After a long run, grueling workout or other period of physical exertion, it’s common to feel a little sweaty.
Sweating is your body’s method of keeping itself as close as possible to its optimal temperature of approximately 98.6ºF (37ºC). When your body’s running a little hot, your brain signals to your sweat glands to start this process in order to cool you down.
While sweat itself isn’t doesn’t have much of an impact on how your skin looks, research shows that certain activities that cause you to sweat, such as working out, have proven, science-based benefits for your skin and general appearance.
Below, we’ve looked at the link between sweat and your skin, with a focus on how sweating may play a role in skin issues such as acne and aging.
Sweating, or perspiration, is an important biological process that helps to keep your body cool. You may start to sweat when you exercise or spend time in a hot environment.
Other things, such as stress, illness, low blood sugar, alcohol or substance withdrawal or even eating spicy food, may also cause you to sweat.
Contrary to popular belief, sweating doesn’t “cleanse” your body or remove “toxins” from your blood. However, activities that cause you to sweat, such as exercising, do have real benefits for your skin and overall health.
Although sweating is generally good for you, it’s important to wash your skin thoroughly after exercise, as sweaty skin may be more prone to acne breakouts.
It’s also important to drink plenty of water after you sweat, as sweating can cause your body to shed fluid, sodium and other important electrolytes and minerals.
Sweating is your body’s process for regulating its temperature. When you start to become too hot, whether due to your surroundings or activity level, your body uses sweat to cool itself and avoid overheating.
Your body releases sweat through your sweat glands -- small, tube-shaped glands in your skin that secrete sweat onto its surface.
Most people have between two and four million sweat glands. These typically start to function during puberty, which is why many people first start to notice issues like body odor during their teens.
There are two different types of sweat glands in your skin. Most of these glands are referred to as eccrine glands. These glands secrete a clear, odorless sweat that’s used to keep your body at or close to its optimal temperature.
Eccrine sweat glands are located on your hands, feet, forehead, cheeks and armpits. Most of the sweat produced by your body comes from these glands.
Apocrine sweat glands are located in your armpits and near your genitals. These sweat glands produce a thicker form of sweat. When this sweat mixes with bacteria, it can cause the classic “body odor” smell to develop.
Sweating is especially common during intense exercise, as activities such as running, cycling and weightlifting cause your heart and muscles to work harder, increasing your temperature.
Although sweating can be annoying, especially when it affects your appearance, it’s a key part of your body’s process for keeping itself healthy.
Without sweat, you’d be more at risk of overheating and damaging your organs during intense exercise or simply by spending time in a hot environment. In fact, anhidrosis, a condition that prevents people from sweating, can be potentially life-threatening.
Sweating offers numerous benefits, both directly, by cooling your body, and indirectly, by acting as a signal that you’re engaging in healthy activities such as exercise.
By keeping your body cool, sweating lowers your risk of developing heat-related medical issues such as hyperthermia (heat stroke). Without the ability to sweat, you usually wouldn’t be able to exercise or spend time outdoors in summer without becoming overly hot.
During exercise, sweating can act as a signal that you’re working out at a high enough intensity level to improve your cardiovascular health.
Finally, some activities that promote sweating, such as sauna use, are associated with improved cardiovascular health and a longer lifespan. If you're curious about more benefits of sweat, you can check out this blog on sweating and hair growth. There are even more infrared sauna benefits to learn about here.
Acne develops when your hair follicles, or pores, become clogged by a combination of sebum (a type of oil produced by your skin) and dead skin cells.
When bacteria gets trapped inside a clogged pore, it can multiply quickly and cause the acne to become inflamed, infected and painful.
Although sweating doesn’t cause acne directly, some activities that contribute to sweating may increase your risk of dealing with acne breakouts.
For example, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, exercising can lead to a buildup of sweat, oil, dirt and bacteria on your skin, all of which can contribute to acne breakouts.
Spending time outside in hot weather may also expose you to UV radiation, which can damage your skin and increase your risk of acne breakouts by causing dryness.
Luckily, it’s generally easy to prevent sweat, exercise or sunny weather from harming your skin and contributing to acne breakouts. Make sure to:
Wear clean workout clothes. Sweaty, used clothing is a hotbed for bacteria, as well as dead skin cells and oils. These can clog your pores and contribute to acne breakouts.
When you sweat, wipe it off using a clean towel. This helps to prevent bacteria from affecting your skin. Use a clean towel and gently pat sweat off of your skin. Make sure not to rub your skin aggressively, as this can trigger acne breakouts.
When you’re outside, use an oil-free sunscreen. This will protect your skin from sun exposure and reduce your risk of developing acne. Make sure to use a broad-spectrum, SPF 30+ sunscreen with an oil-free formula.
Shower as soon as you finish working out. This not only helps to clean away sweat, but it also rinses away bacteria that can cause acne breakouts. Use an oil-free cleanser to wash your face and reduce your risk of developing acne breakouts.
Currently, there’s no scientific research to suggest that sweating stops or slows down the effects of aging on your skin.
However, many activities that cause you to sweat may have anti-aging benefits that can improve the appearance of your skin as you age.
For example, physical exercise is widely regarded as one of the best means available for delaying and preventing the consequences of aging.
Research shows that exercise has numerous health benefits, from helping you to manage your weight to reducing your risk of heart disease, improving your mental health, strengthening your bones and muscles and increasing your life expectancy.
Exercise can also improve your blood circulation and immune system, which may help your skin to maintain its youthful features as you age.
Other activities that cause you to sweat, such as using a sauna or infrared sauna, may also have a positive effect on your skin’s appearance as you age.
One study published in the journal Dermatology found that sauna use may provide a protective effect on skin physiology, particularly the skin’s ability to retain moisture. Regular sauna use is also linked to improved cardiovascular health, which may offer benefits for your skin.
Put simply, while sweat itself doesn’t seem to prevent or slow down the effects of aging on your skin, some activities that cause you to sweat may have anti-aging benefits.
If you search online for information about the benefits of sweating, you’ll often come across blog posts and videos claiming that sweating helps you to “detox” by flushing heavy metals and other substances out from your body.
Although there’s some truth to the belief that sweating helps to rid your body of toxins, research suggests that the total amount of toxins excreted through sweat is tiny.
Instead, almost all of the toxins that make their way into your body are eliminated via your liver, kidneys and intestines. As long as these are healthy and functioning properly, there’s no need to worry about sweating out toxins or other substances for healthy skin.
While sweat itself doesn’t appear to have a significant effect on your skin, activities that cause you to sweat, such as exercise, are linked to improved cardiovascular health, a reduced risk of certain diseases and a slower aging process.
If you sweat often, it’s important to practice good hygiene habits to reduce your risk of dealing with acne breakouts.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.