When you think about sweat in relation to skin, oil buildup and breakouts may come to mind. However, experts say perspiration can expel dirt and dead skin cells from the body, and normal sweat production might have an aesthetic effect that can appear to be anti-aging.
Perspiration, of course, is a normal physiological response that plays a crucial role in maintaining your body’s health. “The purpose of sweat is to help your body maintain a normal body temperature and cool you down when your body temperature goes up, which can occur in the setting of exercise, work, stress or hot temperatures outside, among other causes,” said Dr. Marisa Garshick, a New York-based dermatologist.
But if there are aesthetic advantages to sweat, we want to hear about them. HuffPost reached out to Garshick and other dermatologists to explain.
Sweat can flush out bad-for-skin bacteria
The average person has between 2 million and 4 million sweat glands. There are three types: eccrine, apocrine and apoeccrine. The latter two types play a lesser role in overall sweat production and are limited to specific regions of the body, but the eccrine glands play a role in the skin-friendly benefits of perspiration that we’re talking about.
Sweat contains a natural antibacterial peptide called dermcidin. “This peptide naturally destroys bacteria and other harmful contaminants,” explained Dr. Dylan Alston, a Salt Lake City dermatologist. “As a result, it helps minimize infections and may even help acne breakouts.”
You may have heard people talking about “sweating out their toxins,” but don’t place too much importance on sweat as a means of detoxification. Here’s why: While studies have shown that toxic elements and heavy metals like mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic can be expelled from the body through sweat, the majority of your body’s toxins are expelled through your liver, kidney and intestines. There is no need to “sweat them out.”
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Sweat can have hydrating effects on your skin
One potential benefit of sweating, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michelle Henry, is that sweat plays a key role in sustaining the skin’s hydration levels and fortifying the skin barrier function. “Sweat increases blood circulation to your skin, which even gives it a healthy glow,” she said.
So what does circulation have to do with your skin? Garshick explained that with improved circulation, the skin is getting the nutrients it needs to look and feel more hydrated and healthy. When circulation is impaired, the skin can be impacted and appear dry and dull.
“In regards to skin and aging, sweat is the most effective and natural moisturizer available,” Alston said. “By increasing skin surface hydration, sweating provides a protecting advantage by helping prevent allergen entry into the skin.” If you’re wondering what allergens have to do with your skin, Alston explained further: “Both reduced hydration and increased allergies stress the skin’s ability to regenerate and recover. These two factors directly affect the rate of cellular differentiation and revitalization.”
So why does sweat have such a bad reputation with skin?
Sweat can cause some unfavorable consequences if not properly managed. According to Henry, excessive perspiration can result in skin irritation, rashes and obstructed pores, leading to acne formation. Additionally, it can promote bacterial and fungal growth, causing infections or skin conditions such as tinea pedis ― also known as athlete’s foot.
To mitigate risks of skin irritation from healthy amounts of sweat, it is crucial to maintain adequate hygiene. “Cleanse the skin regularly and wear moisture-wicking, breathable fabrics during physical activities or in hot climates,” Henry said.
And don’t go too hard with oil-stripping cleansers ― you want to keep your skin’s protective barrier intact. “It’s important to strike the balance of cleansing the skin to eliminate buildup and sweat, but not stripping the skin of its natural oils,” Garshick said.
For those who have a condition known as hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, “there are treatment options, and it is best to speak with a board-certified dermatologist,” Garshick said.
Sweat has some positive benefits for your complexion, but don’t neglect skin care and just bathe in your sweat all day. The act of sweating can boost skin radiance and provide temporary hydration, but it is not the sole agent responsible for a glowing complexion.
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