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How Does Sweat Impact Your Skin Health?

Updated: May 29

It’s definitely feeling like summer outside, which is a great thing in many ways. Sunlight has been found to improve mood, and being outside having fun helps us relax and get more social time. Many people find it easier to get plenty of exercise during this season, without the barrier of cold and wet weather. When it comes to workouts, I know I don’t have to fight against as much resistance in the summer as I do in the winter – in fact, taking a summer hike or run is one of my favorite things to do.

But when we think about being outside in the summer, another issue sometimes comes up – sweat. Even just being outside on a summer day can make a person sweat, and going hiking, running, or cycling during this part of the year is likely to leave you dripping. 

Many people with chronic skin conditions wonder what kind of an impact sweat will have. Does sweat irritate your skin? Or does it actually help make things better? What can you do to keep your skin healthy during the sweaty season?

Sweat may irritate or dry out your skin

For people with chronic skin conditions, sweating can potentially lead to a flare. Although research is still investigating all the reasons why this occurs, we do know that sweat can irritate the skin in a number of ways. 

One factor is hydration. The skin actually gets dried out by sweat – even though it’s obviously wet while sweat is being produced, the evaporation of the sweat leaves the skin drier than it was before. This dryness causes tiny breaks to develop in the skin’s surface, allowing various substances from the environment to leak in. That causes irritation and a flare. 

There may also be certain irritating substances found in sweat. In fact, some research has found that people with inflammatory skin conditions like eczema have more sugar in their sweat than other people do. It’s not clear why this is the case, but the excess sugar can lead to skin inflammation and itching. The sweat of people with skin conditions may also have higher levels of other substances that can be irritating to the skin, such as histamine, which is involved in inflammation and allergy.

In addition, in people with inflammatory skin conditions, the barrier function of the skin is often compromised – not just in the visible surface of the skin, but in the sweat glands themselves as well. This means that sweat can actually leak through into the surrounding tissues, where it causes irritation. 

When sweat remains on the skin for a long period, this can also lead to infections. We all have a skin microbiome, meaning that there are normally bacteria and fungi on the skin. Skin that stays moist becomes a particularly good environment for certain species, and these can overgrow, leading to an infection. When this occurs, the irritation may trigger a flare.

For all of these reasons, if you have a chronic skin condition, sweat may not be your friend. But what can you do to help protect your skin?

How can you protect your skin when you sweat?

You can’t necessarily avoid sweating, especially in the summer. And exercise has so many benefits that it wouldn’t be wise to avoid it completely in order to avoid a skin flare. Instead of avoiding summer workouts, you can find ways to mitigate the effects of sweat on your skin.

One thing you can do is to exercise at cooler times of the day, so that you sweat less. Instead of going out in the afternoon, try going for a hike early in the morning, or taking your run in the evening. Although you’ll probably still sweat, you should sweat less when it’s cooler than you would have in the middle of the day. This might help to reduce the impact on your skin.

It’s also best not to let sweat pool on your skin. When you keep sweat trapped against your skin for a long time, this increases the amount of irritation that it causes. Don’t cover up more skin than you need to – for example, if it’s hot outside, choose shorts rather than leggings in order to avoid trapping sweat next to your skin. Choosing looser workout clothes may also help to keep your skin a little dryer.

Throughout your workout, try to pat your skin dry with a towel, to help keep sweat from pooling. After you finish working out, rinse off in the shower. Make sure to use a mild cleanser rather than a harsh or scented soap, so you don’t irritate your skin.

If you’re already experiencing a flare, then the salt and other substances in your sweat can be very irritating to your broken skin. This feels uncomfortable and can make the flare worse. If you’re having a flare, you may want to protect the affected areas before you work out. Using an ointment over the affected area will seal out the sweat and help to prevent the area from getting irritated.

Although sweat may irritate your skin, exercise is still important. In fact, it’s crucial for skin health – and for overall mental and physical health. Finding ways to protect your skin from sweat can help to keep you motivated to keep exercising all summer long. There are so many fun ways to enjoy summer, and you wouldn’t want to miss out because of your skin!

If you’d like more support in developing a lifestyle plan that supports your skin health, you might want to join one of our amazing online communities, where you can connect with other Skin Warriors like yourself. The brand-new version of my signature Mind Gut Skin Academy program is also launching soon. In this program, I offer a roadmap to your best skin health, based on my medical training as well as my experience as a Skin Warrior myself. Head over here to learn more or to get on the waitlist!

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