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Skin Science

Noticing skin irritation from sweat this summer? Here's why

Woman working out in the sun.
Diana Kelley Levey
Diana Kelly Levey July, 28, 2020

Runner, dancer, baker, adopted dog mom, wisecracker (or jokester)

As the weather warms up for summer, you probably expect to deal with some level of sweating and chafing — and all the skin irritation that comes along with it. Especially if your skin is sensitive or prone to issues like eczema, sweat can easily exacerbate how uncomfortable your skin feels when the heat is on.

Sweat's primary function is to help cool you off, but that doesn't stop this salty substance from introducing skin problems. Here's how to overcome skin irritation from sweat and make this summer feel all too cool.

How sweat impacts your eczema

If you have eczema, it's important to regulate your body temperature in order to avoid flare-ups. When you work out, your body sweats to cool off and the increase in temperature can lead to irritation and overheating. While the perspiration does help you cool down, the sweat itself can then cause skin to sting. That's because you lose fluids through exercise, drying out already dry skin. Sweat contains sodium, urea and lactate, which can dry the even skin further, according to the National Eczema Association.

Woman drinks water from a bottle while exercising on the beach.To help prevent your skin from getting irritated by the combination of eczema and sweat, hydrate before, during and after exercise. Replace moisture-wicking clothing that may irritate eczema with loose cotton workout clothes that breathe. Exercise in a cool environment to help regulate your body temperature, and wipe off sweat regularly during your workout. And if you know you're about to get sweaty, apply moisturizer before hitting the gym and then again after you shower. Giving your skin barrier that extra protection can reduce some of the skin irritation from sweat.

Skin problems that can come from sweat

The heat can do a number on your skin. Besides eczema, it's not uncommon for sweat to inflame skin troubles such as:

  • Heat rash. This often occurs in areas where skin touches skin, such as skin folds, and where clothing causes friction. It's the result of blocked sweat glands building up perspiration under the skin, leaving angry red patches that may feel prickly or itchy. Wear lightweight, breathable clothing and try to step into the cool when you feel overheated.
  • Cholinergic urticaria. This skin condition causes red, itchy, warm hives on your skin. According to research published by the National Institutes of Health, it often stems from your body's increase in temperature during exercise or from being in a hot climate. You may even notice it appearing after eating hot foods or when you're stressed. The hives should disappear after the body cools. Depending on the severity, talk to your dermatologist about how to prevent this particular skin irritation from sweat, as they'll have the best tools to help you treat it
  • Chafing. Wet fabric can harbor bacteria and lead to chafing when it's up against the skin, so avoid hanging out in sweaty workout clothes if you want to stave off conditions like skin dermatitis. Change out of your workout wear as soon as you're done exercising, then shower and gently pat skin dry with a towel.
  • Breakouts. Drying and cleansing skin soon after you perspire can help reduce summer body acne. You might break out because oils and bacteria from sweat clog pores. Blot sweat off — don't wipe — and use skincare products labeled noncomedogenic, meaning they won't clog pores, suggests the American Academy of Dermatology.

How to clean sweat off of skin

In order to get clean, healthy skin without irritating it this summer, follow these tried-and-true tips the next time your skin gets into a (literally) sticky situation.

  • Pat sweat off with a towel during and after workouts.
  • Use a mild cleanser that washes away bacteria. If your skin is prone to eczema and sweat at the same time, use gentle products with formulations designed not to irritate sensitive complexions.
  • Take a shower as soon as you can when getting out of a pool or body of water.

Resolving problems from eczema and sweat helps your skin feel its best so that you can relax all summer long — after all, who has time to sweat the small stuff?

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