Why working up a sweat is good for your skin

We blot it, block it, and do everything possible to stop sweat showing up. But aside from the instant glow, working up a sweat is so good for your skin it can even reverse aging, helping skin look younger and bouncier.

There are around three million sweat glands on the body. Eccrine glands help regulate body temperature and cool us down, while apocrine glands in the armpits and groin are triggered in response to stress. Sweat is 99% water, and 1% sodium, ammonia, potassium, magnesium and urea with, as it turns out, some pretty amazing immune-boosting peptides. Here’s why we should be encouraging a good sweat.

Sweat is anti-bacterial

Sweat contains the recently-discovered natural antibiotic peptide dermcidin that can protect skin against bacteria including the mighty E Coli and Staphylococcus aureus. Only released via eccrine sweat glands, dermcidin is so effective that in studies it killed bacterial colonies in just four hours. 

Gives you an oxygen facial

Know that super-glow you get post-workout? That’s caused by vasodilation as blood vessels widen and blood is redirected to the skin to try and cool you down. But exercising to the point where you sweat has another benefit. Increased blood flow brings oxygen and essential nutrients flooding to the skin, which boosts collagen production, speeds up cell turnover and keeps skin looking healthy and radiant.

Reverses aging

It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? And if it was this easy, why did no one tell us? As The New York Times reports, a 2009 study showed that “exercise not only appears to keep skin younger, it may also even reverse skin aging in people who start exercising late in life.” Consistent moderate or vigorous activity – yes, it should make you sweat – alters the composition of the skin’s layers, making it look younger and firmer.

It cleans pores

It’s one of those skin myths that never seems to go away, but sweat doesn’t block pores. In fact, it does the opposite, helping unclog and flush out dirt, grime and impurities. No need for a steam facial to open up and cleanse pores, sweating does the same job and more. One caveat: exercise with clean skin, or wear non-comedogenic makeup. Sweat can only do its cleaning job if pores aren’t suffocated with layers of gunk.

Helps with lymphatic drainage

The lymphatic system is the body’s detoxer and immune system in one. It helps drain away toxins, waste and excess fluid. Unlike blood it doesn’t pump around the body of its own accord, and needs you to move your body to get going. If we’re sluggish, the lymphatic system is too, which can cause breakouts and puffiness (hence our love affair with gua sha tools, which help manually drain fluid from the face). Muscle contraction during exercise activates a process that squeezes lymphatic fluid through the body, and into the lymph nodes where all the accumulated nasties are destroyed. Go get sweaty!

Lowers cortisol

Too much stress hormone cortisol swirling through the body are bad news for skin, especially if you’re already prone to acne, eczema or psoriasis. Excess cortisol can not only trigger a flare-up, but also affects skin’s ability to hold moisture, giving way to a dull, tired complexion. Short-term aerobic exercise reduces levels of cortisol – over 60 minutes or multiple bouts of high intensity workouts raises it.

Is sweat ever the bad guy?

If you’re prone to dermatitis or eczema don’t let sweat dry out on your skin. As it evaporates, the ammonia and urea left behind can irritate, and cause rashes and itching.