Rachel MacPherson of Byrdie went to the experts to find out why we sweat, the factors behind the amount we sweat, and how we can treat excessive sweating.
Why Do We Sweat
To keep from overheating, humans sweat. We’ve evolved to protect ourselves from burning up by releasing water that can evaporate on our skin, in turn keeping us cool.
“Water requires a significant amount of heat to change its temperature, so it is a potent means of dissipating heat through pores in the skin,” explains Santa Monica-based Rand McClain, doctor of osteopathic medicine and chief medical officer of LCR Health.
Sweat doesn’t only happen when we overheat. McClain explains it can also happen when we express feelings of anger, excitement, anxiety, love, and stress. A few other factors are hormonal changes or consumption of spicy foods and alcohol.
What Are the Benefits of Sweating?
Did you know sweat has other purposes beyond cooling us down? Both McClain and Greg Westmoreland, board-certified orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Texas Orthopedics in Austin, explain.
- Releases toxins from the body—like arsenic, lead mercury, and cadmium
- Has anti-aging effects
- Kills harmful bacteria on the surface of skin
Excessive Sweating During Workouts
“In general, sweating means you are getting hot, which happens as muscles are exercised, and heat generates. Sweating “a lot” means you are likely exercising harder than usual or a lot and also that you may be doing so in a hotter than usual environment,” says McClain.
Some elements that can affect the amount you sweat are your clothing and the temperature of the space you are exercising in, explains Westmoreland. Additionally, there is also a condition called hyperhidrosis. This condition can create excessive sweating. Hyperhidrosis occurs in 3% to 6% of the population and causes you to sweat more than average from the hands, armpits, and feet.
What It Means If You Barely Sweat During Workouts
On the flip side, you may find that you barely sweat during workouts. Is that normal? There are a few reasons you may not sweat. The intensity of your workout may not be high enough to produce sweat. The intensity level needed to sweat is different for everyone based on their conditioning. If you are an advanced athlete, sweating can be challenging because of your skill level. However, McClain explains that some well-trained athletes are typically very “good at sweating” and tend to sweat a lot when exerting themselves to avoid overheating.
To add to that, the answer may be dehydration. If you are not drinking enough water, your body can have trouble producing sweat. Be sure to drink water before, during, and after your exercise. If you are working out for over an hour, or your environment is very hot, it’s smart to drink electrolyte supplements. This is because you are losing minerals like sodium, magnesium, and sugars through your sweat.
Factors That Affect How Much You Sweat
Other factors that play a role in how much you sweat include:
- Age: As we age, sweat glands shrink, in turn producing less sweat.
- Sex: Males sweat more than females.
- Fitness level: Higher-level athletes may sweat more easily but can take increased effort to sweat.
- Genetics: Your genetics can affect whether you sweat more or less, especially if you have a condition like hyperhidrosis.
Common Treatments For Excessive Sweating
Sweating itself is perfectly normal, and in fact needed to help keep your body from overheating. Excessive sweating, in the real sense, only occurs if you have a condition like hyperhidrosis. However, here are some treatments if you’d like to reduce the amount of sweat you produce during workouts:
- Antiperspirant: Either regular or clinical strength, antiperspirant works by plugging your sweat glands.
- Clothing: Choosing loose-fitting clothing that wicks sweat will help keep sweat off of your skin.
- Armpit shields: Absorbent pads that stick to the inside of your clothing.
- Powders: Body and foot powders that absorb sweat.
- Drysol: Aluminum chloride hexahydrate, typically used for hyperhidrosis.
- Botulinum toxin injections: Botox is sometimes used to treat excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis).
- Drying medicines: Prevent the body from sweating, which can be dangerous.
- Prescription wipes: Pre-medicated wipes containing glycopyrronium tosylate to prevent excessive sweating.
In the absence of a medical condition, sweating is not only normal but beneficial. To alleviate the negatives of sweating, try using antiperspirants and wearing loose-fitting clothing. Keep in mind that you should always be replacing the fluids you loose during exercise.
If you think you have hyperhidrosis, speak to your doctor about solutions that might help you.