toxins from being reabsorbed!
The Good – Building up a sweat may help to support your liver
Your skin is an elimination organ, which means that when your liver and kidneys are overwhelmed, your skin sometimes has to pick up the slack. Studies have detected traces of heavy metals like mercury in sweat2, but working up a sweat a couple of times a week isn’t really going to detox you that much.
However, consistent cardio exercise is thought to help support your liver, especially in cases of fatty liver disease. Some of this is down to sweat helping to provide another release for toxins, but again a lot of the benefits are down to the impact sweat has on your circulatory system, increasing the blood flow to your liver. Since a healthy liver often means a healthy complexion, supporting this organ in any way is always a good idea.
What if I’m sweating too much?
A bit of sweat is nothing to worry about – as you can see, working up a healthy glow can actually support your complexion in many ways. However, there are some cases where sweating might not be so advantageous, for you or your skin.
Stress – As I mentioned earlier, your apocrine sweat glands are controlled by your nervous system and in cases of stress, where your blood pressure is elevated and your blood vessels dilate, sweating is inevitable. The sweat released from these glands tends to be thicker and more prone to mixing with the bacteria on your skin to create that tell-tale smell of body odour – yuck! Of course if you’re persistently experiencing emotional shifts, you may find yourself sweating throughout the day which can result in some embarrassment, as well as placing you at risk of dehydration. We offer plenty of tips and advice about how to ease the symptoms of stress over at A.Vogel Talks Stress so it may be worth having a quick look!
Shifting hormones – Your hormones will fluctuate throughout the month, especially if you’re a woman. Unfortunately, these fluctuations don’t always ease off with age and when you experience a sudden drop in oestrogen, such as during the menopause, it can result in sudden instances of hot sweats during the day and night. These can be extremely frustrating to experience and often appear out of nowhere. Thankfully, our Menopause Expert Eileen is on hand over at A.Vogel Talks Menopause to offer her guidance and advice. There you can pick up all sorts of tips which, in addition to our hot flush remedy Menoforce, may help you to manage your hot flushes and night sweats.
Overdoing it at the gym – Exercise, as you may have inferred from this blog, can be extremely beneficial for your skin for all sorts of reasons! However, if you’re overdoing it at the gym you could be placing yourself at risk. Not only will you be sweating buckets and running the risk of dehydration, your muscles and joints will also suffer and you could end up with a strain or sprain. That’s why I’d recommend having a few off-days from exercising just to give your body some time to recover. It’s also extremely important that you stay hydrated at all times as you can lose valuable electrolytes when you sweat. That’s why our Get Active Advisor Gillian often recommends our Balance Mineral Drink to help restore these missing electrolytes.
Liver problems – Liver problems such as Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease often go undiagnosed as sometimes they present very few symptoms. Even when symptoms such as fatigue and fluid retention do appear, often people ascribe them to other problems. When your liver is overworked though, sometimes it can start to overheat which triggers sweating. The best thing you can do in this case is to look at aspects of your diet and lifestyle – overindulging in heavy carbs, fats, sugar and of course, alcohol can all negatively impact your liver function. Obesity is also another problem that can place additional pressure on your liver so make sure you’re getting plenty of exercise and aren’t being too sedentary!
Hyperhidrosis – Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, is a common disorder that results in an abnormal level of perspiration. It can be very embarrassing for the sufferers and usually occurs during adolescence. Sweating can be triggered by many different things – an escalation in body temperature, spicy foods, a hormonal shift, exercise – but if you find yourself drenched in sweat sitting watching the television, then it could indicate that there is a wider problem. Sometimes hyperhidrosis can be linked to something that’s easily fixed, like your medication, but other times more complicated issues such as your genetics or an endocrine problem can be at the root.