Is Sweat a Friend or Enemy to Your Skin?

Sweating is actually really good for you. There are a lot of surprising benefits to having active sweat glands that most people don’t realize. 

Don't tell anyone, but we've been known to skip a gym class for fear of sweat causing a breakout before a big event. We've always been told that sweating is the worst thing ever when it comes to keeping your skin clear. But actually, it turns out that our teachers might have been wrong all this time.

What you probably don’t realize is that sweating is actually really good for you. There are a lot of surprising benefits to having active sweat glands that most people don’t realize.

Sweating can be embarrassing if you’re at school, work, or spending a night out on the town. Sweat marks and the stench could leave you in a pit of embarrassment but could also be beneficial to your health.

The almost 1 liter of sweat our bodies produce per day can strengthen our immune system and give us healthy-looking skin.

Sweating is the body's built-in mechanism for keeping cool, but some experts believe that, because it opens up and unclogs the pores, perspiration is also a secret weapon for keeping our skin looking its best.

However, if that's true, then why does sweat sometimes seem to aggravate conditions like acne and eczema? When you work up a sweat, is that healthy glow really healthy? The answer to this question isn't a simple "yes" or "no," and before you throw up your hands in frustration, we'll take a closer look at why that's the case.

We know all the embarrassing parts of sweat. Now let’s explore some of the lesser-known benefits that healthy sweating gives to your skin.

Making your skin glow

Perspiration, that salty brew of H2O and minerals many consider to be one of the body’s less savory secretions, is essentially the body’s air-conditioning system. Its evaporation on the surface of the skin keeps us from over-heating, and regulates our core temperature when things get toasty—either internally or externally.

It helps with water balance for your entire body, dermatologists explain. It also contains natural moisturizing factor, which helps keep the skin hydrated and healthy.

Humanity’s love of sweating it out (whatever it is) in saunas, steam rooms, and Bikram yoga, is as old as time, and as universal as sweat glands themselves, from Native American sweat lodges to Scandinavian saunas to Turkish hammams.

Even the ancient Romans had “caldarium” rooms in their great bathhouses, where they would bask sans togas in furnace-heated steam.

It’s never been simply about staving off a chill; and while the cardiovascular benefits are real, what’s most strikingly evident post-sweat-session is an invigorated appearance.

When our body temperature rises, our blood vessels dilate, doctors say. This is called vasodilation, and it increases the flow of blood to our skin. Over the long term, vasodilation has a positive impact on the vasculature that supports our skin, helping to keep it looking healthy and youthful.

Anti-bacterial effect

When it comes to skin health, sweating actually helps a lot. When you sweat, it opens up your pores and pushes out built-up gunk sitting right underneath your skin. This is this same build up that often produces pimples. So sweating basically cleanses your pores naturally, which helps you avoid getting unsightly blemishes on your skin.

We were supposed to be done with the “zit hits” after puberty, but like a bad penny, they keep showing up as we journey through hormonal changes throughout adulthood.

Sweat to the rescue! By opening up your pores, the perspiration process helps them release the grit and grime that holds in bacteria which, as we all know, leads to zits.

In addition to preventing zits, sweating also helps prevent rashes and irritated skin — both of which are often caused when built-up grime settles back into your pores.

Despite its sodium content, sweat can't quite serve as a cheap alternative to a fancy, exfoliating salt scrub, but it does offer some other salon-quality benefits to your skin.

For one thing, the process of perspiring itself causes your pores to open up as the sweat makes its way through layers of skin to the surface. Many aestheticians actually use steam during facials to achieve this same effect, so they can prep the skin for deep cleaning and extractions.

Don’t be lazy, though. Getting all the yuck out onto your skin’s surface means it has to be washed off. Don’t encourage its re-entry by leaving it lying around!

When it’s no good

You still need to look after your skin, even while you're sweating it out at the gym or on a packed commute because sweat that stays on your skin for too long could be the cause of your post-perspiration breakouts.

The main reason is irritation – which happens when sweat lingers in the folds of skin, but it can also affect your complexion in the long term, as it can “wash away” sun cream and lead to an increased risk of UV damage.

Leaving sweat untended to for too long can end up doing more harm than good because it can lead to conditions like miliaria. More commonly known as prickly rash or heat rash, miliaria occurs when the eccrine glands become blocked, which results in a series of red bumps.

Your best bet for keeping your pores clean and unclogged is to always wash your face and body as soon as possible after sweating. If your skin is easily irritated, you should probably change sweaty clothes and sheets right away, too.

So to keep your complexion clear, the best course of action is simply to make sure you're regularly wiping your sweat away, and reapplying sun-cream. You could also keep toning pads on hand if you're worried about the after-effects.

The bacteria killer

Sweat also may play a role in fending off foreign substances. Some recent studies – including one conducted at Eberhard-Karls-University at Tubingen in Germany – suggest that perspiration contains a natural antibiotic known as dermcidin. Dermcidin can help kill bacteria, including E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus, on the skin's surface.

Who needs antibacterial ointment when sweat spreads highly efficient antibiotics on to our skin! If our skin is wounded by a small cut, a scratch, or the sting of a mosquito, antibiotic agents secreted in sweat glands, such as dermcidin, rapidly and efficiently kill invaders.

A 2013 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proved dermcidin is a highly effective tool to fight not only tuberculosis germs but other dangerous bugs.

The researchers believe these natural substances are more effective in the long-term than traditional antibiotics because germs are not capable of quickly developing resistance to them. The natural antibiotic is naturally activated in salty, slightly acidic sweat.

When BPA and DEHP were introduced to our environment with modern industry, scientists were unable to determine its impact on our health. All agree now that having these chemicals in our systems is detrimental to our health.

Remarkably, our amazing sweat glands tend to be one of the ways our body rids itself of these and other dangerous pollutants. Even when not detected in blood or urine, our sweat has shown the potential to effectively eliminate BPA from our system.

A 2011 study published in the journal Archives of Environmental and Contamination Toxicology found many toxic elements appeared to be excreted through sweat. Induced sweating appears to be a potential method for the elimination of many toxic elements from the human body.

Researchers believe sweat analysis could be considered as an additional method for the monitoring of toxic elements in humans rather than just blood and/or urine testing.

For the last few years, more and more research has been done on eccrine sweat glands which exist in the millions on our skin. At the University of Michigan, researchers are discovering that these glands host an important reservoir of adult stem cells which aid in the process of wound closures.

By identifying a key process of wound closure, we can examine drug therapies with a new target in mind: sweat glands, which are very under-studied. The scientists are hoping this will stimulate research in a promising, new direction.

So whether you like it or not, sweating isn’t your enemy. It’s excessive sweating at inappropriate times that you want to battle — not sweating overall.

Sweating does have its pros and cons when it comes to your skin health. To avoid sweating profusely, avoid triggers such as caffeine and wearing natural materials, experts say, and opt for possible treatments like prescription antiperspirants, and even Botox.

Remember, it’s OK to sweat it out when you dance or workout.

Maybe the answer to whether sweat is your skin's friend isn't a simple one, but at least now you know a trick to keep it on your side. Let perspiration take its natural course, but once it's made its way to the surface, make sure to follow up immediately with proper cleaning and care.

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