You sweat when you’re hot, stressed, or getting in that killer workout. But have you ever wondered if that moisture is a friend or foe to your skin? We’ve pored over dozens of clinical studies to answer this burning question. The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think—read on to learn more about the effects of sweat on your skin.
What is the role of sweat?
Sweating is far from pointless; it’s your body’s built-in air conditioner and detoxifier. When you get hot, sweat glands activate and release a mix of water and salts, which evaporates from your skin to cool you down.
Reasons sweating is good for your skin
You might think of sweat as the enemy of a good selfie, but it turns out, your skin might actually love those beads of perspiration.
Sweat is actually a cocktail of compounds that benefit your skin. It contains antimicrobial peptides like dermcidin, cathelicidin, and lactoferrin. These peptides offer your skin a layer of defense against acne-causing bacteria and germs, protecting you from breakouts.
Moisturizes the skin
Sweat is nature’s moisturizer, delivering water and natural moisturizing factors right to your skin’s surface. In fact, sweat can hold up to 70% of its own weight in water, contributing to optimal skin hydration.
Your skin is covered in tiny pores, the openings for hair follicles that can become clogged with oil, dead skin cells, and everyday dirt and grime. When you sweat, your pores open up, allowing all this buildup to be expelled. It’s akin to your skin taking out its own trash.
Promotes blood circulation
Sweating itself doesn’t directly promote circulation, but the activities that lead to sweating—like physical exercise—do. When you engage in exercise or other activities that raise your body temperature, your heart pumps more blood to help cool the body down. This increased blood flow enhances overall circulation, delivering more oxygen and nutrients to various parts of the body, including the skin. So while sweat is more of a byproduct of the body’s cooling mechanism rather than a direct promoter of circulation, the activities that cause you to sweat are likely benefiting your circulatory system and, by extension, your skin’s health.
What about the negative effects?
It’s proven that a couple of skin issues can arise due to excessive sweating, like heat rash, acne, or fungal infections.
While it’s great that sweat can flush out your pores and eliminate toxins, there’s a catch. Sweat also contains oils and other substances that, if left to dry on the skin, can become trapped and actually contribute to clogging your pores. This can lead to acne breakouts. Additionally, the salts and minerals in sweat can irritate the skin, especially for those who are more sensitive or have pre-existing conditions like eczema.
The message is clear: sweat is good for your skin as long as you don’t let it sit for too long. Removing sweat promptly is generally all you need to maintain skin health after a good sweat. A quick rinse with a gentle cleanser or lukewarm water after sweating will suffice in most cases.
How to take care of skin that sweats a lot
- Rinse off the sweat as soon as you can.
- Use a gentle cleanser.
- Rehydrate your skin with a lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturizer.
- Drink plenty of water to replenish the fluids you lost through sweating.
- Sweaty clothes can harbor bacteria and exacerbate skin issues. Change into clean, dry clothes as soon as you can.
- Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing.
Sweating can have some benefits for the skin:
- Remove dirt and oil from the skin
- Maintain the skin hydrated
- Reduce acne breakouts
- Improve circulation
However, excessive sweating can also lead to some skin problems like:
- Fungal infections
To reduce the chances of sweating causing skin problems, simply remove the sweat as soon as you can by gently patting your skin dry with a clean towel or using a mild, alcohol-free cleanser. Moreover, excessive sweating without proper rehydration can lead to electrolyte imbalance and dehydration, which is bad for your skin. So make sure to drink more water to replenish the fluids you lost through sweating, and moisturize your skin with an oil-free and non-comedogenic formula to restore hydration.
- Why is my skin better when I sweat?
Sweating drains all the dirt and dead skin cells from your body. It also hydrates the skin and eliminates harmful bacteria. All of this leads to healthier skin.
- Should I wash my face after sweating?
You should wash your face after sweating to remove dirt, bacteria, and sweat, which could otherwise lead to clogged pores or skin irritation. A gentle cleanser or lukewarm water is generally sufficient for this.
- Does sweat exfoliate the skin?
Sweat itself isn't a natural exfoliant—it doesn't remove dead skin cells like scrubs or acids do. However, when you sweat, your pores open up, making it easier to flush out dirt and oil. This can have a similar effect to exfoliation.
- Does sweat eliminate toxins from the skin?
The idea that sweating eliminates toxins from the body is a popular belief, but it's not entirely accurate. You cannot sweat toxins out of the body. The primary route for the elimination of such substances is through the kidneys and urinary system, not sweat. While some studies have found trace amounts of heavy metals and BPA in sweat, the levels are generally low, and it's not clear that sweating actually removes these substances from the body.
- Can sweat cause acne?
Sweat can contribute to acne if it dries on your skin or mixes with oil, dirt, and bacteria. It's essential to cleanse the skin after sweating to minimize this risk.
- Baker LB. Physiology of sweat gland function: The roles of sweating and sweat composition in human health. Temperature (Austin). 2019.
- Shiohara T, Mizukawa Y, Shimoda-Komatsu Y, Aoyama Y. Sweat is a most efficient natural moisturizer providing protective immunity at points of allergen entry. Allergol Int. 2018 Oct.
- Nicola Gerrett, Katy Griggs, Bernard Redortier, Thomas Voelcker, Narihiko Kondo, and George Havenith. Sweat from gland to skin surface: production, transport, and skin absorption